Star Trek Guide

Why Star Trek: Discovery's Non-Binary Crew Member Is So Perfect - and So Important

WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, Episode 4, "Forget Me Not," now streaming on CBS All Access.

The latest season of Star Trek: Discovery sees the ship and crew flung nearly a thousand years into the future, grappling with a new kind of distant unknown. The season's third episode introduced Adira, a 16-year-old engineering prodigy. The series' first non-binary character, Adira is played by non-binary actor Blu del Barrio. This is a great example of representation for the 54-year-old franchise.

Thus far, characters have exclusively referred to Adira using feminine pronouns, something the character has made no attempt to correct. While non-binary individuals can use feminine, masculine or gender-neutral pronouns it's a curious choice for the show, especially as Blu del Barrio uses they/them pronouns. Del Barrio spoke specifically about this choice in an interview with Syfy Wire. The American actor pointed out they hadn't come out to some of their close friends and family when the show started filming, and as such didn't want to come out on screen before they did in real life. This means Adira undergoes a similar journey, not yet being comfortable enough to share their identity with the crew of the Discovery. But del Barrio has stated that Adira's identity will be addressed at some point during Season 3, which means on-screen representation of the character's gender is likely forthcoming.

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Another important aspect of Adira's character is they are the first long-term human host to a Trill symbiont. While Commander Riker played host to such a being in The Next Generation, such a bond couldn't last without damaging both life-forms. The 32nd century Adira was born in has developed technology to allow such a bond, which means Trill symbionts are no longer exclusive to the Trill. Bonding with a Trill symbiont allows access to the memories of all previous hosts, which in Adira's case includes both the Starfleet Admiral Senna Tal as well as their deceased boyfriend, Gray. Gray had been host to the symbiont immediately prior to Adira, being fatally injured in a collision with an asteroid. The symbiont was immediately transferred to Adira upon their request, so the memories of previous hosts (including Gray) would not be lost.

Gray is also Star Trek's first transgender character, marking yet another milestone for the show. "Forget Me Not"  is in many ways a celebration of their inclusion in the show and fittingly deals with themes of gender and identity. Adira's arrival on Trill is at first spurned by its leaders, who decry their bonding with the symbiont as unnatural. This is a not-so-subtle metaphor for non-binary individuals facing rejection from society, and it's a welcome sight to see the episode end with Adira being accepted, literally embraced by the planet's foremost leader and welcomed into the fold.

Going even further than simple correspondence is the very nature of Trill symbionts as a stand-in for trans and nonbinary gender identities as a whole. While del Barrio has confirmed Adira's gender identity is independent of their bond, the symbiont's intrinsic nature allows the show to try to explore concepts of gender in the unique ways only science fiction can. When talking with Gray about his symbiont, Adira initially questions if Gray's ability to play the cello is his memory or one of the symbiont's previous hosts. He smiles a little bit at the question, explaining to them that "there aren't any fences. I'm many and I'm one, like everyone." In a similar fashion Adira isn't simply male or female or even both. They're many and they're one, just like everyone else.

Streaming on CBS All Access, Star Trek: Discovery stars Sonequa Martin-Green as Commander Michael Burnham, Doug Jones as Commander Saru, Anthony Rapp as Lt. Commander Paul Stamets, Mary Wiseman as Ensign Sylvia Tilly, Wilson Cruz as Dr. Hugh Culber, David Ajala as Cleveland "Book" Booker, Blu del Barrio as Adira, Ian Alexander as Gray, Tig Notaro as Chief Engineer Reno and Michelle Yeoh as Philippa Georgiou. New episodes of Season 3 air on Thursdays.

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