Trans Day of Visibility: Dropping the Cloak

by Ilia Etoile

You’re fifteen years old, you’re queer, and you’re dragging yourself through the 21st century, one confusing, terrifying day at a time. You survive long enough to make it home, turn on your boxy little television  – and there’s the future, far more colorful than you anticipated, as real as anything, reaching out to pull you into the 24th century: onto the bridge of a starship, or to a distant planet, or a remote space station guarding the only stable wormhole this side of the galaxy.

The people are kind to each other, they talk about how there’s no more prejudice, they all work together to help their neighbors; it’s a nice little story. Good aesops. Wild costumes. Melodrama. The spaceship is even carpeted, it’s a nice touch. Cozy. You like it, a lot! It’s very optimistic, comforting. You’d like to be an “astronaut on some kind of Star Trek,” too. Except…

Where are the people like you? Not allegorical, but flesh and blood – loving, being? What is an egalitarian space utopia without diversity? “It’s easy to be a saint in paradise,” observes Commander Sisko – well, it’s easy to have a paradise without differences. It’s not enough to hear it; you need to see it.

And then you see it. You see her. There’s a reason so many trans women of the ‘90s named themselves after Terry Farrell’s Jadzia Dax, and there’s a reason so many pieces just like this one keep being written. She sauntered onto Deep Space Nine as a beautiful, brilliant woman who, to her friends on the station, was last seen as a man – and they adapt to the change as natural, welcome, something worth celebrating. Her new pronouns are respected; the jokes about her past wear thin, fade quickly. 

As a Trill, Jadzia is the bright new host of the symbiont Dax, embodying the memories and spirits of the worm inhabiting her and all its past hosts. She is an alien in every sense: an extraterrestrial, a unique being in her environment, someone new to her own body, her own mind, her own spirit, and very alien to much of the audience. But not to you. You understand her perfectly.

At one point her alien ex wife shows up and they share one of the first lesbian kisses on television – a forbidden romance, some alien taboo about past lives. You’re shocked. You’re spellbound. All of a sudden there’s very queer characters on Star Trek, and they’re not allegorical, and they’re incredible, and you may or may not be crying.

It’s been almost thirty years since Deep Space Nine dared to make Star Trek’s utopia truly inclusive and visible, in order to interrogate it, and prove the need for that optimism, that hope. In that time, several more Star Trek shows have come and gone. Sadly, the franchise got comfortable with its progressive reputation, and neglected to do the work to uphold it.

Rick Berman’s era as showrunner was rife with misogyny and queerphobia on and off the screen, among other issues, and the show suffered massively in its treatment of trans characters, concepts. Jadzia Dax was infamously killed off after disputes with Terry Farrell. Enterprise kicked off its run with an early episode revolving around Trip Tucker, a human man, getting pregnant by an alien, largely treated as a joke. A later episode explores an alien culture with a third gender, one whose members are mistreated as second class citizens; after Trip attempts to give one of them asylum and teach them to read and fight for their rights, the alien is returned home and ends its own life. The episode ends with Trip receiving a vicious reprimand from Captain Archer for interfering in another culture, framing his actions as wrong, the outcome inevitable. It’s a harrowing, bleak lesson. Yet another episode sees Trip teasing Reed for being attracted to an ambiguously gendered alien, with Reed quipping that he “should have brought his scanner.” It was embarrassing, insulting, disappointing. (Aside: why was Trip personally at the center of so many transphobic stories?) As trans experience started to enter the mainstream, it was being sorely mishandled.

Star Trek only means so much until it starts to make good on its own promises – caring about the real life viewers and actors that are impacted, about the power of representation. Every Trans Day of Visibility, we celebrate ourselves and those around us, everyone in and out of their respective closets, but we also remember the dangers of visibility. The answer, however, is not to step back as Star Trek had done.

If you want to raise your shields and fire back, you have to drop your cloak. (Don’t ask me why, something about the deflector grid? It makes for a great metaphor, though!)

Today, Star Trek is making good on its promise. Discovery features an unprecedented number of LGBTQ crew and characters, from the epically tragic human husbands Paul and Hugh, played by gay theatre legends Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz, to the fantastical couple of Adira Tal and Gray, the nonbinary human host of his late boyfriend’s Trill symbiont and spirit, played by the astonishing fresh talents of Blu del Barrio and Ian Alexander, nonbinary and trans actors themselves. The characters and their stories are powerful, creative, explicitly queer, and the crew behind the scenes defend them off the air. The show is loud and proud of what it’s doing in a world that is equally loud and cruel, and it shines for it.

That confused fifteen year old teen has dragged herself a little closer to Star Trek’s promised future, now a twenty-six year old trans woman. As a proud member of To Proudly Go, I get to support my community too, and celebrate the promise of inclusivity, joy, and love. I wouldn’t be here without believing in that promise.

I hope that on this sacred day my voice will reach an audience that is emboldened to stand up for what they believe in and interrogate the status quo – not just settle for visibility, but call out injustice and fight for respect and understanding, for rights and safety. For all the Jadzias out there: Live Proud and Prosper.

🏳️‍⚧️🖖🏳️‍⚧️🖖🏳️‍⚧️🖖

Celebrating Women’s History and Star Trek

To Proudly Go joins our community in the celebration of Women’s History Month by exploring the history of women in Star Trek and their powerful effect as role models for women today. Our own Ann Marie Segal writes:

Star Trek has always been light years ahead of the curve depicting a universe of equality. As is common among Star Trekfans, and To Proudly Go in particular, I’m a big believer in the mantra ‘representation matters.’ Thanks to my family and all of the Star Trek I watched since age 3, I was lucky enough to grow up with many female role models. And it’s worth mentioning that the one action figure I had growing up was Dr. Beverly Crusher, a brilliant, passionate, loving, feminine medical doctor!”

Dr. Ann Marie Segal, Outreach and Engagement Manager, To Proudly Go

Dr. Crusher, played by Gates McFadden, is far from the only female superhero in the franchise, but is a highlight of the tradition of female empowerment that began with Nichelle Nichols in the original series and continues even stronger today.

It is worth noting that the entire franchise would not exist, if not for television’s first powerful female superstar, Lucille Ball. Famous, of course, for her starring role in the eponymous I Love Lucy, Ball never appeared in a single episode of Trek. But as the co-producer of Desilu Productions, she was an early advocate of that strange show that half or more of the men in the room thought would be a ridiculous waste of money that would surely never catch on. As explained in The Center Seat, in Ball’s role as producer, she wanted a project that would break out of the mold of “daffy redhead gets into trouble” and saw Trek’s potential to deliver.

After the first pilot failed, Ball took the extraordinary step of paying for a second pilot episode, which sold the concept and led to the original run of the first series. After the series was canceled, having only three seasons, Ball’s influence came into play yet again: she had pioneered the concept of reruns, allowing shows to find new audiences long after the end of an initial run.

Fast forward to the 1990s for our next female superhero: Captain Kathryn Janeway, of course, played by the always-extraordinary Kate Mulgrew. Janeway is, so far, the only woman to anchor a series in the role of starship captain. Mulgrew, now beloved to Trek audiences, was actually not the first woman cast in the role. Captain Elizabeth Janeway was originally to be played by the brilliant, Oscar-nominated Geneviève Bujold. Elizabeth became Nicole, and filming commenced, but after a brief stint Bujold had the professionalism and grace to recognize that things were not working, and Nicole Janeway became Kathryn Janeway when Voyager finally found its captain.

Mulgrew, as Janeway, commanded the franchise into farther reaches of the galaxy than any other show had ventured, and cemented a role in television history, putting a woman squarely and incontrovertibly in charge, on any television that happened to be tuned in.

Our last female action figure for this post is perhaps the one with the least name recognition, but perhaps the most ubiquitous voice: Majel Barrett, who happened to end up married to series creator Gene Roddenberry. She was cast as the first officer—“Number One”—in that failed first pilot that Lucille Ball had to shell out a small fortune to replace. Network executives were irate that the “girlfriend” was cast in a leading role and insisted that she be replaced by a man. They were supported in this by test audiences of the era, including other women, who found her annoying and too eager to “fit in” with the men “in charge.” (One might imagine Janeway addressing them, on that point.)

She did end up with a recurring, minor role in the original series (Nurse Christine Chapel… foreshadowingly), and then to become the voice of the computer and to appear in every, single official Trek show or movie in her lifetime.

Much of modern technology is inspired by what was first imagined in Star Trek. Have you ever stopped to wonder why Siri and Alexa are voiced by women? Maybe because of Majel and her contribution to the Trek universe.

Star Trek shows us why it is so important to have strong female role models on television because those role models inspire the real superhero women that work in science, medicine, aerospace, engineering, technology fields and the many other areas help make a better future for all of us today.

Statement on the One Year Anniversary of To Proudly Go

One year ago today, on March 1, To Proudly Go was formed for the purposes of celebrating science fiction, promoting the LGBTQIA+ community and connecting the problems of today with charities that help create a better future and to empower and foster a kinder and better world.

Our first event began with our Star Trek Lower Decks Viewing Party in August of 2021, since our first event we have been able to raise approximately $2,150 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids and Trinity Place Shelter combined.

We couldn’t be happier with the support we’ve received so far. I would like to thank our wonderfully talented management team and our dedicated supporters for helping To Proudly Go achieve its goals. We are excited for what the future holds for our small organization and to build upon the progress we’ve made so far.

Please help us celebrate by join us for our next event, the Star Trek Picard Viewing Party. Until then, Live Proud and Prosper! 🖖🌈

Michael Agnew

Executive Director & Chair of the Board of Directors

To Proudly Go Inc.

Join Us for Star Trek: Picard on March 5!

To Proudly Go invites you to join us at the legendary Barracuda Lounge starting March 5 at 6pm every Saturday for Star Trek: Picard, Season 2! No cover!

Hosted by Heather WoodFlippe Kikee and Special Guests: Stella D’oro, Godiva Romance and more! These Trek’tastic events will be filled with Star Trek Trivia games, special Star Trek themed drag performances, special guests, 2-4-1 drinks, fabulous Star Trek prizes, and merchandise. Your contribution will help benefit Love Wins Food Pantry!

***Proof of vaccination will be required for entry! Get yourself vaccinated folks!***

Complete event details here.

About Love Wins Food Pantry

Love Wins Food Pantry is an LGBTQ-led and community-based effort created to address the growing food insecurity among our Queens Neighbors. They provide a safe space for LGBTQ and gender non-confirming people of Queens to access food during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their mission is to connect the LGBTQ community and families in need in Queens with food by providing LGBTQ and gender non-conforming community, families and neighbors of Queens access to healthy vegetables and non-perishable food.

About To Proudly Go

To Proudly Go is a 501c3 domestic not-for-profit corporation, formed on March 1, 2021 with the New York Department of State, Division of Corporations (DOS ID# 5951201, EIN 86-2499865) for the purposes of creating safe and supportive spaces through the use of public events that celebrates science fiction, promotes the LGBTQIA+ community and connects scientific discovery and education to empower and foster a kinder and better world.

Statement on the Aggression Against the People of Ukraine

To Proudly Go stands beside the people of Ukraine and the citizens of Russia currently suffering for speaking out against their government’s aggression and atrocities against the Ukrainian people. We are especially mindful of the fear of vulnerable LGBTQ+ humans who cannot get to safety right now. If we become aware of ways in which our community can either directly or indirectly offer aid, we will pass along that information as soon as we have it.

The Star Trek universe is aspirational and inspirational. It speaks to us because it tells a story of humanity that embodies the best potential of the human spirit. Our world is not there, yet, but recent events can serve to remind us all of the common wishes of the human heart—to raise our children in peace, to live and love freely, and to live out the full course of a human life without fear of war, suffering, or oppression.

Michael Agnew

Executive Director &

Chair of the Board of Directors

Celebrating Black History Month

February marks Black History Month, and the Star Trek franchise has always been a leader in advancing television’s sometimes-slow progress towards inclusiveness and diversity. In December, we celebrated Nichelle Nichols on her birthday, and outlined her groundbreaking role at the dawn of the Trek universe. But she was just the first of many Black actors to have traveled through the galaxy and into the hearts and minds of audiences over the years.

In his recently published article for StarTrek.com, Virginia-based author and proud “hardcore Trek fan” C. Edward Sharpe writes:

Trek’s Black history makers showed me, as a young kid, that Black people could and would have a future.

Being an African-American with a deep interest in history, especially Black history, I have always looked forward to February, when Black History Month is commemorated in the United States.The holiday started as Negro History Week in 1926, the creation of seminal scholar Dr. Carter G. Woodson. Dr. Woodson set the commemorative week in February to honor the birthdays of both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.

One perennial theme in many Black History Month commemorations is the acknowledgment and celebration of historical firsts, key markers of social progress for a people who were, and in many unfortunate ways continue to be, shut out of the mainstream of American life. Though human racism is largely a thing of the past in Star Trek’s future, honoring and respecting human history was not.

C. Edward Sharpe, StarTrek.com

He goes on to outline the importance of several of the sometimes less-celebrated in-universe characters: Commander John Mark Kelly (played by Phil Morris), Lily Sloane (Alfre Woodard), Doctors Emory Erickson (Bill Cobbs) and Richard Daystrom (William Marshall), and Captain Tryla Scott (Ursaline Bryant).

No celebration of Black history and Star Trek can overlook LeVar Burton as Geordi LaForge, Guinan as played by Whoopi Goldberg (the only Black woman and one of only sixteen people to have won the “EGOT” in competitive categories), Avery Brooks as Captain Benjamin Sisko, asteroid-hunting Tim Russ as Tuvok, and of course Michael Dornas Worf.

One of the noteworthy things about Star Trek as a piece of history rather than as a story is that it struck its powerful notes of inclusion early and often throughout the development and growth of the franchise. But like any institution, some things are slower to change than others. One oversight until Picard came along was that no show in any series had ever employed a Black woman to serve as director of an episode. That changed in 2020, with Hanelle Culpepper.

This Black history month, not yet two years since the murder of George Floyd and not yet one year since the conviction of his murderer, we see that forward motion along the path to full inclusion and justice can still be rocky and uneven. With plenty of work left yet to do, we celebrate the members of the Trek community whose work broke new ground, inspired young Black children to explore their passions, and whose stories have enriched all of our lives—all while making their own contributions to the advancement of equality and justice in human society. Sometimes these contributions were quiet and underappreciated, and sometimes they were huge and impossible to ignore, going back again to the pioneering work of Nichelle Nichols and so much of the groundwork she laid, including the first interracial kiss on television.

Inevitably, for the sake of brevity, we will have overlooked some beloved actors and their characters, so please feel free to chime in on social media with some of your favorites that we may have overlooked here!

Join Us for Center Seat in January 2022

Be sure to join us for the History Channel’s Star Trek docuseries ‘Center Seat’! starting 6pm Saturdays on January 15 until February 5, 2022.

Hosted by Heather Wood and Special Guests, these Trek’tastic events will be filled with Star Trek Trivia games, special Star Trek themed drag performances, special guests, 2-4-1 drinks, fabulous Star Trek prizes, and merchandise. Your contribution will help benefit Trinity Place Shelter!

***Proof of vaccination will be required for entry!***

Complete event details here.

About Trinity Place Shelter

Trinity Place Shelter is a non-sectarian, 10-bed transitional shelter that provides LGBTQ youth and young adults with a safe place to sleep, shower, eat and store belongings. We provide individual and group counseling, independent living supportive services, and access to transportation. Trinity Place Shelter’s mission is to help homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ*) youth and young adults in New York City to safely transition out of the shelter system and grow into independent, positive, and productive adults.

About To Proudly Go

To Proudly Go is a 501c3 domestic not-for-profit corporation, formed on March 1, 2021 with the New York Department of State, Division of Corporations (DOS ID# 5951201, EIN 86-2499865) for the purposes of creating safe and supportive spaces through the use of public events that celebrates science fiction, promotes the LGBTQIA+ community and connects scientific discovery and education to empower and foster a kinder and better world.

Happy 89th Birthday Nichelle Nichols!

Happy 89th birthday to the beloved original series star, Nichelle Nichols! Her work on the original series broke new ground in minority representation on television, and led to an illustrious lifetime of work beyond the screen. 

Early in her career, Ms. Nichols was more interested in a stage career on Broadway rather than a television career, and almost resigned the show to pursue her dream. However, she was approached by a “fan” at an NAACP event—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He impressed upon her that her role in the show was every bit as important as the marches and speeches of the Civil Rights Movement. She was showing America and the world a strong, Black woman of intelligence and accomplishment, and breaking down barriers for others to follow in her path, not just in television but in business, science, law, medicine, and other accomplished career paths. She was persuaded by his encouragement, and when she went to Gene Roddenberry’s office to retract her resignation letter, he showed her that he had already torn it up. Later in the show’s run, she shared the first interracial kiss in television history with William Shatner. 

Her work on the show led to her working with NASA for much of her life. As shown in the documentary, “Woman in Motion: Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek and the Remaking of NASA,” she “pioneered the NASA recruiting program to hire people of color and the first female astronauts for the space agency in the late 1970s and 1980s.” 

Ms. Nichols made her final official public appearance earlier this month at L.A. Comicon, concluding a remarkable and world-changing career whose impact will be felt far into the future! For more information about Nichelle, please visit http://uhura.com/

World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day has occurred every year on December 1st since 1988. It is an international day dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection and mourning those who have died of the disease.

HIV remains a major public health issue that affects millions of people worldwide. As of 2017, AIDS has killed between 28.9 million and 41.5 million people worldwide, and an estimated 36.7 million people are living with HIV, making it one of the most important global public health issues in recorded history.

To Proudly Go encourages your support of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (BCEFA). BCEFA is one of the nation’s leading nonprofit AIDS fundraising and grant-making organizations. Your support provides groceries and medication, health care and hope to those in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., affected by HIV/AIDS, COVID-19 and other life-threatening illnesses.

For more information about HIV/AIDS, please visit the CDC HIV/AIDS Resource Library.