From November 1st to November 3rd, the Embassy Suites at Boston’s Logan Airport will host the 2013 KiScon, the fourteenth incarnation of the convention dedication solely to Kirk/Spock, both from the original series and JJ Abrams’ recent reboot. This was the perfect excuse (occasion, I mean the perfect occasion) to devote an entire column to the most popular slash pairing of all times, so I jumped on the opportunity like a Denevan parasite. Whether you are a Trekkie, a casual fan or a K/S skeptic, you should learn a thing or two about the One Slash Fandom to Rule Them All.
What’s so great about Kirk and Spock, exactly?
You might know them as K/S, Spirk, Spork or Space Husbands. What was the true extent of their relationship? Gene Roddenberry used the Vulcan term “t’hy’la” to explain their bond in his novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, making Kirk and Spock “friends, brothers, lovers”—a fitting description for the pairing that fathered the slash fandom as we know it today.
Roddenberry’s creative development of Star Trek began in 1964, with the proposal of a Wagon Train-like television series set in space for which the episodes would combine an adventure story and a “moral lesson of the day” conclusion. The first pilot submitted, “The Cage”, didn’t feature the crew we know today, but rather Captain Pike and his female first officer, Number One (played by Roddenberry’s future wife, Majel Barrett, who would later play Nurse Chapel). This pilot was rejected, but NBC requested a second pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, starring William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy as Kirk and Spock, respectively. It is widely believed by K/S fans that this second incarnation of Star Trek didn’t stray from the original relationship intended between the captain and his second officer, something of a vaguely romantic nature originally designed for a heterosexual duo. Fact or speculation? It’s tough to say—because even Gene Roddenberry himself never gave the fans a clear answer. When asked about it, he confirmed that there were “love overtones” to the relationship between Kirk and Spock, and that even though he “never suggested […] physical love between the two” in the series, he “certainly had the feeling that the affection was sufficient for that”. I’m counting this one as a win.
’Altair and Vega’ by Athew
For those of you late to the party by a few decades, here’s what you need to know about the characters of Kirk and Spock as depicted in the original series: James T. Kirk is the human captain of the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701). He loves his starship more than anything else, but he’s also very fond of women, and his entire identity revolves around a compulsive need to ignore Starfleet’s Prime Directive, which is not to interfere with the internal development of alien civilizations. Spock, who initially appears to belong on the opposite end of the “reckless and emotionally driven” spectrum, is a science officer aboard the Enterprise, as well as Kirk’s first officer. He is half-human on his mother’s side, a heritage he vehemently rejects as he grew up on Vulcan and has been taught that following logic is preferable to being motivated by one’s feelings. If you think this sounds some other familiar couple, you’re not mistaken at all; tons of pairings in both canon and fanon follow a similar pattern of opposites working together and complementing each other—Mulder/Scully (The X-Files) and Destiel (Supernatural), to only name two. At the start of the original series’ first season, the friendship between Kirk and Spock appears to have been established prior to their graduation from Starfleet Academy. However, their bond progressively gets stronger in ways the audience can clearly notice, ultimately making them look like a married couple by the time we reach the six movies produced after the animated series.
Are K/S shippers just seeing things? Could it be that the slash movement was just spawned from the closest thing to homoerotic subtext one could find at the time, without any real material to support it? I’m tempted to say “of course not” right way, but I’d rather let you decide for yourself after a quick look at what I consider to be the 5 best on-screen K/S moments in Star Trek history.
The Kirk/Spock Top 5
5. The Backrub [1×15, Shore Leave]
This scene might be the most convincing argument one can make in favor of intentional Kirk/Spock subtext, and it happens in the very first season of the series. You can watch it on Youtube, but here’s a convenient summary of what happens: Kirk complains about a kink in his back while Spock is standing behind him, not-so-subtly asking Spock for a backrub. It’s however a pretty yeoman who takes the matter into her own hands (literally), unbeknownst to him. Kirk encourages who he thinks is Spock to “push harder” and “dig it in there Mr. Spock”—at which point Spock purposely steps into view, revealing that he wasn’t the one giving him the backrub. Kirk’s tone immediately changes, and he asks the woman to stop. Let me rephrase that: Kirk asks a pretty woman to stop touching him because she’s not Spock. No matter how you interpret it, it’s very difficult to come to a skeptical conclusion.
4. “You Sexy Thing (I Believe in Miracles)” [1×23, A Taste of Armageddon]
Forgive the reference to the Hot Chocolate song—it’s the first thing that comes to mind whenever I watch this scene. At the end of the episode, Spock remarks that Kirk took a big chance; he tells him that a feeling is not much to go on. Kirk replies that sometimes, a feeling as all humans have to go on. This is then followed by one of my favorite exchanges in the entire series, and a line every Kirk/Spock fan knows: “Captain, you almost make me believe in luck.” “Why, Mr. Spock—you almost make me believe in miracles.” Now, I’m not sure what directions Shatner was given when they filmed that scene, but the only rational explanation I can come up with is that he was told something like, “Hey Bill, when you say your line, make sure you look at Leonard like you’re madly in love with him and he’s the most precious thing in the universe.” I’m not one to argue that looks prove anything, romantic or otherwise, but the affection here is extremely obvious.
3. Side by Side [1×28, The City on the Edge of Forever]
After being sent on Earth during the Great Depression (there’s a logical explanation, I swear), Kirk and Spock meet a social worker named Edith Keeler, and Kirk falls in love with her. Being very observant, she catches on to the fact that Kirk and Spock are out of place. When Spock asks her where she thinks they belong, she answers: “You? At his side, as if you’ve always been there and always will.” Her prediction proves to be entirely true, and this line remains one of the most important comments made about Kirk and Spock’s relationship. Even someone unfamiliar with the original series can tell as much; in the 2009 Star Trek film the first thing Spock Prime (or Old Spock, if you prefer) asks Kirk is, “How did you find me?”, implying that it’s what Kirk would always do—look for him, even in another universe.
2.Pon Farr [2×01, Amok Time]
’Amok Time’ is one of those Star Trek episodes that have reached cult status and yet is impossibly hard to explain to someone in a concise manner unless they’re already familiar with the series. Here, let me try: In this episode, we learn that every seven years, the Vulcan mating ritual of pon farr occurs. During pon farr, the adult Vulcan suffers from a kind of madness (and ultimately plak tow, the blood fever) that causes him or her to need to mate within eight days, or else they could die. (Basically, even few years, Vulcans need to get laid or else they die.) In Spock’s case, he needed to have sex with his betrothed, T’Pring—but T’Pring didn’t care much for Spock, and wanted to marry Stonn instead. So, to get out of having to sleep with Spock, T’Pring claimed kal-if-fee (a “passion fight” to the death) and chose Kirk as her champion, thus forcing Spock to kill him and ensuring that she wouldn’t have to be with Spock regardless of the outcome. Seeing this, Bones injected Kirk with a neural paralyzer, enabling him to fake his death during the fight without Spock’s knowledge. Spock later claimed that the effects of the blood fever wore off when he thought he’d killed Kirk, implying that his presumed loss caused such a strong emotional response in him that he came over his most primal need. The other popular interpretation, however, is that Spock did get some form of sexual release when he was fighting Kirk. They did spend a good amount of time “wrestling” on top of each other, after all.
Regardless of the verdict, there is a much more interesting aspect of pon farr that often goes unnoticed. Before Spock returns to his home planet, he visibly struggles with his sexual urges. He interacts with several crewmembers and manages to keep himself in check; however, whenever he talks to Kirk, we can see his hands uncontrollably shaking. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. (Hint: He probably wants to have sex with him.) The episode also ends on this great scene when Spock discovers that Kirk is, in fact, very much alive. What was that about Vulcans never showing emotion?
1. “I have been and always shall be your friend.” [Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan]
Henry Jenkins, USC professor and prolific writer about fandom culture, used this specific scene to explain the essence of slash to people who are unfamiliar with the concept. “[Kirk and Spock] are reaching out towards each other, their hands pressed hard against the glass, trying to establish physical contact. They both have so much they want to say and so little time to say it. Spock calls Kirk his friend, the fullest expression of their feelings anywhere in the series. Almost everyone who watches the scene feels the passion the two men share, the hunger for something more than what they are allowed. […] Slash is what happens when you take away the glass.” (source)
The glass bay scene, in which Spock sacrifices himself to save the ship and (temporarily) dies of radiation poisoning, was referenced (recycled?) in Star Trek Into Darkness but with a role reversal, putting Kirk behind the glass to later resurrect him. While I don’t agree with the vast majority of the creative liberties taken with the Star Trek reboot, having Spock cry and admit that he feels friendship for Kirk was a very nice touch that expanded on the notion that this version of him was much more in touch with his human side since the destruction of his home planet. I may or may not have teared up a bit.
In the original series, this scene was followed by an entire movie (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock) that revolved around Kirk sacrificing everything he had to find and save Spock. In fact, when you look at it as a trilogy, the first three Star Trek films are essentially the epic love story of Kirk and Spock, and how powerful their feelings for each other are. This scene from The Wrath of Khan is the best example to illustrate it. Plus, as I mentioned in a previous article, Vulcans happen to kiss with their fingers. You might just see two hands pressed against glass, but I see this.
Honorable Mention – Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home [every second of it]
Star Trek IV deserves an honorable mention as far as epic slash moments go. Why, you ask? Well, first of all, get a good look at the official Australian poster. This is a movie about the crew of the Enterprise traveling back in time to save a couple of blue whales in San Francisco. Kirk and Spock act like a married couple through the whole thing. It’s absolutely delightful—so don’t let anyone tell you that The Voyage Home is a bad movie. It’s a fantastic movie in which Leonard Nimoy swims with whales.
What About the Fandom?
’ST: Farewell’ by cannedebonbon
From slash fiction fanzines of the early 70s to the hilarious Youtube series The Ship’s Closet, the Kirk/Spock fandom has been and still remains one of the most active and respected slash fandoms out there. The term “slash”, derived from the punctuation character in the pairing name “K/S”, used to strictly refer to the romantic and sexual interpretation of Kirk and Spock’s relationship before it became a term that applied to every homosexual pairing.
There is so much Kirk/Spock fanart, fanfiction, fanvids and fanmixes out there (literally decades of it) that it’s incredibly hard to keep track of everything. The great thing about it is that you can never run out of fan creations to enjoy, especially considering the sudden fanbase increase caused by the new series of movies.
One of the main reasons the Kirk/Spock fanfic writers are so prolific is because the series essentially handed them every imaginable slash trope on a silver platter. The infamous “sex pollen” is the main plotline of ’This Side of Paradise’ (1×24), the 30s domestic AU is depicted in ’The City on the Edge of Forever’ (1×28), the very existence of the fuck-or-die trope can be attributed to ’Amok Time’ (2×01), and even the genderswap fans can be satisfied with ’Turnabout Intruder’ (3×24). If the original setting isn’t enough for you, and you’d rather have a more sexually-aware Spock? JJ Abrams conveniently made it happen for your enjoyment. (Okay, so he paired up Spock with Uhura and went against everything we know about Vulcan culture—but it’s the thought that counts, right? Besides, I’m totally in favor of Kirk/Spock/Uhura.)
That being said, one of my favorite pieces of Star Trek fanfiction is Lalazee’s unfinished “Keep Calm and Conceal Vulcans“. If you enjoy the reboot universe and pop culture references, this fic is over 84,000 words of pure perfection.
Star Trek and Queer Representation
Julian Bashir and Elim Garak (Deep Space Nine)
One of the most frequent criticism of fan’s idolization of Kirk/Spock and Gene Roddenberry’s treatment of the pairing is that Star Trek kind of sucks as far as queer representation goes. Unfortunately, it’s a valid concern: as of today, there has been a grand total of zero gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender character in the television series or films, despite the fact that at least two big names in the franchise (George Takei, who played Hikaru Sulu in the original series, and Zachary Quinto, who currently plays Spock) are gay. In 1987, Roddenberry stated that he wanted to have gay crew members in The Next Generation, something that Leonard Nimoy publicly encouraged in 1991. After Roddenberry’s death in 1991, however, the control of the Star Trek franchise went to Rick Berman, who clearly could have cared less about LGBT representation. On the bright side, some of the official Star Trek novels do have a few queer characters, and the official Star Trek magazine’s March 2011 issue featured Deep Space Nine’s Garak and Bashir as one of their “celebrated relationships” of a romantic nature, even though they were never an official couple.
The large-scale impact of Kirk and Spock’s relationship, both in fandom and in the sci-fi genre, is undeniable—but what do you think about the pairing? Do Kirk and Spock deserve their cultural status of ultimate slash couple? Do you think there will ever be a pairing that could dethrone them? What are your personal favorite Kirk/Spock moments? Tell us all of it and more in the comments below.
And don’t forget: KiScon is less than two months away. If you’re already familiar with conventions you know how quickly tickets can sell out. So if you’re interested in celebrating Kirk/Spock with fellow fans, visit kiscon.org for more information and registration.