Adira Tal; or, No Future for the Gender Dissident

Dee Richards
6 min readApr 6, 2024

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“Star Trek is special to me. I’ve often looked to it for understanding, particularly about my identity as an LGBTQ+ individual, but one episode has shaken my faith.”

There is only one tradition that I carry from my birth family that has maintained its original potency through the years. My father dressed as Spock, from Star Trek: The Original Series, every Halloween when I was a kid. When Star Trek: The Next Generation aired, my brother and father watched it together sometimes. My brother and I watched it together, once I was old enough. Then, we watched Star Trek: Deep Space Nine every week when it aired. As I mentioned in my previous post, “Saying Goodbye,” I get overly attached to fictional characters. When DS9 ended, I felt like I was losing some essential part of myself. Now thinking back on it, I was probably just afraid of losing what small, tenuous connections existed within my family. Still, Star Trek has been a part of me since I was very young. My children were named after actors from different Star Treks. My kids and I are working our way through TNG right now, and they are starting Star Trek: Prodigy on their own (I think). I wouldn’t say that I’m a Star Trek fanatic — mostly because I’m not fanatical about anything. Still, Star Trek is special to me. I’ve often looked to it for understanding, particularly about my identity as an LGBTQ+ individual, but one episode has shaken my faith.

A couple of episodes spoke to me as a young person. First, as with most trans and GNC types of my age, is “The Outcast.” In this episode, a species called J’Naii are visited by the Enterprise. This species has no gender concepts. However, a group of outcasted individuals wish to express gender, going against the tradition of their people. Riker enters into a fast and clunky relationship with a J’naii called “Soren.” Now, I don’t want to describe the whole episode, but I will point out the issues I’ve seen. First, let me point out the glaring issue: CONVERSION “THERAPY” DOESN’T WORK. While Soren seems comfortable to return to the fold to save her life by the end, the issue hasn’t resolved itself and those feelings will not go away, just be suppressed until it destroys Soren. However, being a young non-binary person, I liked the idea that gender questioning was an issue brought to the forefront at that time. The conclusion speaks more to the popular beliefs of the time than any particular stance on this issue.

The second episode that spoke to me was DS9’s “Rejoined.” LGBTQ+ people everywhere are with me in this piece of our shared history: TV’s first televised lesbian kiss. While it is clear that both Jadzia Dax and Lenara Khan, both joined Trill hosts, are bisexual more than “lesbian,” I will let it slide. You can only imagine what it meant for queer women and female-adjacent people of 1995 to see this sort of representation! I remember being so enthralled, being that it aired right as I was going through puberty and discovering my attraction to women. Now, let me destroy it a bit. There is the glaring problem of EVERYONE is against this relationship. Furthermore, Khan eventually chooses her job (which she would lose if the relationship continued) over Dax. That isn’t the greatest message, be gay and lose everything you care about, but I’m not going to say it is an entirely inaccurate one for the time it aired. It may have contributed to my self-closeting, or I may have done so in response to the conditions of the world. I have no idea. Still, these two episodes were INTENSELY incendiary for their time. “Rejoined” was all over the news, and still is lauded as a major milestone in representation.

I am now, after a bit of grumpiness regarding “canon” and other close-mindedness on my part, watching Star Trek: Discovery. It took me a while to warm to, same with Voyager. The J.J. Abrams work is blasphemous (and just plain bad), so let’s not even consider that. I got into Discovery; I am not a Trek purist nor insist that the canon needs to be followed to a Tiberius, but it must hold in terms of the feel of the Star Trek universe. It presents a better future for us, one that gives hope to the oppressed. This is the core of Star Trek. It must not discard all previous ties, but I feel it can forge new ground without relying too heavily upon the most minute details. It is, after all, a show. But I am extremely unsettled by Discovery breaking new ground for LGBTQ+ people in the characters of Adira Tal and Gray Tal. Maybe I am not holding too short a leash on the previous handling of these issues, but I really DID NOT like Adira Tal’s revelation of non-binary identity.

In Season 3 of Discovery, we meet Adira Tal, played by a clearly non-binary actor (Blu del Barrio), but relentlessly called “she” until the 8th episode when they say: “They’re fast… They not she. I’ve never felt like a she.” Stamets, played by LGBTQ+ icon Anthony Rapp, is more than happy to accommodate this change in understanding of the character. Which is, in my opinion, a great response to changing one’s pronouns, but is a huge let-down for me as a Trek fan and non-binary person. The feel of Trek is to take these MAJOR issues facing the world today, and deal with them in-depth. A whole episode, admittedly problematic, was dedicated to gender exploration in TNG. Queer female relationships were explored in DS9 for an entire episode, and Tal gets like three lines while a million other plots are weaving. It felt like a fuck-off topic which, I assure you, is not a fuck-off topic for me. Adira suddenly correcting their pronouns to a comrade without any lead-in, exploration of the topic, or dedication to the message hits wrong for me.

While I am excited about this representation, I am, again, conflicted with the delivery. Not only because it reflects current social ideology on LGBTQ+ identities, as with TNG and DS9, but also because it doesn’t hold to the tradition of Trek. These issues are typically explored far more in-depth than what Tal gets and are here treated like an afterthought at best, and a grim future at worst. It is a cruel stereotype and massive pressure upon non-binary people to make us always responsible for correcting other people’s pronoun usage. I avoid it when I can because I often don’t feel like getting into a debate over who I am. It isn’t up for debate, despite how I look or what I was called when I was born. Adira says “I’m non-binary” and Stamets says “okay,” and that’s it. That’s great, but it isn’t reality now, and truly wouldn’t be if Adira needs to correct a friend’s pronoun usage over 1,000 years from now. The friend should have asked their pronouns from the get-go. There may have been a bigger meditation on this experience than a 90-second convo between engineering mishaps. This frustrates me so immensely. There is a slightly better focus on transitioning for Gray Tal in Season 4, but it really does take a backseat to the rest of the plot, something that Discovery lacks in avoiding episodically limited storytelling. Still, I am let down by the throw-away presentation of exploring non-binary identity in Discovery. I will hope that our future looks far more bright than what is depicted here.

Afterthought: Maybe post-Burn future Earth is less accepting of gender differences than what might existed within the larger Federation territories 200 years prior, but I feel that is a weak argument. While isolationism doesn’t typically beget personal freedoms, I think even having explored how those rights to personal expression were revoked would have been fascinating. And, if that’s the case, why would the humans of this time unilaterally accept Tal’s expressed pronouns without question thereafter?

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Dee Richards

Dee is a neurodiverse writer in SoCal with 3 awards in CNF & 13 pubs in many genres. Subjects: feminism, identity theory, media criticism, personal narrative.