The “pleasure planet” Risa has popped up a few times in Star Trek, most notably that one TNG episode where Picard’s attempts to read James Joyce’s Ulysses are repeatedly thwarted by everyone everyone everyone.
However, while Risa-based episodes may seem like just an excuse to have PG-rated space sex capers (and they were), they were also one of the few environments where a Trek series could explore stories that echo the structure of certain trans narratives. (Infinite diversity in infinite combinations…as long as you can get it past the network censors!)
Authors Daniel Mallory Ortberg and Colette Arrand have unpacked the complexity (and utter hilarity) of Trek’s Risa episodes in a dual interview over at the official Star Trek website and it is an absolute rollercoaster of fun. It begins via Ortberg…
Colette! I see that you have the horga’hn prominently displayed outside of your quarters, signaling your receptivity to a conversation about the transexual power-exchange fantasy that is Risa. I seek whatever you’ve got!
…and continues into a rapid-fire and nuanced discussion involving sex, work, duty, power, desire, closeting, and of course Riker. Come for the excellent one-liners (“I mean, in some ways the whole history of Star Trek is like: Something is almost explicitly gay, then at the very last second, isn’t.”), stay for the great discussion about “queerness-through-metaphor” in Star Trek, discourse on how the show flirts with and avoids gayness and transness, and a trans take on the “transexual power-exchange fantasy that is Risa.”
Ortberg and Arrand also bring a beautiful framework surrounding the relationship between Jadzia Dax and Worf, touching on the identity and self-expression dualities that they never quite got to explore together. It makes us want to go back rewatch all of those episodes immediately.