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07 July 2011 @ 02:04 pm
Troi and I  
 I just finished recording a short Troi/Selar podfic for A Peck on the Lips at podfic_project , and it's got me to thinking about Deanna Troi.

Granted, it doesn't take much to get me thinking about Star Trek. Star Trek is arguably my first fandom - my mother collected the Original Series line of authorized books, and I read most of them by the time I was 10. We watched all the movies as a family, I saw random episodes of TOS here and there (this was on an army base in Germany - AFN was the only English language station available, so there wasn't a lot of syndicated programming), and we watched TNG religiously. Wil Wheaton was my first celebrity crush. I was all about teh Wesley.

So, Deanna Troi. I've always had a hard time with her. She's had an undeniable influence on me - I am not training to be a therapist because of Deanna Troi, but I also can't pretend she's not a factor - but she's also always made me uncomfortable.

I loved that she was taken seriously as a mental health professional on the Enterprise, and that her expertise was so highly valued that she had a dedicated post on the bridge and was included in the senior staff. I particularly loved those moments when we saw her with clients, doing the work of therapy rather than standing on the bridge sensing the intentions of an adversary. It indicated a real practice and professionalism, rather than just an exploitation of her Betazoid physiology. It's nice that she can sense emotions due to her non-human heritage, but it's better that she's been professionally trained to know what to do with the thoughts and feelings others share with her. 

What made me uncomfortable about Troi was not her fault - nor do I think was it Marina Sirtis's fault. It had more to do with the writing and the costuming. I haven't rewatched recently, so I can't make citations, but I remember there being episodes (particularly in the first couple seasons) where Troi seemed kind of...dumb. She strode around in her tight-fitting costumes with her cleavage on display and her enormous hair bouncing behind her, and when she offered her empathic impressions to Picard, she generally looked perplexed. She emoted at Riker and talked somewhat haltingly about her feelings, but there wasn't much evidence of a critical mind underneath all that hair.

Don't get me wrong - Marina Sirtis is gorgeous, and there is nothing wrong with tight clothes, cleavage, or even big, bouncy hair. But Troi represented a sort of sensuality - that potent combination of physicality and emotionality - that has always triggered something in me. Marina Sirtis had a real figure. Troi wore the unitard, but did not have the slim hips and thighs of a Seven of Nine or T'Pol. Perhaps the fact that she didn't have that kind of completely unattainable, pure fantasy-shaped body made her seem more real to me. Later seasons showed her to be very intelligent and professional, but she was never an intellectual genius or a badass mofo fighter. Betazoid empathy aside, there was nothing about her skill set that an intelligent person with access to quality education couldn't attain. In other words, she was relatable. Uncomfortably so. 

Most characters in genre works are, no matter how well developed they seem, archetypes. They may gain depth and dimension, but there will always be a representational aspect to them. And with the characters we admire, there also tends to be something aspirational about them. We might relate to the pain we see in Olivia Dunham or Sarah Connor, but we also want to be as badass as they are. We relate to their feelings, and aspire to everything else.

So what do you do with a character who is far more relatable than aspirational? I think the answer is that we tend not to relate to them. We reject them. They are the mirror we'd rather avoid. At least, that's what Deanna Troi has been for me. I want to be as empathetic and caring as she is, and I would absolutely love to have her job. But I also want to be recognized for my intelligence. I don't want people looking at my childbearing hips, my long hair, and the soft expression in my eyes and thinking that means I'm all womanliness and feelings. I am that, but I'm also more. I am the product of my genetics, a diverse personal history, an expensive education, and a lot of hard fucking work.

Troi threatens to upset that apple cart for me.  I look at her and think, is that who I really am? And no, personality-wise, I don't think I am much like Deanna Troi. She's soft and comforting and addicted to chocolate. She has woman friends and likes to wear pretty clothes. She's into barrel-chested dudes with facial hair. I'm soft and comforting when I need to be, but otherwise I'm a little prickly. I'm a loner who tends not to have many close friends, I'm not especially into clothes or shoes or chocolate. And I think i already mentioned that I prefer Wesley to Riker. (Age-appropriate Wesley, naturally.) I still love teh nerds.

But also yes. I'm emotional and empathetic, I have big boobs and big hips, and the expensive education I'm working so hard for is one that many people (most people?) still don't take that seriously. Caregiving is not highly valued in American culture. And I'm not even trying for the more intellectual side of my profession - I'm going for a Master's so that I can do clinical work, actual person-to-person therapy. If I wanted to prove how smart I am, I could be going for a Psy.D or Ph.D so that I could do research and write papers and fling my name around the field. But that's not me.  I'm not really in it for pure intellectual rigor. I'm in it to form therapeutic connections with other human beings. I'm in it to talk to people about their feelings. I'm not Samantha Carter. I'm Deanna Troi.