by Sarah Warn, October 27, 2005
Now that he has decided to talk about it publicly, Takei joins a short list–which also includes BD Wong (Law and Order) and Alec Mapa (Half & Half)–of openly gay Asian American actors.
68-year-old Takei was born in Los Angeles, but spent his childhood in Japanese internment camps in Arkansas and Northern California. His family moved back to L.A. for his junior high and high school years, and he went to U.C. Berkeley to major in architecture. But a summer job at MGM doing Japanese to English translation for a cartoon series inspired Takei to switch from architecture to acting, and from Berkeley to UCLA.
He landed a few roles in theater, which led to bigger roles, feature films, and eventually, Star Trek.
“I’ve been enormously lucky [in my career]” Takei told a Montreal radio station in 1994, “and certainly the capper on the string of luck was meeting Gene Roddenberry and to be cast in the role of Sulu, which was a breakthrough role for an Asian American actor….I think Sulu played a very important role in balancing the perception of Asians by the North American public.”
Since his career-defining role as Mr. Sulu in the ’60s, Takei has continued to perform in theater, film and television, with more than 30 feature films under his belt, a role on and has been a guest-star on numerous TV shows, including General Hospital.
He received a star on Hollywood BoulevardÃÂs Walk of Fame in 1986, and published a well-reviewed autobiography in 1994 called To the Stars. He currently stars in an L.A. production of the Tony AwardÃÂwinning play Equus.
Takei has also been very active in local and international politics throughout his life. He almost won a seat on the Los Angeles City Council in 1973, but lost by a narrow margin. He served on the board of directors of the Southern California Rapid Transit District for over a decade in the ’70s and ’80s.
He was appointed by President Clinton to the board of the Japan-United States Friendship Commission, where he served two terms, and the Government of Japan recognized GeorgeÃÂs contribution to the Japan-United States relationship by giving him the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette.
Takei was attracted to boys from a young age, and quickly discerned that this wasn’t “normal”.
Takei struggled with “feeling ashamed because youÃÂre Japanese-American, and feeling like youÃÂre different because of your [homosexuality],” he tells Frontiers. “And then [as you grow older], with reading, and talking to other people, your understanding of the situation starts to grow.”
“And you think, ‘ItÃÂs wrong, this [shame] is not right.’ And you start sharing it with more people, and you find other friends and organizations.”
Until eventually, he says, “you come to realize ‘This is who I am. And by gum, IÃÂm not going to let it be a constraint!’ In the same way that IÃÂm not going to let the fact that I am a Japanese-American, who was unjustly incarcerated and grew up with that, be a constraint.”
It was through one of those organizations, the L.A. gay runners club Front Runners, that he met his partner Brad. A runner since his junior-high days (Takei has run in six marathons), he saw an ad for the club and decided to try it out.
He and Brad began to train together, and then, “we discovered that we had common interests in the theatreÃÂhe was a journalistÃÂweÃÂd go to plays together and, you know, things happen,” Takei laughs.
Takei’s been open about his sexuality to his family for several years. While one sibling still has a problem with him being gay, Takei’s mother seems to have made her peace with it. “My mother, initially, had some adjustments to make, but she got to like Brad very much,” he tells Frontiers. “She got AlzheimerÃÂs, and it got very difficult for her, so we moved her in with us. Brad was wonderful. He was a saint.”
Takei believes that American society has become more tolerant on several fronts, there is still a long way to go. “[Our society has] changed incredibly from the time I was a teenager to today, both in terms of Asian-Americans in the theater and television and films, but also for gays and our self-image, and the ability to move in our society.”
But, he adds, “We talk about diversity, ethnic diversity, but thereÃÂs another kind of diversity [sexual orientation] that we havenÃÂt really come to grips with as a society.”
As one of the first high-profile Asian American actors on TV, Takei played a role in improving the self-image of Asian Americans. Behind the scenes on Star Trek, he pushed for his character to be promoted to Captain, believing that “the diversity of our planet must be represented onboard the ships of Starfleet”, as he told Brazilian Star Trek fan site Trek Today.
By coming out, he will help to improve the self-image and visibility of gay Asian Americans, as well.