When I was twelve, I had a choice to make. Well, more accurately, I had a choice to make a choice. And ultimately, I made it because of Star Trek: Voyager.
I have a long, unique last name and a long first name. My first name, Katharine, is fairly common, but with a non-common spelling. I have a joke I always make, when asked how my name is spelled, that my parents realized I was going to be spelling my last name, out loud, for everyone, every single day of my existence, and made sure I would have to do the same with my first.
However, the fault lies pretty much entirely with me. My friends and family had been calling me “Kate” for my entire life. Which, granted, had only been twelve years up to that point, but it was all I knew.
I was about to change schools. I’ll spare you the ins and outs of the Los Angeles private school system —suffice to say, it shouldn’t exist, and in the Star Trek future it has hopefully been wiped off the face of the Earth— but it meant that sixth grade marked the end of elementary school. Seventh grade started junior high at a whole new school, with the chance to completely reinvent myself without even having to change houses.
My little group of friends were obsessed with who we would be when we turned thirteen. Some went with shorter versions of their names, which they thought made them seem cooler. I wanted to be Katharine. I told them it was because it was more sophisticated and adult. In reality, I wanted to be more like Kathryn Janeway in Star Trek: Voyager.
I’d become obsessed with Star Trek only a year or so before, when both Voyager and Deep Space Nine were on the air. We’d visit our grandparents often on the weekends, and one hot, hazy Southern California afternoon, I escaped the adults by lying on a hard twin bed in a room that doubled as my grandmother’s sewing space. On an ancient TV that, didn’t have cable, I saw the episode of Star Trek that sent me down the Trekkie path. It was Deep Space Nine.
My memory of the episode is hazy. I know it involved Bashir and Section 31. I think it was either “Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges” or “Extreme Measures.” I know it was the special effects and the complexity of the story that drew me in.
This was the heyday of Trek on TV, matched only by right now — here in 2020 — in terms of how much Star Trek was being made. Both Deep Space 9 and Voyager were on the air, and while the former was the first to catch my interest, it was the latter that made me a Star Trek fan.
That seems ridiculous now. And as embarrassed as I might have been to admit just how much I loved Star Trek to my friends when I was picking my name, it became very clear very fast that admitting I loved Voyager best was equally embarrassing within the world of Star Trek fans. But this third version of 90s Trek just hooked me in faster. It was easier to start watching than Deep Space Nine was, late into its run and dense mythology. And then there was Captain Janeway.
It gets tiring to keep beating the “representation is important” drum, but representation is important. Star Trek has always been very good at proving this point. And Voyager, with its woman captain, meant the world to twelve-year-old me. She was a leader, but not a fighter. She was a scientist, she was strong-willed, she was principled.
And she was named Kathryn.
My elementary school had a very small class, and diversity was not its watchword. It was very white and stocked with the kids of the rich and famous. I had around three friends, none of whom were into Star Trek. My fandom took more subtle forms. I wore red and black outfits that alluded to Starfleet uniforms, but weren’t outright costumes. I wore pins on my chest and pretended they were combadges, but didn’t look like them in any way other than the location. And so when I had a chance to make myself a little bit more like my hero, I took it.
The little connections to Star Trek I put into my daily life gave me a bit of strength, even if I was the only one who knew they were there. I have said this a lot in my career writing about TV, but it remains true that Star Trek is my best fandom. It is the one that makes me strive to be better. Making everyone start calling me Katharine instead of Kate gave me an ideal to strive to, every time I heard it.
Thinking of myself as Kathryn Janeway made me proud to be smart. It made me proud to take charge. It even made it easy to just be a Star Trek fan, in public, even though no one else in school was. And it has made it very easy, as an adult, to say to other Star Trek fans that I’m a Voyager fan, even if that’s not seen as the cool or smart choice.
I turned 32 on International Women’s Day. That makes it almost exactly 20 years since I decided to go by Katharine. What was once a way to draw strength from a fictional woman who meant the world to me is now my own identity. Now, I can’t imagine being anyone else.
As ridiculous as Voyager could be it still means the world to me both it and Kathryn Janeway existed. There is a sticker on my work laptop — the laptop issued to me by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, where we try to get a Star Trek future and not a mirror universe future — that says “That Nebula Coffee.” It’s right in the middle, and it has a picture of Kathryn Janeway on it.
It’s an outright declaration of my love for Star Trek, Voyager, and Janeway. One that twelve-year-old me was unable to do. And when I stand in front of a conference table, coffee mug in one hand, the other on my hip, talking about what I believe in, I’m no longer consciously trying to be Captain Janeway. But I wouldn’t be that person now without her.
By day, Katharine Trendacosta (she/her) is the lead policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. By night, she writes about culture and the arts. She was formerly the managing editor of science fiction and fantasy site io9.