Lightning take: Star Trek and Gender

Gender politics and geek alert: Yup, it’s Star Trek time!

I’ve finally caught up with Star Trek, and the infamous they/them scene. We’re a thousand years in the future, following the adventures of the crew of the star ship Discovery. In the most recent series, Adira Tal is a human inhabited by the past identities of an alien symbiote that shares her body. OK so far?

Adira Tal — Image Copyright Viacom, reproduced under fair use terms.

In this latest episode, she declares to another crew mate that she wants to be referred to not as she, but as they/them — she feels non-binary. It’s the most painful, clumsy, badly written scene I’ve witnessed in ages. And I watch a lot of bad science fiction.

Adira is awkward and unsure, and doesn’t know how to tell their crew mate. He needs to reassure them that he understands. They trips over the words, trying to tell him how they feel. We’re then subject to a later scene where the crew packs as many they/them terms into the conversation as possible to hammer home that the crew accepts their wishes. It’s a big deal.

Here’s my problem with this. We’re meant to believe that a human sharing multiple identities with an alien a thousand years in the future (by then, not an uncommon event), finds gender a big deal?? We’re going to be fighting for basic trans rights for a thousand years and still not getting there? Really?

The whole point of Star Trek was meant to be a fairly utopian vision of the future where we’ve sorted our shit out. The original series united planets, ended wars, did away with money and saw the first interracial kiss on US television. That was their view of the future — not that any of this was a big deal, or had to be pointed out, or was novel, but that it was just how things were going to be. They showed it just being a natural part of future society. That’s the first rule of story telling — show, not tell.

If they did want to talk about these (hopefully natural) advancements in society, they did so by contrasting with some alien civilisation that hadn’t got the memo yet. The enlightened crew of the Enterprise would beam down to a planet which still had wars, and bigotry, and plastic rocks, and they’d make things better. They’d just be better. Over fifty years ago, they had a vision of how things should be and that became a series, films, comics, cartoons that have legions of fans and immense good will.

Yet, here we are, imposing our distinctly 21st century hang ups and concerns on a story that’s meant to happen in the 32nd century. This is terrible, terrible writing. It’s not ground breaking, or enlightening. It doesn’t explain, or question. It doesn’t advance things at all, because we’re told that even when you have a bunch of aliens in your head, you’re still going to be fearful of asking people to use an appropriate pronoun. Seriously?

If they wanted to show true advancement in gender identity, Star Trek should have their characters change pronouns and how they present at will and without a single comment from anyone. Turn up on the bridge dressed as Marie Antoinette and get nothing more than “nice dress”. Tap something on your comm badge and everyone gets the memo that today you want to be they/them. The transporters should have an option to decide what gender you’re going to be when you materialise.

Gender presentation could be a creative act, a hobby, or just something you change on a whim. Your gender and sexual identity should be a choice, respected and easily communicated. And all of it should “just work”, be nothing to comment on, or trip up over, or make long speeches about.

No big deal, this is the future, not some clumsy, heavy handed apology for the past.



Gender warrior, so long as the fight involves staying at home and comfortable undies.

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Claudia Tyler-Mae

Gender warrior, so long as the fight involves staying at home and comfortable undies.