How Star Trek: Discovery Helped Me Discuss My Pronouns With My Dad
I am proud to say I come from a Star Trek family. I grew up with two parents who both watched Star Trek on TV, also referred to as TOS. The show was groundbreaking for its bold and progressive representation of race, nationality, and sex. It is more than possible that the first interracial kiss on American television between Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura in the TOS episode “Plato’s Stepchildren” contributed to the evolution of the social consciousness that led to broader social acceptance of interracial couples, like my parents.
My parents continued to follow the misadventures of the crew of the USS Enterprises through a series of feature films throughout the 70’s and 80’s. Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted in 1987, when I was less than two years old, and my parents became regular watchers. Early on, I mostly ignored Star Trek, writing it off as a “people show,” as opposed to my preferred cartoons.
My opinion changed when I went I attended a re-showing 1986’s Star Trek: The Voyage Home (A.K.A. The Whale One) in theaters with my parents in the early 90’s. The Star Trek universe had entered my imagination, and I began to daydream about space travel and faraway worlds. After the conclusion of TNG, my parents dutifully followed the fandom through the 90’s and beyond with the overlapping spin-off series Deep Space Nine (DS9), Voyager (VOY) and Enterprise. The near constant stream of Star Trek series entered my consciousness as if through osmosis.
My appreciation for Star Trek resurfaced in my mid twenties, as I began to build community with others who had grown up with the show’s influence. With the advent of Netflix and other streaming platforms, I had the ability to watch re-watch every series at my leisure. Star Trek served as a respite for the tumult of my twenties. I found Black nerd kinship with Geordi La Forge, and his often jargon-heavy rhetoric. I resonated with the ferocity of the Klingons and was more than a little jealous of Worf’s courtship with Jadzia Dax. I was fascinated by the genderless race, the J’naii, another example of Star Trek taking risks in the name of social justice. I connected with Seven of Nine in her quest towards humanity during a time I felt lost, myself.
Star Trek became a huge part of my life. I began to participate in Sci-Fi conventions, speaking on panels about the social impact of Star Trek. My wedding was heavily Star Trek themed, including com badges, cosplay, and a Bat’leth to cut the cake with. Our wedding DJ was none other than Geordi La Forge himself (thanks @chuckchocolate).
The following year, Star Trek: Discovery debuted and once again, I lost myself in a strange new world. This series came packed with diverse representation with the first openly gay main characters (LTDR Stamets and Dr. Culber) and a lead character looks like me! (Also, can I just say Michelle Yeoh?!)
As is always the case, with progress comes pushback. A small but very vocal community of self-proclaimed Star Trek fans rushed to condemn the show for its diversity and inclusion, with language including, “Star Trek: Feminist Lesbian Edition,” and “white genocide,” in reference to lead character Sonequa Martin-Green. These fans seem to be conveniently ignorant of Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry’s (1921–1991) life-long commitment to diversity and inclusion. The dissent was met by writers doubling down on the queer agenda, debuting both a nonbinary and transgender character in season 3.
During season 3, episode 10, Adira Tal shares with Stamets (A.K.A. Gay Space Dad) that they “never felt like a she,” and they want to use they/them pronouns. Without missing a beat, Stamets immediately updates Adira’s pronouns.
In the moment, my feelings were mixed. I was thrilled to see the inclusion of nonbinary individuals, as I myself identify as nonbinary. I also felt sad, because the delivery gave me the impression that out nonbinary people are as rare in the future as they are today. I also saw an opportunity.
As I have come to identify with they/them pronouns over the last few years, I’ve experienced the struggle of asking others who care about me to accept my pronouns. Rarely have my pronouns been ignored outright — more often I see others struggle to make sense of “they/them” for a singular individual. A year ago, I broached the subject with my dad, who tried his best to compute this new information, but was unable to make the switch. I could see that he wanted to support me, but didn’t know how. Although he tried to hide it, I could feel his fear and sadness.
I grew up hearing the story of how my dad always wanted a girl, and was so proud to hold me that first day in the hospital. It made me think I was selfish, that I was taking someone’s dream away. As a queer, neurodiverse Black person, I was also fearful of taking on yet another marginalized identity. I felt like an imposter for not figuring this out sooner. It took me a really long time to truly accept I am nonbinary simply because I say so, and I want the ones I love to know.
This past Monday was my birthday. My dad called to send his love and after some banter, I asked if he had watched the previous week’s episode of Discovery. He said he had, and I engaged with him about Adira’s pronouns. I reminded him that that is how I identify, too. This time, he responded, “OH, I GET IT!” The simple scene had provided the right representation for him to know how to receive me, even more fully than ever before. He was able to speak about his previous confusion, and connected my experience to other forms of personal truth, liberation, and social justice. It was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.
Despite a handful of angry fans, this incarnation of Star Trek fits perfectly with Roddenberry’s original vision of not only including and tolerating others who are different, but allowing us to reach new depths of delight and love with those dear to us.