Star Trek Guide

Star Trek casting two trans actors is a big win for representation

As a massive Star Trek fan (or a Trekkie as we’re called) I was incredibly excited to see the creators of Star Trek: Discovery announced that they were not only casting one trans character but two, for their third season of the series.

I have always loved this show, so I am overjoyed they are paving the way once again. 

Star Trek has long been renowned for its progressive stances on social issues and diversity. As an example, in 1995, the series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine broadcast one of the first same-sex kisses ever on mainstream television.

For its time, it was revolutionary. Same-sex relationships were massively stigmatised and therefore near invisible in the television industry. To even talk about queer people – let alone show them sharing an intimate moment – was seen as shocking and widely condemned by critics.

How the story came about is a bit complex for non-viewers of the show, however.

In simple terms, the two women who kiss both belong to a race called Trills. Trill symbionts (a different species from the same planet) could be surgically joined with a humanoid host.

Once together, the Trill host (otherwise known as a joined Trill) can remember all of the previous memories of other hosts that the symbiont has been linked with. 

In the episode of the kiss, Jadzia Dax meets with a woman called Lenara Kahn – both joined Trills – and it is revealed that their symbionts’ previous hosts, who were a man and woman, were married, which Jadzia and Lenara both remember. 

In an emotional turn of events, the two women kiss and share a romantic connection once again.

Director Avery Brooks said: ‘it was a story about love and the consequences of making choices out of love. The kiss was irrelevant’. 

In that same Star Trek series, Jadzia Dax meets an old friend of her symbiont’s former host, Curzon Dax. The old friend greets Jadzia as Curzon – which she quickly corrects and says: ‘I’m Jadzia now’ – and the friend immediately corrects himself and calls her by this name instead.

While this scene wasn’t necessarily originally intended to be an allegory for transgender people changing their names, many trans people – myself included – look at the scene with great appreciation.

There are many other smaller moments with the same character, making her a bit of a legend amongst queer Trekkies who were desperate for representation at a time where there was none. 

This is often referred to as ‘queer-coding’ when characters have a subtextual layer to them that can be regarded as queer in some way, even though it is never explicitly said or expressed. 

Many fans use this to find representation, but unfortunately, queer coding is also historically used to portray villains, who often present characteristics that could be considered queer. The trope of the queer villain is a lot more common than people might realise — which is why positive and explicit representation is so important.

And Star Trek hasn’t always been perfect, either. It’s had issues with sexism, transphobia and homophobia since its debut to TV in 1966.

In an episode called Profit and Lace, which aired in 1998, one character called Quark pretends to be a woman.

In it, the other characters encourage him to embrace cringeworthy and stereotypical ways of how women should act and behave, to make him more ‘convincing’. 

In the episode, he is also forced to get romantically involved with the person he’s making a deal with, resulting in a barrage of abuse that is very much like what transgender women face in society when seeking partners.

But thankfully, diversity has improved greatly in newer iterations of the show, such as Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Discovery. Both of them have a widely diverse cast, showcasing people of colour, women and queer people at the forefront. 

And for Star Trek: Discovery to have one transgender man and one non-binary person is an important step for representation – not just for transgender people – but also because it sets a stellar example for the industry as a whole.

The two characters are played by actors who are transgender, Ian Alexander and Blu del Barrio and this is truly remarkable.

Transgender people have long called for roles depicting our lives to be filled by transgender people or at least people of the right gender.

How transgender characters on TV are represented has generally been quite poor. It’s only been in recent years that we have seen some more positive and empowering characters, with series such as Orange Is the New Black and especially in Pose. 

Growing up, the portrayal of trans people I saw was either as objects of disgust, terror or agony. It was common to see trans characters as crazed murderers like Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs or the main character in The Crying Game, or deceitful paramours that tricked people into sexual relations like in Ace Ventura — much to everyone’s disgust.

A trans woman was the height of hilarity, while trans men and non-binary people were never even visible.

Never seeing anyone like you celebrated or depicted in a positive light on TV is bound to have an effect on your sense of self. It certainly did for me — it filled me with shame and disgust for who I was.

Finally seeing myself reflected in a franchise I love is so unbelievably exciting and heart-warming. Not having to rely on vague and non-explicit portrayal of queer characters is such a welcome change.

It makes me so happy that future generations are going to grow up with such great and positive portrayals of diversity — and of themselves. They won’t grow up with the same internalised sense of shame as I did.

They will grow up knowing that they can be anyone they want and that they deserve compassion and respect.

Beyond that, it will also give the general audience a chance to connect with a character that shares some of my life experiences. This will help them understand transgender people around them, and hopefully be more open and accepting of people like me.

Representation matters — it’s about time we had some.

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