Today (March 31st) marks the International Transgender Day of Visibility. It’s a day for acknowledging the discrimination transgender people face, and also for celebrating their innumerable contributions to society. There’s no better occasion to look back on the representation and treatment of trans identities throughout the long history of Star Trek. From the days of Star Trek: The Next Generation until now, just how far have we come, and what still needs to be done?
TNG wasn’t really able to comment on LGBT+ issues as much as its contemporary Trek counterparts are. This was largely limited by the time it was made more than anything else. That’s not to say there was nothing, it’s just that a lot of it’s buried in subtext. The biggest example that springs to mind is “The Host” from the show’s fourth season.
This episode is the introduction of the Trill, a symbiotic species where the same person can have many host bodies. It’s clear by the end that these host bodies aren’t limited by gender, something that was pretty progressive for 1991. What wasn’t quite as progressive was Beverly’s (Gates McFadden) reaction to Odan’s female host. It’s not hugely offensive or bigoted, it’s just really shallow for what was a very rushed one episode romance. I wish they did more, and most reviews of the episode wish they had as well.
While Odan’s romance may have ended unhappily, the Trill grew into a main character through Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell). While not explicitly LGBT, her experience with gender and sexuality have made her a favourite among LGBT+ fans. Even Farrell herself has admitted that she believes Jadzia to be pan-sexual. I enjoy her bringing up the differences between living as a man and woman, especially in the early episodes with Sisko (Avery Brooks).
As supportive of her as the other characters are, there’s something about Sisko calling her “old man” that makes me uneasy. It’s almost misgendering, although it was never addressed as problematic by the show. Thankfully, it was all but dropped pretty quickly. This is countered by Kor’s (John Colicos) immediate and open acceptance of her in “Blood Oath”, immediately adapting to Jadzia’s new name and pronouns. It’s a pretty positive episode that still, although perhaps unintentionally, puts a massive smile on my face.
Almost as a rejection of “The Host”, she shares a kiss with the previous male host’s romantic partner in “Rejoined”. This was not only a lot more hopeful, but was also one of the first televised lesbian kisses. I really enjoy how it demonstrates the power of love through transition, and it’s aged really well. As subtle and infrequent as moments like these were through DS9, they’re a lot more explicit than in TNG and most certainly paved the way for what came after.
Adira, Gray, and Discovery
Star Trek: Discovery really came into its own in its third season, launching itself into the far future, beyond everything that came before. It lived up to this too in terms of representation, including Blu Del Barrio and Ian Alexander in the recurring cast, even adding Del Barrio into the main cast for the fourth season. They’re the first openly non-binary actors and characters in the franchise’s history. It only took 54 years, but they finally did it.
Funnily enough, their characters are Trill, connecting them to the gender norm pushing history of Jadzia about 25 years prior. Their story arcs are really authentic, such as when Adira came out to Stamets (Anthony Rapp). It’s written with so much love and authenticity, such is the case when you have a diverse creative team. Discovery has famously pushed boundaries in representation. Seeing it ending next year has me hoping that the other shows pick up and show more boundary pushing representation in the same fashion.
That’s not to say the other Trek series at the moment haven’t had more gender diversity. Just last year, the first season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds featured Jesse James Keitel as Angel. The character’s pronouns aren’t ever explicitly discussed, but are clearly they/them from the way Pike (Anson Mount) discusses them. There’s a similar thing in Star Trek: Picard season 3 with Ensign Esmar (Jin Maley). The crew talk about pronouns, their identities are facts of life. That’s the way it should be.
Speaking of Picard Season 3, there was a lovely subtle arc with Seven (Jeri Ryan). She was effectively forced to assume her deadname, with Shaw (Todd Stashwick) insisting on it. Her retort with Shaw that La Forge (Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut) “always calls me Seven, out of respect” was a real airpunch moment. Identity matters. Sadly, after that Changeling reveal scene in episode 4, it hasn’t appeared to be going much further. It was really fun while it lasted however, and only time will tell whether this subplot will come back up.
Even Star Trek: Prodigy, the much underappreciated Nickelodeon series, features the character of Zero (Angus Imrie). Having characters existing outside of gender altogether is very important. It’s clear that even without Discovery continuing past the forthcoming season 5, the future of Trek is in pretty safe hands if it keeps up.
Having trans and non-binary people onscreen shouldn’t be a big deal. But it is, we’re still pointing out the first guest stars, characters, and main cast members. There’s a lot of work to do to push for increased and normalised diversity. However, the franchise is clearly on the right track, and I think it can really only get better from here. At a time where trans rights are increasingly under attack, representation matters and is important. I really really hope they keep it up!
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