LGBTQ+ In Trek: The Ally Among Us – How Star Trek Made Space For Everyone

In the 1980s and 1990s, being a Trekkie and a girl often meant I was the only person of the female persuasion in the club. In junior high and high school, that never bothered me too much. Being a geek girl, while incredibly uncool, was nothing to be ashamed of. True, it made me that weirdo-Mika, but I had a much bigger secret to worry about.

I didn’t come out until the late 1990s, and even then did so slowly and carefully. I’ve known I was a lesbian for a long time, much longer than I wanted to admit, and I was afraid to come out because I was already weird enough. I was nerdy, I was geeky, I was a klutzy athlete. I love writing and computers and thinking outside the box. I’m still all those things, but today I’m out and proud, married to a beautiful woman, and accepted by my family and friends.

My family has always been incredibly supportive of me being the creative and unique person I am. Their acceptance was never something I doubted, I knew it was an inevitability. On the other hand, the rest of the world is often the antithesis of the Federation of Planets. Being weird and quirky is something people bully, especially in high school. Being a part of the Star Trek Club didn’t help one bit, and I was a miserable, conflicted teenager.

(CBS) “The Outcast” – TNG

In the midst of that teen turmoil, something odd happened. It was a Monday, March 12, 1992. I’d applied to a few boarding schools just wanting to get out and away and was waiting to hear back from them when I sat down to watch the latest episode of Star Trek. I was the only one in the house watching, sitting in the corner of the living room, and I remembered seeing something new.

A young pilot from a race of androgynous persons met William Riker. They became friends and a clear growing attraction began. In and of itself, this didn’t strike me as strange. The idea that the lothario Riker would be able to attract anyone of any gender seemed perfectly in keeping with his character. I didn’t question this at all, but when the episode turned to conversion therapy, I felt uncomfortable. Why wasn’t Soren allowed to be who they were?

When my Star Trek club met about it, one of the boys made a snide comment about Riker ‘turning’ Soren. To my surprise, the other boys shot him down. The conversation to be had, in their minds, wasn’t about Riker’s sexual prowess, but about his ability to love someone regardless of their gender presentation.

We didn’t have the right words for that, of course, and to today’s ears, we probably sounded wildly transphobic. But at the time, a group of idiot high schoolers actually talked about how it mattered more what someone thought of themselves. It was eye-opening. These young men, most of whom were culturally misogynistic and usually sheltered to the point of emotional stupidity, actually saw Riker’s actions as something to look up to. If Riker could, then they could too.

Photo by Stefan Cosma on Unsplash

When I went to boarding school the following year I joined the Star Trek Club again and when DS9 started the following January, we met Jadzia Dax. I had been nervous about this because the previous experience with Trill was with Dr Beverly Crusher, who had a rather negative reaction to the Trill symbiote relationship and the apparent gender of the host. The good doctor was, in short, not as okay with dating a woman as all that.

Instead, we got Benjamin Sisko, who saw no difference in the person whom he’d loved (Curzon Dax) and the one before him today (Jadzia Dax). To him, Dax was Dax and while the Old Man was a little different, she was still who he was. I was stunned to have him be so different than Dr Crusher. To her, the change in Odan was insurmountable. To him, it was just another day he was able to spend with his friend.

Now, of course, there were massive differences here. Sisko wasn’t in love with Dax in the same way Crusher was with Odan. But at the same time, the choice to take the strong male lead and have him be so flexible and so loving and so caring struck a chord with me. And this difference was not unnoticed by my new club friends.

They too saw this as an improvement to how Star Trek had flubbed both Soren and Odan. The show took the time to show us that people were people in a new way. Previously they’d shown us that via races and species, but now they told us that your gender presentation didn’t change who you were as a person.

More to the point, they told us that our friends, our true friends, would still love us no matter how we presented ourselves. They taught a generation that love didn’t matter the wrapper as much as the content.

George Takei Chicago Gay & Lesbian Pride 2006

While Star Trek was unable to achieve Gene Roddenberry’s purported dream of full LGBTQ+ representation until Discovery, the seeds it planted in a more restrictive time were those of ally-ship and support. Star Trek has always been about hope. It’s a future where we are who we are and we do great things together. It’s a future where we all fit, and we are all free to love who we love. It’s a future where everyone will accept each other.


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About The Author

Mika Epstein has been a Trekkie all her life and is a TV connoisseur based in Southern California. She’s co-editor in chief of LezWatch.TV and tackles documenting gender swapping Trill and Time Lords alike. Given the chance, she’d go to Starfleet Academy any day.


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