SPOILERS FOR SEASON THREE OF STAR TREK DISCOVERY BELOW THE IMAGE!
So, by now, nearly everyone is aware that Star Trek: Discovery is introducing us to non-binary and trans characters this season. Even super spoiler-phobic me knows this, so I figure it’s fair game to address.
And address it I must.
For the most part, I’ve seen love and support from the world about this. There are, I’m sure, a few who don’t like the notion, but frankly, I don’t have time for those folks and their limited worldview. And I’m not here to talk about either of these groups. I’m here to discuss those who don’t understand what the big deal is. Those who think that this isn’t newsworthy. Those who argue that non-binary people and trans people have already been represented in Trek by such beings as the Trill or J’naii.
To those people, I would say: No. Just… no. The Trill and the J’naii were not representation of these marginalized groups. They were baby steps toward that, perhaps, but they were not representation. They were allegories that introduced the notion of people being more than what they seem in a way that would be (mostly) accepted by an early-nineties viewing audience. Yet they are in no way explicitly defined as non-binary or trans.
I could go on about the whys and wherefores of this in the Trek universe (mostly talking about how Trill take on the gender of the host and how Soren, a J’naii, is female and wants to be femme, but is forced into the androgyny her society requires), but we don’t have time for that. So, instead, I’d like to tell you a story.
A story I have told exactly two people on this planet – until now, when I’m essentially telling the whole planet.
When I was in high school, I was big into Star Trek: The Next Generation. And when the Trill were introduced in “The Host,” I identified so much with them.
Because, see, I used to pretend I was an alien. And that for my species, males nursed the young. And that’s why I had breasts.
Not only that, but the cultural traditions of my planet meant that I couldn’t cut my hair. Thus my rationalization for growing my hair out so that teachers would no longer ask my sex in front of my classmates and embarrass me and so that my peers would stop calling me “it.” (Or later, “Pat,” though since I’d never seen Saturday Night Live, I didn’t understand that one until years later.)
So, the idea that a being could be inside me that didn’t match up with my body made perfect sense to me. “The Host”, in addition to asking important questions about the nature of love, also made the notion of two beings in one seem less strange. It was groundbreaking television, as Star Trek so often is.
But here’s the thing. I was not an alien. I was human as the next person.
I still am.
I’m not sure if I’m trans. I know I’m definitely genderqueer. I’m also asexual but panromantic. At least those are the labels I’m currently using – they’re subject to change, though, as myself and the times do.
But for now, those work. And labels are helpful. I’m glad I have them now. They didn’t exist when I was younger. I didn’t know there were others like me. I only thought there was something wrong with me.
But there wasn’t. There isn’t.
I’m just me – a human. And humans come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, colors, abilities, sexual orientations, and genders.
And that’s why Star Trek Discovery’s introduction of non-binary and trans human* characters this season means the world. The Trill and the J’naii were good first steps, but it’s time to do more. I don’t know how they are going to handle these characters on the show, but I hope it is with great care. Because they already mean the world to me. I don’t want one more young person to have to pretend to be an alien to feel right in their own body. I don’t want one more person of any age to conform to something that feels wrong just because they feel that they have to. And representation of every type of human in media helps with this.
These characters matter. Because we matter.
Those of us who don’t line up exactly how society says we “should” are not another species. We’re not foreign. We’re not weird or strange or something to be feared.
We are just us.
And we’re only human.
*EDIT (SPOILERS FOR SEASON THREE, EPISODE THREE): I wrote this before Adira was introduced on Discovery. When I thought the new characters were entirely human. I must confess I am a bit nervous about the fact that Adira carries a Trill symbiote (of all things, it had to be a Trill?). Even though Adria is human, and is noteworthy for being a human who carries a symbiont, having the Trill involved at all makes me a bit sad, for the reasons addressed in this blog. I hope it is made clear that Adira’s gender was in place before they were blended with the symbiont, but I so wanted a clear, absolutely unequivocal non-binary character, and now I fear that the waters may be muddied. I hope not, though. And for now, I trust in Trek to do the right thing, and like everyone else, I will wait and see.
SECOND EDIT (SPOILERS FOR ALL OF SEASON THREE): Adira is unequivocally non-binary, and just as human. They may carry a Trill host, but it was indeed made clear that that did not affect their gender. This makes me so very happy, and I’m completely okay with it. I am no longer worried about Trek hiding Adira’s identity behind the symbiont. Trek did, in fact, do us right. Non-binary and also non-alien is so much love. We of complicated genders are humans, plain and simple. Allegory is great, but true representation is even better. And we finally have it. We are even shown as being deserving of love and family (thank you Paul Stamets!). It feels so, so good, and I’m trying not to cry while I type this. And Gray, while Trill, is just a guy – who happens to be played by a trans actor. This is also love, as it’s great to see a trans actor just playing what they are (in this case, a dude) without it being a big deal. So, yeah. I’m good. Thanks, Star Trek. Again. Thanks for getting me through high school with a fantasy, and for letting me have some reality representation now. Keep boldly going, Star Trek. We’re with you all the way.