Globalizing Space: Non-Human Identities in SFF
You know what I love about sf? Ok, do you know what one of the things I love about sf is? How it explores the question of what is it that makes us human, or what is it that defines humanity. One of the best examples of this is in Star Trek. The various series have outside characters who can look at and comment about humanity, and just what sets us apart from the rest of the beings in the galaxy, such as Spock, and later Data and Seven of Nine. While these are usually my favorite characters, what I find most interesting is not this quest for humanity but how other characters deal with preserving other aspects of their identity in a ‘human’ – i.e. those who can trace their lineage back to Earth- context. Worf in TNG and B’Elanna in Voyager best embody this for me, and interestingly enough they have a shared, Klingon, heritage.
In TNG, Worf struggles as the only Klingon member of the Enterprises crew. He feels isolated from the rest of his culture, as exemplified in the early seasons through his struggle to find a female companion that he doesn’t have to “hold back” with. While he does ‘adopt’ members of the crew and they share in his traditions, he still appears to struggle being the only one of his kind onboard. (Note I am still rewatching TNG and haven’t seen the later episodes in a while in addition to DS9, so I could be missing many things.)
To say B’Elanna struggles with her Klingon identity is probably the understatement of the century. She had a hard childhood growing up half-Klingon and it affects how she relates to that aspect of her heritage. However over the course of Voyager you see her go through complicated, and life threatening, rituals – involving traditional Klingon beliefs she is not even sure she believes in – willingly, and while she initially wishes to undergo a risky surgery in order to remove the Klingon genes from her unborn daughter, ultimately decides against it. Hell there is even an episode where she literally splits into two people and address some of her identity issues by having both halves speak to one another -see featured image. The last season sees her dealing with the prospect of carrying a Klingon-messiah, and in the alternative timeline after Voyager returns to the Alpha-quadrant she serves as some sort of ambassador to the Klingon empire. Her struggle is not in being the only one of her kind but learning to accept all of the facets of her identity.
While the Prime Directive in Star Trek is to not interfere with the development of alien cultures, I am fascinated about what happens post-contact. History has shown us time and time again that as differing cultures are connected, traditions spread and this then changes both original cultures. I wish more of Star Trek dealt with this and showed more of the struggle of how to maintain individual cultural identities in an interstellar world.
Can you think of any examples of identity struggles, and characters trying to balance different aspects of their personal identity? Examples from all fandoms are welcome. And writers, have you thought about this globalizing aspect of space travel? How do you address it in your works?