Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Jadzia’s Gender

This may be an odd admission, coming from a woman who writes for a blog about the portrayal of women in the media, but I don’t actually have access to current television programming. For a variety of reasons (mostly to do with how much money one doesn’t make as a student), I went several years without a TV at all, and now I’m a little horrified at the idiot box’s power over me. I can’t ignore it! I have to watch! If I wander past a television set that’s turned on, I get totally sucked in, and will sit down and watch commercials.

And then I get angry. I mean, have you seen television advertising lately?

Well! Anger is not a thing I look for from my leisure activities. So, while I do have a television in my home at present, it doesn’t get reception – and I’ve done nothing to change that. Instead, I spend a lot of time watching DVDs that I rent via Netflix.

And in so doing, I’ve discovered something. A lot of the TV shows that I loved as a kid, and as an adolescent, and as a young adult (before the Programming Gap that started when I was 18) – are awful. Like, really, really bad. Bad acting, bad scripts, terrible plots, you name it.

So I’m always delighted when I stumble upon a show that I can get on DVD that actually is as engaging as I remember it being. And I’m especially delighted when that show has some fantastic female characters, and a relative paucity of gendered screen stupidity.

One such show is Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

I’ve been a fan of the Star Trek franchise since the day I developed an embarrassing adolescent crush on Lieutenant Commander Data (Not Brent Spiner, I hasten to clarify. I respect the man’s skills as an actor, but it was the android that I loved). But while The Next Generation will always hold a special place in my heart, I think Deep Space Nine is a deeper, more interesting show. And one of the things that makes it particularly interesting to me is the variety of regular female characters. For my next several posts, I’m going to talk about what I love (and, occasionally, what I hate) about these women, choosing one episode of particular interest through which to explore the characterization of each one.

We begin with Jadzia Dax. Because she’s awesome, and I like her, and I have an action figure of her on my desk, which means that she’s the first character I thought of (shhh! That’s a perfectly good rationale!).

There’s a lot to love about Jadzia Dax (played by Terry Farrell), especially if you’re interested (as I am) in characters in mainstream media that participate in genderbending or gender transgressive behavior. The Dax part of Jadzia is, as viewers of the show will know, a symbiont – a life form that has lived within a variety of Trill, and imparts memories of former lives to each new host. Because of this, Jadzia Dax is not only the young woman, Jadzia, she is also a series of other women – and men.

On top of her recollection of having once been male, Jadzia frequently engages in behavior which her 20th century Western audience would likely view as stereotypically masculine (though it’s important to note that her fictional contemporaries don’t seem to see her as particularly mannish – Benjamin Sisko calls her “old man,” but it’s clear from context that the nickname isn’t drawn from a belief that she is a man, or anything like that). She is physically aggressive (she works out with Klingons!). She can also be assertive outside of battle – she makes many of the first moves in her romance with Worf.

But Jadzia has her girly aspects, too. She favors a feminine hairstyle, and takes evident pleasure in wearing feminine clothing (observe her reaction to the minidress uniform she wears in “Trials and Tribble-ations” in the fifth season). She is often shown gossiping with Kira Nerys about Nerys’s relationships – behavior typically marked as feminine. In the sixth season, she longs to experience motherhood.

In short, the character of Jadzia embodies a blend of behaviors and traits that could be labeled feminine or masculine. There is never any question that she is biologically female, but her gender can be fairly said to be extremely fluid, even liminal.

Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the fourth season episode “Rejoined.”

Those of you who have seen this episode will no doubt remember it. For the rest of you, what happens, in brief, is that Jadzia encounters another Trill, Lenara, who is carrying the Kahn symbiont. Some years before, the hosts of the Dax and Kahn symbionts had been married, and Jadzia and Lenara feel the strong love that their symbionts’ previous hosts had for one another.

They are tempted to resume their old relationship, but Trill society holds “reassociation” – joined Trill becoming involved in romantic relationships with their symbionts’ old partners – as a serious taboo.

What’s interesting about this episode is what is not considered taboo by the characters. The current hosts of the Dax and Kahn symbionts are both female – and nobody has the slightest problem with that aspect of their relationship. And while this is intriguing enough when read as an indication that the characters in the universe of Star Trek have no prejudice against homosexual relationships, I believe an interpretation that is more interesting yet is possible.

What the episode “Rejoined” says to me about the fictional society of the Trill is that heterosexuality and homosexuality become non-issues in a society where people aren’t tied to fixed, binary gender roles. I don’t read Jadzia and Lenara’s famous kiss as a lesbian kiss – I read it as a kiss between two characters for whom gender plays no significant role in a romantic relationship.

For me, then, “Rejoined” is one of the most daring thought-experiment episodes in Star Trek history. It shows a romantic relationship that is gender-neutral, that is about the personalities of the people involved, and not the roles they play.

The writers were doing a lot of bold things in “Rejoined” – compare it to the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Host”, where Dr. Beverly Crusher starts a romance with a male Trill. In that episode, the Trill is injured, and the symbiont is implanted into a new host – a female body. Dr. Crusher, though conflicted, cannot bring herself to consider a romance with another woman (in Dr. Crusher’s defense, the symbiont thing is pretty creepy in that episode. It’d be hard to love anyone after you’ve seen the worm that lives in his or her abdomen).

Not only does “Rejoined” transcend the gendered boundaries that were such an inhibiting factor for The Next Generation’s Dr. Crusher, it also features an onscreen kiss between two female characters: a passionate, romantic kiss, that is played as an important moment in the relationship between Jadzia and Lenara – not as titillation for the viewer.

At the end of the episode, Lenara decides that she is unwilling, after all, to go against the societal conventions of her culture. She is in love with Jadzia, but she will leave her, because of the taboo of reassociation.

It’s a shame that this fascinating, genderbending relationship lasted only one episode. Fortunately, Jadzia Dax – an intriguing, appealing character with a liminal gender – was more enduring. Terry Farrell played Jadzia for six of the seven seasons of Deep Space Nine, and the character was very much a member of the core cast, and was the main focus of several episodes. Well done, Star Trek.

Comments

  1. Firebird says

    Hello, Revena, sorry to be gone so long! I love that you are reviewing Star Trek. DS9 was never my favorite series, but I know the characters somewhat and that helps to be able to follow the articles.

    And I agree about the television! I don’t have time to watch it, and though I have one (make that two, now – the old one was broken so we got a *free* new one, and then managed to fix the old one for free), it doesn’t get good reception and I only occasionally rent a movie or watch That Seventies Show in reruns (I know, guilty pleasure, can’t help it!). And the same thing happens to me, when I am at someone’s house and they have the TV on, they can’t understand why I can’t talk over it and keep zoning out watching every image and sound that passes the screen!

    Anyway, I enjoyed your article, and now that the semester is starting again, I should catch the rest of them!

    Firebird

  2. Revena says

    I’m going to do my best to keep the DS9 articles coming regularly, but there might be long pauses in between them. I’m glad to know that someone will be keeping an eye out for them, though. ;-)

    (I always have to try to sit with my back to televisions in restaurants and bars that have them, or I can’t pay attention to my dinner companions. It’s pathetic!)

  3. hegar says

    >(Not Brent Spiner, I hasten to clarify. I respect the man’s skills as an actor, but it was the android that I loved).

    Reminds me of a conversation my mother (an english teacher in high school) told me she had with a student. For some reason there were talking about Astroboy, the old cartoon.
    Student: Oh, I used to love Astroboy!
    My Mum: Yeah, it was a great show.
    Student: No, I mean I was in love with Astroboy. I was crushed when I found out eh didn’t really exist.

  4. Mecha says

    I personally think that it’s a little of column A (lack of major external homosexual prejudice) and a little of column B (socialization of the Trill to not consider physical sex.) Consider especially how her brother is afraid of the relationship, how everyone is looking for it, etc, etc. This is not a society that is shying away from or unfamiliar with the concepts of homosexual relationships. The Crusher thing reinforces tihs too (although there’s the minor continuity snag in that reassociation wasn’t ever brought up there.) And that entire ep is really powerful as a character piece for Jadzia (Jadzea?), and not fanservice in the slightest. I like that not considering physical sex concept…it appeals to me on a personal level. ^^;

    On a meta note, I’m still struck by a certain amount of personal amusement that _Spike TV_, of all stations, were the ones showing Deep Space 9 in syndication somewhat recently (and I caught most of it then.)

    -Mecha

  5. says

    There are lots of continuity problems with the reassociation taboo concept – I think it was a great idea for that particular episode, but it doesn’t fit in well with earlier Star Trek canon, and Ezri Dax was so cavalier about it in season seven that, on the whole, it comes off as not much of a hindrance to anything.

    It’s also strange that it apparently only applies to romantic relationships, not to friendships, and apparently not to things like choice of career and workplace.

    But it wouldn’t be Star Trek without the gaping plot holes, right? ;-)

    As far as Spike TV goes – that station mystifies me in many ways!

  6. Mecha says

    But it wouldn’t be Star Trek without the gaping plot holes, right?

    Touche, Revena, touche! And yeah, Ezri was incredibly cavalier about it, although I got the distinct impression that it was all about romantic relationships, reassociation was, (And it had to be, because Dax reassociated outside of romantic relationships all over the galaxy!) and for all of the early tension, Bashere/Jadzia didn’t get there as they did with he and Ezri.

    You and me both on Spike TV being mystifying (and this is coming from someone who watched it for 3-4 hours a day back when I COULD watch during the day, because it had McGuyver, Seven Days, and DS9 on it.) I’m just surprised they didn’t go the ‘Latenight USA’ route and do ‘Sexy hot latenight programming’. The same block that brought us La Femme Nikita and such. I can’t decide it I want to mock them for having such a bad premise and not actually living up to it or not.

    -Mecha

  7. says

    I got the distinct impression that it was all about romantic relationships, reassociation was, (And it had to be, because Dax reassociated outside of romantic relationships all over the galaxy!)

    Right, that’s definitely how it’s portrayed – but what I was gesturing at in my earlier comment is that it doesn’t make a lot of sense. If the symbiont shouldn’t re-experience the same things, that should go beyond just romantic relationships. Romantic love is not the largest part of the humanoid experience, really.

    But hey! It’s Star Trek. ;-)

    Spike does seem to run some really awesome shows. And by awesome, I mean shows that I think are awesome. Which, y’know… I don’t think that’s what they’re aiming for. Oops!

  8. Firebird says

    Ditto! And when I do want to do something for fun, I want to rent a movie or go see one – you know, once or twice a month – and that’s just not anything special for my friends. Oh, well -price you pay for not being a slave to the black box, I suppose.

    I’ll definitely look for the DS9 articles!

    Firebird

  9. Glaivester says

    Dr. Crusher, though conflicted, cannot bring herself to consider a romance with another woman (in Dr. Crusher’s defense, the symbiont thing is pretty creepy in that episode. It’d be hard to love anyone after you’ve seen the worm that lives in his or her abdomen).

    You seem to be suggesting that there is something wrong with someone only desiring relationships that conform to the heterosexual gender role model.

    What the episode “Rejoined” says to me about the fictional society of the Trill is that heterosexuality and homosexuality become non-issues in a society where people aren’t tied to fixed, binary gender roles.

    It should also be pointed out that the symbiotes are not tied to a particular biological sex, either. I would think that some of the societal differences between us and the Trill are based on biological differences. Not that society did not shape the Trill, but the differences are not entirely caused by nurture rather than nature.

  10. Revena says

    You seem to be suggesting that there is something wrong with someone only desiring relationships that conform to the heterosexual gender role model.

    Not intentionally, and I’m sorry if there’s any genuine confusion about that! My language choices there reflect Dr. Crusher’s genuine conflict in that episode – it’s apparent that she really wishes that the sex of the host wasn’t a factor, but that for her, it is. And there certainly isn’t anything wrong with that – but it’s very interesting to compare “Rejoined” to that earlier episode.

    It should also be pointed out that the symbiotes are not tied to a particular biological sex, either. I would think that some of the societal differences between us and the Trill are based on biological differences. Not that society did not shape the Trill, but the differences are not entirely caused by nurture rather than nature.

    Hmmm. But aside from the symbiont thing (which, we should probably remember, is a factor for only a small part of the Trill population), I don’t think there’s a lot of biological difference between humans and Trill. So I’m not sure how far you could carry that argument.

  11. Mecha says

    It should also be pointed out that the symbiotes are not tied to a particular biological sex, either. I would think that some of the societal differences between us and the Trill are based on biological differences. Not that society did not shape the Trill, but the differences are not entirely caused by nurture rather than nature.

    This is pretty chicken-and-the-eggy of you, don’t you think? I mean, really. Would the Trill, or their symboites, be ‘naturally’ unconcerned with gender in relationships? They just all sorta sprung from the protoplasmic goop with a disregard for what types of naughty bits were involved? ^_~

    It’s a bit of a sociological discussion, but you can’t really blame nature for anything but supporting the nurture that came around, I don’t think. If nurture had been squarely against it (in the societal sense) in the past, only nurture would have been able to fight it, realistically (unless the Trill used genetic engineering to change their nature!) Also, Revena’s point that Trill society is not 100% symbiotes means that this society might well have gone through a shift when some of them went symboiotic. Whatever it was, we don’t know, but that was also a ‘nurture’ choice.

    Nature doesn’t hurt to make people form certain perceptions, especially for the symboites, but I don’t think you could put the entire society, or even these two peoples, approach to sexuality, anywhere on the nature side of the beginning of the cycle. Societal acceptance is all about ‘nurture’, if you have to use that dichotomy.

    I _do_ think Revena’s statement about the entire society having non-issues of hetero/homosexuality might be a bit of a stretch based on the evidence, but it’s certainly not far out of bounds (and I like the concept besides, since it appeals to me personally.) And even more likely to be reasonable if you restrict it to the symbiote-carriers (which are really sort of a scientific version of buddhist/hinduist reincarnation to begin with) which are the focus of the episode. And, again, remember that nobody took issue with the hint of homosexuality in the slightest. Nor is there generally a spectre of ‘women can’t do X jobs’ (unless you’re a Ferengi.) Gender roles are decreased by far in this universe, and it cannot hurt the case.

    -Mecha

  12. says

    I _do_ think Revena’s statement about the entire society having non-issues of hetero/homosexuality might be a bit of a stretch based on the evidence, but it’s certainly not far out of bounds

    I should probably clarify that what I meant is that such an interpretation can be suggested by the episode, not that it’s a firm conclusion. There really isn’t enough evidence to support my idea about the Trill being liminally gendered – but there is enough to make the idea feasible. If that makes sense.

  13. Mecha says

    It does, yeah, hence my ‘not far out of bounds’ statement. I do think it’s not outside the realm of possibility. Just not in the ‘bounds’ of the strictest of canon interpretations. ^^;

    -Mecha

  14. says

    I think it’s not all that rare these days to give up T.V. entirely by switching to DVDs. That’s what I’ve done as well. If this trend continues, it will probably be a good thing since it means the viewer isn’t locked into whatever’s on at a particular time-slot (with producers making assumptions on what viewers want based on what viewers chose from this incredibly limited selection).

    I had a bit of a crush on Data too. Also Spock (in re-runs). And now I’m married to a math professor, surprisingly enough… ;)

    I didn’t see the episode you’re talking about, but your discussion of it is interesting. Another point about the comparison with Dr. Crusher is that she’s not a trill, she’s a human, so the physical gender of her lover would logically matter to her even if it doesn’t matter to trills.

  15. Sarah says

    I love the essays about Ds9, one of the finest shows ever on TV. Your essays about Keiko have let me see her in a new light.

    Can’t wait to read your one about Kira Nerys. She is my favourite character on Ds9 (after Jadzia of course!)

  16. says

    Thanks, Sarah! I’ve taken a looong break from writing these articles, but I do intend to come back to them eventually. DS9 was too awesome of a show to neglect.

  17. Hans says

    About the supposed plot hole with Jadzia not resuming an old relationship with the Trill, maybe that rule only applies to Trills, since they are so long lived they could theoretically be paired indefinitely across many hosts.

    The supposed violations of this rule were relationships with non-Trill with limited lifespans, so there is no danger of an eternal relationship.

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