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George Takei
comes out

George Takei
comes out


Once Sulu on the original Star Trek TV series and in subsequent films, the 68-year-old actor unveiled his gay private life while promoting the current Los Angeles stage production of Equus, in which he plays the lead

In 1966, George Takei, then 29, made TV history as an Asian-American actor in a leading role on a TV series, playing Lt. Hikaru Sulu on Star Trek. In October, Takei made history again by telling Los Angeles LGBT magazine Frontiers that he's gay, in an interview about the East West Players stage production of Equus, in which he stars as psychiatrist Martin Dysart (through December 4).

You and your partner of 18 years, Brad Altman, have been out locally for years. Why did you come out now in the press? I've been out for a long time--all my friends know; my partner, Brad, comes to fund-raising dinners with me. We're recognized together [as donors to Japanese-American causes]. So we've been out in that respect in the Japanese-American community as well. I think it was more the political climate [that convinced me to speak to be out in the press at this time]. Society has been changing. Today gay teens are now feature stories in Time magazine--that generation thinks being gay is just a part of society. The world has changed dramatically. In my teenage days that was the most inconceivable thing. Because of the changes that are happening I see the potential for significant change--[the potential] that I might be able to contribute to the gay community as I have to the Japanese-American community and to the civil rights movement. Because of the changing public and political climate I think we need to get the numbers, and I can play a part in trying to bring some rationality to our society.

Even though you're a native-born American, from age 4 to 8 you were imprisoned with your family in a Japanese-American internment camp. Do you have memories of your life before that happened? I'm third generation [American]; my grandparents came here [from Japan]. I'm of Japanese heritage, but I'm an American. My parents remarked how unusual my sense memory is. I remember when I was 1-1/2 [years old] and I remember where windows where [in the family's home at that time] and what the front yard was like, and then we moved to another house with a chicken coop in the back, on a hillside. And I remember how scary it was that day when U.S. soldiers with bayonetted guns came to order us out of our home. My parents lost everything: their business, their furniture. My father sold the car they had for $5 and got a dollar for my mother's brand-new refrigerator. There were some families that were so upset that there were people outside waiting for them to leave that they took their furniture out to their backyard and burned them. I put myself in [my parents'] shoes and what it must have been like to lose everything. We weren't criminals; we just happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor. We were Japanese-Americans, so we were [considered] a threat.

How has that experience shaped you as a gay man? In the same way that Japanese-Americans were not criminals, the real mistake of our society is not being able to recognize the fundamental ideals that this country stands for. The antigay movement is really being pushed by the antigay extremists of the right [not by average Americans]. For them to try to impose their narrow, straitjacked view on the rest of society--I'm going to take a stand against that in the same way that [many Americans opposed] the internment. We say that diversity is a strength of this country and talk about equal time in the presentation of ideas. There's got to be a recognition of people with different orientations.

In Equus the psychiatrist, Dysart, learns a lot about himself through interacting with a disturbed young patient--Alan Strang, who has blinded six horses for reasons no one understands. Is there a message there for gay audiences? I think there are many levels of Equus for gay men. It's got six shirtless, muscular guys playing the horses! And for lesbians there is a lovely young actress who becomes nude. Both [she and the young actor who plays Alan, with whom she has a nude scene] are beautiful human beings. [Takei gets more serious] Both [Alan and the doctor]--Dysart in particular--are seekers. [Dysart is] of the Anglican Church, but it's inadequate. He's looking for a larger truth. He's married because it was time to get married; it's a sterile marriage. He's an outstanding professional in his field, but he talks about his extreme timidity. He doesn't have the guts to venture forth [from his position at a public hospital in the provinces]. He's very constrained and very much involved with Greek mythology and culture, and what fascinates him is how they created their own civilization out of their seeking--but it's a dead society. And here he is confronted with the passion of this boy who is creating [his own mythology], finding his own worship, combined with his explosive sexuality. The irony is, here is this guy who is brilliant but empty, and in fact he finds something he admires, even envies in this young boy. They're both really outsiders. And I think that may be an additional connection with the gay community.

The play is set in the England of the recent past, but the cast in this production is all Asian-American. How was the decision made to keep the setting in England? I play [Dysart] as an Englishman, and I take on a British accent. Part of the agreement the East-West Players got from Peter Shaffer's agent [in return for permission to produce the play] is that we won't change a word. And it works. I think it works. It's really the content and the characters that play. The wonderful thing about the theater is that the audience will make that leap of faith.

Have you heard from Star Trek fans since coming out? I've been getting a lot of e-mails. A lot from Star Trek fans, as a matter of fact. All very supportive. Some of the e-mails that I've gotten have been from gay Star Trek fans. They are delighted that Star Fleet now includes them. I think [Star Trek fandom is] going to be a constant in my life. I'm very proud of my association with Star Trek. I've done conventions all over Europe and Brazil and Japan. I was hoping there would be some conventions in Spain, since I speak Spanish! You have to understand, for me Star Trek was a breakthrough--for me to play part of the leadership of that starship without any ethnic baggage or accents. I'm the only one of that crew who eventually got a captaincy [in the course of the feature films that continued the story]. I'm prepared for my tombstone to read, "Here likes Hikaru Sulu," and then, in smaller letters, "a.k.a. George Takei."

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