Trekkie Response to Jennifer Lien’s Arrest Disappoints

by | September 18, 2015
filed under Pop Culture


If you’re at all involved in Star Trek fandom online, you’ve almost certainly read the news story about Jennifer Lien’s arrest. Lien played Kes on Star Trek: Voyager for the show’s first three seasons.

I’m not going to comment on the circumstances of Ms. Lien’s arrest or on her alleged crimes and history. There is no way to know what path led her to this point, what she has been suffering with, or the details surrounding this and other incidents. I am in no position to judge her and what she has done. What I want to talk about is the Star Trek community’s reaction to it.

If you’ve read any of the comment sections on these articles, you’ll know where I’m going with this.

Trekkies, we need to have a talk.

Remember those fancy, futuristic ideals our favorite franchise talks about so much? Yeah, those mostly don’t exist in these comments. Other than a few islands of sympathy and kindness, they are cruel and insensitive.

Here are some of the worst comments I found. The sexism and bigotry astound me. I won’t say where they’re from.

“Damn! That ugly tree she fell from caused mental problems as well as physical ones.”

“OMG, WTF happened to her frickin’ face!!?!?!? Is that prosthetic old age makeup??? Or did she go ‘Chaz Bono’ on us?? LMAO.”

She was so beautiful when she was on the show. Flash forward to today and she looks like a bull dyke. WTF happened to her since she left Voyager?

41 years old? She looks so much older than that… Meth? She looks like a dude, man.
She actually looked kinda hot in star trak. I remember her and she had tight lil body -rack to go with it.

The hateful comments center around her physical appearance and apparent mental illness, with overtones of ageism, homophobia and transphobia. The consensus seems to be that she is ugly (and hence no longer bang-able), or that she’s crazy. There are so many things wrong with that. This kind of behavior is not acceptable amongst rational humans, especially so amongst people who idolize Gene Roddenberry’s optimistic future.

Reasonable people are starting to speak up now, but huge swathes of commentary are nothing but comments like the above.

The first thing I take offence at is the focus on her physical appearance. It reinforces the idea that women are only acceptable if they meet a certain standard of beauty, and that their value is determined by the male gaze. Jennifer Lien is not being treated as a human being, but as an object for male consumption. Apparently the worst crime she committed was not meeting their standards. This kind of commentary is so utterly dehumanizing and just flat out cruel.

A fair number of commenters are also flippantly calling her crazy or insane. Mental illness is not something to joke about. People commit suicide every day because their illnesses go untreated. You know why they go untreated? Because they’re afraid to tell anyone they’re suffering. They see people like this calling other sufferers crazy and don’t want that to be them.

Unfortunately, the inadequate state of health and mental health facilities and services contributes to the situation. Many of those with mental illness end up being incarcerated rather than getting psychiatric treatment. It’s possible that this is what happened in Jennifer Lien’s case. Stigmatizing mental health issues allows the continued under-resourcing of the mental health system and discourages people who need and want treatment from seeking it.

There are so many unknowns in this case, but some of the people reading the story seem to take joy in Ms. Lien’s misery. No matter what she did or didn’t do, she is still a human being who deserves compassion and open-mindedness.

I made what I thought was a fairly benign comment on one site about trying to be sympathetic rather than focusing on her appearance. I had a string of people contradict and attack me. The same thing happened to others trying to speak reason. Why is compassion so controversial?

Come on, Trekkies. If you’re going to call yourself a Trekkie, you have to take the philosophy of Star Trek to heart. It’s not just about spaceships and battles with aliens. It’s about exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations, and getting to know and empathize with that new life.

If Captain Picard can spend the entirety of “Darmok” simply trying to communicate and understand an alien species, I think we can try to have compassion for our fellow human beings. If we can’t do that, we don’t deserve to venture out into space.

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  • Will Nguyen

    Thank you for this. You nailed it.

    • Darren Slater

      I totally agree. Nailed it.

  • Berthulf

    Very eloquently put. I have been saddened and horrified by the responses of so many people to Ms Lien’s current problems. Star Trek’s philosophy is about acceptance and compassion; there is no room in it for the hurt being spread by so many people that otherwise profess to be Trekkie’s or Trekker’s.

    Than You.

    • Darren Slater

      Well said!

  • Adrian Stetco

    Awesome article … thank you

  • Eric Cline

    I couldn’t agree more. I feel so sad for Ms. Lien who is going through a major struggle of her own. I pray that she will get the help she needs and be surrounded by people of compassion towards her.

  • Charlie Beach

    I will not even comment on the article until this half ass reporter uses both of the proper trek terms, not all of us are trekkies….

    • Really? That’s what you took away from this?

    • Sailor_Sega

      Hear, hear.

    • athynz1

      Trekkie, Trekker, Trekmeister, whatever… just let it go.

      And BTW – you already did comment

  • Norrlandspatriot

    A very good article which hit the nail on the head.

  • Everybody who bitches about the looks of a famous person should have to post their own picture. I’m sure that would shut down 90% of the comments LOL …

    • matthew Brandley

      Most of us are not getting paid for our looks- a lot of celebrities are.

  • Stuck_on_Earth

    Kes and Jennifer Lien’s portrayal of the character have always been among my favorites. I have nothing but sympathy and concern for Jennifer and hope she gets the support and help that’s needed. The comments cited above are reprehensible, and even moreso from anyone who claims to be a fan/follower of the shows.

  • No Comment

    Considering what she allegedly did was allegedly in front of children, what kind of response did you think she was going to get? “Great job”? “Way to go”?

    • RStorm

      the point the writer is trying to make is that the heinous behavior she allegedly committed should b the focus, not her looks or mocking potential mental illness.

      • appearance shaming is never cool.

      • Michelle


      • sparklite

        And yet the author refuses to discuss the heinous behavior. Can ‘t have it both ways.

  • James Reynolds

    This is well written and makes several cogent points. I am in agreement with Michelle, And while it’s true that Ms. Lien looks different from her Voyager days, I would be completely surprised if any of us look the same as we did then. We all need to hold tightly to Gene Roddenberry’s hopeful vision for the future.

  • Dalek1963

    One has to understand that the would be many who don’t think about the future philosophy of Star Trek just the action and adventure. Those of us who do need to continue promoting it. Those who remain sexist etc reflect the state of the world as it is currently. Perhaps we have to hit rock bottom as a world to mature as an entire species.

  • Adapt1ve

    If you want to understand humanity you only need to look at the comments section on YouTUBE.

  • Michael Bertoni

    As a lifelong Trekkie, I applaud you Michelle for a well written article. If the philosophy of Star Trek and the optimistic vision of the future put forward by Gene Roddenberry are lost among those who claim to be fans then Star Trek is indeed dead. I feel sorry for Ms. Lien and I hope she gets the help that she apparently needs.

  • Mikoto “Sissy” Misaka

    One problem. The part she played in the show was of the pretty face. She really didn’t contribute much to the plot except for some very convenient powers that made each Kes episode nearly unbearable to watch. Now bear in mind this opinion I had of her when I was a 8 year old. I re watched the series recently and I came to the same conclusion. The real issue I have with her is that she was given a huge chance to live life amazingly at a young age. She blew it. Do you realise the good you could do with even a quarter of the salary she made for voyager? And to see her wasted away like this hits me hard in my morality and my nostalgia.

    Hit me over the head with some stupid “ism” I don’t care. I’m not going to say “gosh she looks beautiful as I remember” when she’s not. She looks more like the actress who played the changeling from ds9 now than Kes. This makes me sad

    • ” I’m not going to say “gosh she looks beautiful as I remember” when she’s not.”

      That’s not what anyone is asking. What’s being asked is that her appearance not be brought into it, PERIOD. It’s not different than when people put comments like “10/10, would bang” under an article about a female teacher who committed statutory rape with a male student.

      • Mikoto “Sissy” Misaka

        This is on a gender based website so I know I’ll take heat for this but the first thing we see in these stories is a mugshot. That’s what elicits these remarks and I’m sorry but the average Internet dweller is a narcissistic mildly autistic moron with tons of free time and no idea how the world works or how to act. That said, this article does nothing but put off the sane people who might have something nice to say

        • Rickety Janes

          Really? Most of the rest of the replies seem civil and concerned about her. And I respect her work as Kes – ‘Warlord’ and ‘The Fury’ made more of an impression on me than the collective years of Jeri Ryan’s ‘android T&A’ filler.

  • Rickety Janes

    What has happened to Ms Lien makes me physically ill, to see her slowly succumb to obvious mental ( and i think physical, like endocrine) illness. I wish I had the money to help crowd-fund a physician, or psychiatrist, or rehab center to help her. At the same time, throwing around PC-speak like “ageism, homophobia and transphobia” is not helpful. Yes, ppl are cruel, including the angry, vicious, repressed social rejects that mostly comprise the pre-JJ Abrams ST fanbase, and PC-speak will not get her the help she desperately needs, its just using her suffering to promote a personal political agenda.
    Other than that, its nice to see a kind or compassionate article about her…she was a terrific actress on Voyager, and in her other work.

  • Awesome Art Digital

    Keep in mind people that what you see on TV are actors that have a lot of make-up and many times are using wigs, as an actor myself 99% of the actors you see on TV don’t look anything like their Character counter parts and look completely different. As for her yes she has gained some weight and may not look to good, this could be because of some kind of Illness and unless we are in her shoes we don’t know what she is going through, what she did was wrong but at the same time she may not have been in control…take a look back at what Amanda Bynes did at it was discovered she is suffering from a mental Illness and is treatable with the right medication.

  • May Loo

    Sorry to be late to the discussion as I was a big fan of all the Star Trek series. Sorry to hear about Ms. Lien’s current problems. I sincerely hope she gets the help she needs.

  • Eric Olson

    Michelle Toven, this is an excellent article. There should be an outpouring of compassion not derision for Jennifer Lien. Does anyone have an update on this issue? Has Jennifer Lien received the help she needs?

  • Just found this article and I can not even express how happy it makes me. The treatment she was getting was so horrific.

  • save&continue

    I agree! Great article

  • RobertNorwood

    Being Trekkies or being fans is no justification for accepting or approving of Lien’s behavior. It is what it is. Some people are a human wreck, you can’t play make believe. The images we have don’t fit. Kes was nothing more than a TV character that Jennifer played, not a real person with real problems.

  • /Luge

    Reading this now in ’17. Thank you for this spot on post.

  • Core Ten E

    Oh great article, let’s pigeon hole every treky as sexist juvenile dip shit shall we?

  • Core Ten E

    Oh great article, let’s pigeon hole every treky as sexist juvenile dip shit shall we?

  • CharlieFred

    Great article Michelle. I loved the Kes character, and so have had a fondness for Jennifer for years. Reading of her very obvious mental health and, possible, alcohol and drug issues has been heart breaking. If you read her back story, she grew up in a rough side of town and overcame many obstacles to build a fine career early on – I have nothing but respect for that. The pity of it is that somehow she couldn’t sustain it, and hasn’t been able to or didn’t recognise that she needed help in later years. Can she be helped? A question I’ve often wondered. Castigating her doesn’t help. She’s made mistakes, and has paid for them. Exposure and abusing a cop aren’t nice behaviours but they strike me as actions that a person either having a manic episode or a person under the influence commits. Which makes me think that maybe she could get help – and get well. If she can, then I hope she gets to the point where she will. Good luck to Jennifer – I think a lot of people out there feel the same and are praying that some day she’ll be happy and well again.