Friday, June 16, 2017

Merpeople in Star Trek: Why Yaoi, Continued

The first story I got published was
about mermaids in New England
In Reason 4 for "Why Yaoi," I mention that it "is also easier for me to come up with extensions to a yaoi story than to a paperback romance (although I've created extensions to those as well) . . . yaoi allows for greater objectivity. I have come up with complex, creative, and uncertain relationship storylines simply because I wasn't worried about gender issues--which is extremely difficult to avoid doing when one writes and reads any other type of romance."

One of my favorite creative endeavors is to imagine new aliens for the Star Trek Universe, replete with complicated cultural rituals: "Amok Time" gone, well, amok.

One of my favorite species is a species of merpeople--because, well, merpeople are awesome!

I have created several stories around this very cool planet (for all I know, Star Trek already invented a species like this, but since Star Trek has a tendency to invent multiple species with deceptively similar names, I figured I could do the same). The story below is less tied to the alien nature of the secondary protagonist or the alien-aspect of the planet though its problem originates there.

* * *

Character 1 is Liam, a human male. He lives on Earth, where, of course, there's no poverty, etc. etc. etc. But people are still people, so Liam is a high school dropout with no parents, who doesn't know what he wants to do with his life--except he loves the ocean. He works as a lifeguard and is saving his money (or credits or honor points or whatever) to take a single visit off-planet. The one place Liam absolutely wants to go, no question, is Pechea (based on the French word for "fishing" and yes, there's an actual place in Romania called Pechea, but coming up with alien names is hard).
Liam's ideas about merpeople are
founded in Earth books and lore, 
like the wonderful Narnia series,
which is still being read in the future.

In typical fan-boy manner, Liam has read everything about Pechea and merpeople he can get his hands on. But he isn't a scholar and he is only eighteen, so his understanding of Pechea has been filtered entirely through his human imagination. This is not a bad way to learn about something new but it gets him in trouble later.

He finally manages to get on-board a space-trip to Pechea by claiming to be a student. This is a relatively harmless deception but again, gets him in trouble later. Despite required "cultural appreciation" lectures whilst on-board ship, on planet he gets pulled into the activities of a group of thoughtless, dumb students who think it is fun to light things on fire (with the equivalent of gasoline) and throw them into the ocean.

This is bad, of course, on any planet. On Pechea, they might as well be trampling all over people's rooftops. As punishment, the college students are sequestered. However, the insightful judge realizes that Liam's reasons were less dumb callousness and more ignorant enjoyment and hands him over for Pechean "punishment" or reconciliation.

Inner Pechean homes have direct access to the water--
like this, only less tacky.
He is sent to live with one of the Pecheans who was above water during the incident and got hurt. The young man, Enjeru, was burnt, losing sight in one eye. This is the future and Federation medicine is available, so his sight will be restored and the burnt skin repaired. However, it is being mended in stages, so when Liam arrives, the wound is still noticeable.

By the way, Pecheans have tails in the ocean and legs on land, the reverse of E. Nesbit. Their buildings have upper levels that descend below the water. They also have buildings entirely underwater. Liam is staying at Enjeru's parents' home which is partly above water--with lots of open pools. 

This is a hate-at-first-sight relationship. Sort of. Liam is not even vaguely hate-filled and feels terrible about the whole throwing-fire-in-people's-living-space thing. He also loves Pechea as much as he thought he would--it's a dream come true and he would like to stay there forever. Enjeru rapidly figures out the type of person Liam truly is and is able to forgive him and move on. They become close friends, possibly closer . . .

Except politicians are being noisome. The families of the college students have protested their treatment (they are being held in a facility and not allowed to wander about or leave the planet). The Federation arranges for the students to be released, but the malefactors have to (1) leave the planet; (2) never return to the planet. Some well-meaning if clueless soul realizes that Liam was part of this group and arranges for him to also be "released," something that neither Liam nor, at this point, Enjeru, wish.

Once Liam is removed, his deception--papers claiming to be a college student--is discovered. He is given a third stipulation: (3) banned from space travel. Devastated, Liam returns to Earth where he finds it difficult to get hired to do anything involving interesting work (after all, a culture where no one commits crime would likely be more critical of its aberrant members than less).

Approximately three years later, however, a Federation committee investigating the reasons for off-planet diplomatic crises (i.e., why do aliens behave so badly on each others' planets?) looks into the Pechea incident. One of the committee members interviews Liam, takes a liking to him, realizes he was merely young and stupid, not deranged, and acting as loco parentis, gets him a decent job at the Earth Aquarium--where he thrives. He loves taking people on tours, loves talking about the ocean, has friends, and shows an ability to come up with interesting displays.

In the meantime, in an effort to reunite with Liam, Enjeru enters Starfleet where he discovers, much to his surprise--since he never saw himself working in space--that he loves the environment and the work. He's a blue-shirted officer and works most of his time collecting and examining biological specimens. In the world of Star Trek: The Next Generation, he would be one of the crew-members to figure out why the tricyanate contamination in "The Most Toys" wasn't an actual tricyanate contamination. (Note: Pechean crew members have deep narrow pools in their cabins, so they can sleep--as they prefer--underwater.)

Eventually, the star ship to which Enjeru is posted comes to Earth and he tracks down Liam while on shore-leave. Liam is thrilled to see him and perfectly willing to go along with Enjeru's impetuous suggestion that they get married; they return to the ship with a paper marriage certificate before the digital version enters the Starfleet database, which means that Liam's restrictions about interplanetary travel aren't noted until he and Enjeru have left the planet. Eventually, the "cheat" is realized but their friends come to bat for them, and the matter is cleared up. The couple is allowed to remain together.

That is not the problem.
Vulcan does have seas.

The problem is that a planet lover married a space lover. They may adore each other, but their lifestyles are fundamentally incompatible. Liam tries to adjust by using the ship's holodeck to create sea tours for the school-age children (like on Enterprise, Enjeru is posted to a ship with families). But he kind of hates living only on ship. And he kind of loved his life on Earth although he didn't realize how much he loved it until he left.

When Liam's ability to plan in-depth and interesting exhibits regarding ocean environments becomes known, he begins to get offers from actual planets--like Vulcan--to come and put on shows at their planetary museums. And he takes the commissions, simply to get off ship and onto "real ground." These exhibits take him anywhere from 2-4 months to plan and install. He then rejoins the ship, which isn't always easy depending on its location.

Miles and Keiko--or the "fighting
O'Briens" as Nitpicker, Phil Farrand
sometimes calls them--do make it.
Enjeru supports Liam's career, and Liam supports Enjeru's. Yet as one would imagine, their time apart destabilizes their relationship. Absence makes the heart grow fonder; it also gives rise to stress, doubt, and loneliness--as we Star Trek fans saw with Miles and Keiko O'Brien on Deep Space Nine.

Here's where yaoi becomes useful. When I asked myself, "How do I solve this relationship's problem?" I didn't have to worry about two specifically gendered arguments (that I have heard throughout my life):

(1) "A good wife would stay with her husband and support his career; after all, if he cheated while she was away or because she refused to go with him, it would be her own darn fault. He comes first!"

(2) "A wife should never settle for being 'barefoot in the kitchen.' Any good husband would understand and support her decision to find a great job; otherwise, he would be a domineering, controlling, and possibly abusive jerk."

Regarding this story, I simply had to keep the marriage together.

Actually, first I had to figure out if my characters would want to keep their marriage together. And they did. (Big sigh of relief.) They get along and always have; they don't really want to be with anyone else; they find comfort in each other; and they admire each other. It's the lifestyles they hate, not the people. (The other cool thing about yaoi is that it presents an opposing view to the Western romantic ideal that love should overcome everything; yaoi, which dovetails quite nicely with early nineteenth century English literature, acknowledges that love is not always enough; the lives people lead and want to lead matter too.)

For Liam and Enjeru to make it, something somewhere was going to have to give. First, I had Enjeru delete a program he'd created of Liam on the holodeck to keep him company while Liam was away--à la Barclay. I know a program like this would upset a woman. I imagine a man might shrug his shoulders, as Liam does, yet not be entirely thrilled at being substituted for with a "perfect" version.

When I first saw the Stargate: Atlantis pilot, I wanted
the city to stay underwater.
Learning that Enjeru deleted the program, Liam then does some of his outside-the-box thinking (both men are quite perceptive; Enjeru is Spock-observation-perceptive although with a somewhat different personality from the good Vulcan; Liam is McCoy/Neelix perceptive in his willingness to go WAY off base to find a solution).

Liam contacts his parental figure from the committee (who also helped him after he got married) and together they get Liam assigned to the Federation's diplomatic corps. It helps that at this point, this once-delinquent has Vulcan, Trill, Ferengi (regarding a profitable exhibit, naturally), and Bajor clients/contacts. By joining the corps, Liam now gets to go down to nearly every planet the star ship encounters, rather than wait for shore leave. And he gets to help with introducing "our" (Federation/Earth) culture to new planets. So he gains a team, which he needs as an reserved extrovert, and a purpose and access to "real ground" as often as he needs it.

He and Enjeru split their vacations between Earth and Pechea (so that restriction is lifted as well).

I find this type of solution far more satisfactory than (1) the couple breaking up; (2) the couple sacrificing endlessly for each other.

It is possible to figure out this type of solution with any kind of romance. Gender pressures don't dictate how individual writers solve the individual problems of their individual couples any more than such pressures do in real life. Despite what sociologists may believe, gender arguments are not the default for relationship discussions--people's personalities do rise to the fore.

But it is quite frankly easier for a writer, at least, to solve problems when gender issues are left off the table entirely.

Image result for copyright Katherine Woodbury

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