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.