Welcoming Star Trek's first trans and non-binary characters

Anna Robson discusses how Star Trek: Discovery will feature transgender and non-binary characters.

Anna Robson
10th September 2020
Star Trek: Discovery is welcoming the show's first non-binary and transgender characters in their upcoming third season, played by non-binary and trans actors. This is not the first time Discovery has broken Star Trek records, with characters Lieutenant Commander Paul Stamets and Dr. Hugh Culber being the franchise's first gay couple.

Adria has already been teased in the season three trailer. Non-binary actor Blu del Barrio will be bringing this character to life, describing Adria as a "wonderfully complex character". Also teasing that they will become "unexpectedly" close to the gay characters Stamets and Culber. The transgender character is called Gray who is to be portrayed by The OA star Ian Alexander. We don't know much about this character yet apart from that Gray is a Trill whose goal is to become a Trill host. It has been speculated in the past that the Trill species is a metaphor for the transgender experience.

One potential issue we could face, however, is that the writers may unintentionally portray the characters as transgender and non-binary, instead of characters who are transgender and non-binary. A person's sexuality or gender does not define who they are. Transgender and non-binary individuals are entitled to their privacy, but by making a statement about the fact they have these characters in their new series, it could potentially create a forced diversity and cringe-worthy plot-lines.

Credit: IMDb

It is not the first time Star Trek has included an alien species that represent transgender individuals; except, it was done accidentally. In 1992, Star Trek: The Next Generation, released an episode called "The Outcast" with the plot based on an androgynous race called the J'naii, who finds gender specificity unacceptable. The episode was originally intended to represent the issues surrounding homosexuality in the 90s, of feeling ashamed of who you are and the fear that people will see you as needing to be 'corrected'. The episode was criticized however as they only cast females to play the J'naii, so the homosexual relationship between Riker and Soren was still technically heterosexual. Instead, viewers related Soren's struggles with that of being transgender; that Soren was born as agender but believes they were born as a woman, which is against her society's norm.

Trans characters need to be focal characters with a timeline, relationships and development, just like any other central character

Despite this accidental trans episode, it has taken Star Trek until 2020 to introduce its first central transgender character. Transgender characters can not just be a set-piece or displayed through an alien character as though transgender people are outcasts. Trans characters need to be focal characters with a timeline, relationships and development, just like any other central character.

Star Trek is known for its early display of diversity on our TV screen. In the original series in the 1960s we saw Nichelle Nichols, an African-American woman, portray Lieutenant Uhura, and Japanese-American actor George Takei as Hikaru Sulu. Seeing not only a woman but a Black woman on the ship's Bridge was ground-breaking for the time.

Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series
Credit: IMDb

Star Trek has remained quite diverse throughout its 50-year span, with many BIPOC crew members, women in positions of power such as Captain Janeway in Voyager, and including dialogue which challenges gender roles. Gene Rodenberry created the Vulcan philosophy of "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. Symbolizing the elements that create truth and beauty" or "IDIC". Rodenberry was criticised for this, with Leonard Nimoy accusing him of using this as a merchandise selling point rather than a true statement to his devotion to inclusivity.

We are on our way to more diversity, but we are certainly not all the way there yet

Indya Moore in Pose
Credit: IMDb

More and more networks are welcoming a more diverse cast, whether that is gender, sexuality, nationality, religion, more people in our community are having the representation they deserve. We all know the fabulous diversity in the groundbreaking show Pose, with trans women playing trans women (not cisgender actors) during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York City. Ian Alexander, our new season three character, is known for their portrayal of character Buck in The OA. But apart from this and a few other actors such as Laverne Cox or The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina star Lachlan Watson, not many people can list transgender and non-binary actors. We are on our way to more diversity, but we are certainly not all the way there yet.

Star Trek: Discovery's showrunner, Michelle Paradise, sees her goal in the new generation of the franchise as creating a world in which there is "a future without division", highlighting how team-work and harmony among others can be achieved if we focused on their hard work and dedication as an individual, rather than the sexuality or gender. Something we can all agree is needed in our society today.

Credit: Trek Central, YouTube

Featured image credit: Phil Sharp, IMDb; Trek Central, YouTube

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AUTHOR: Anna Robson
2nd-year Archaeology student and Welfare Officer for Newcastle Uni Athletics & Cross Country.

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