My very first memory of Star Trek was thinking how beautiful Marina Sirtis was as Deanna Troi was, adventuring through space in Star Trek: The Next Generation. I was probably only around age 5 at the time, yet I can still remember how interested I was in her character and story arc compared to the male characters on the show (sorry, Captain Picard). I didn't think much of it at the time, attributing it instead to "girl power" and the absolute joy of seeing a woman like me being treated as a man's equal. Not many of the shows I was able to watch did this, instead relegating the woman to the role of the sidekick — or worse, damsel in distress.
The real test, however, came ten years later, when the gorgeous Jeri Ryan graced the screen as Seven of Nine in Star Trek: Voyager. I was intrigued by her, drawn inexplicably to her character and her development. I looked forward to watching her on screen every week, so much so that I was actually completing my homework before Voyager's timeslot. It got to a point where I questioned myself, asking "Is this what a crush feels like?" As a teenager in an all-girls' school, my own sexuality was beginning to awaken, and I was becoming more aware of my feelings towards women. Eventually, I thought to myself, "Oh. This was what Deanna Troi was all about."
Star Trek helped solidify how I saw myself. As a child, I found myself identifying with the characters and their traits I saw on screen; Deanna Troi’s compassion, Captain Janeway’s unfaltering conviction that she was doing the absolute best and right thing for her crew, and B’Elanna’s tenacity and fire. But it was more than just that. I found myself again drawn to Seven because of her duality after being rescued by Captain Janeway — caught somewhere between being not quite human, but not quite Borg anymore either. Something about that resonated in me as a 15-year-old, though at the time I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
I realized later, when I was growing close to a girl that stirred feelings in me, that I was (and had always been) a lesbian. But how could I be, when I was a part of a traditional, conventional Asian Muslim family?
Coming into my own as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community was challenging, as I lived in a society with active laws against people like me. Many parts of Asia still prosecute individuals for choosing to be themselves and loving others like them. I suppose I am, to an extent, lucky that despite the active laws in place, they are not often actively enforced (a semblance of tolerance for the growing diversity of people who call this place home). The fear of being outed and judged never leaves, though.
To complicate matters, my faith as a Muslim seemed to contradict the very core of who I was finding myself to be. My faith has always played a large part in my life. Islam is something I truly believe in, and I know I would not be who I am today without it. While there are some who deform and mutilate the teachings of Islam to suit their own twisted agenda, the true meaning of Islam is peace — both with others, and within ourselves. To me, at the very moment I was discovering myself, I felt like I was at a crossroads in my life. Despite not being out of the closet, I felt as though everyone I interacted with would remind me, in some way, that I was different. I felt that society and community were making me choose one or the other — to be Muslim, or to be a lesbian.
It was difficult to see a future for myself and people like me where we could be free of the judgment from the societies and communities we were a part of. There was a dark period in my life when I tried to hide who I was, from others and from myself. I constantly felt angry, ostracized, and ashamed of who I was. Was there ever going to be a place for me to just exist, caught between two vastly different worlds?
There is a line Seven says in Voyager that makes my heart ache; "I am Borg, and I am also human.” It took some soul searching and a lot of self-love to finally find peace and reconciliation between the two halves of myself. I had to first come out to myself, and find enough self-love to embrace every part of who I was. It took some years and a lot of courage to admit to myself, “I am Muslim, and I am also a lesbian.” It took more years to come out to others, building trust and fellowship with people like me and allies who accepted me. Sadly, I still hide this part from most of my family and some friends, but I found comfort in being able to come out to myself first. Much like Seven growing into her humanity, I, too, grew into mine.
Despite hiding, it’s not all tragedy at home anymore either. My parents, practicing Muslims who are strong in their faith, have been gradually exposed to LGBTQIA+ people in the media, slowly accepting that we are normal people, their years of strongly-held stereotypes weakening progressively over time. I am most thankful for Star Trek: Discovery for introducing more LGBTQIA+ characters into the Star Trek canon. My family loves Discovery, and we watch it together — almost religiously — every time a new episode comes out. I believe the inclusion of Paul Stamets and Dr. Hugh Culber and now the additions of Adira and Gray Tal, have helped to ease my parents into an uneasy tolerance for LGBTQIA+ people.
Arguably, it’s not the most ideal outcome, but I will take as much acceptance as I can get. By normalizing LGBTQIA+ characters, I can feel a shift in perceptions and acceptance in my family because these amazing characters are positively associated with something that they love. Watching my family even somewhat accept Seven’s queerness in Star Trek: Picard — certainly more so than they would have ten or 20 years ago — was an incredibly heartening experience.
The direction in which Star Trek is moving towards gives me hope that one day I can come out to my family and be accepted by the people who matter most to me. Beyond the idealistic vision of a future where all forms of life and people are accepted and working for the greater good, it hits closer to home by showing those around me that people like me are normal, living beings who live and love and hurt just like they do, and who are just moving through life like they are. It gives me hope that one day, I won’t have to hide who I am or who I love behind closed doors and practiced lines. It gives me hope that one day, my parents will see that the secret I had kept for so long did not, and has not, ever changed the person that I am. It gives me hope that one day, they will see that no amount of labels and identities could possibly change the fact that I am, and always will be, their daughter.
Sayidat Mukhtabia (she/her) is an ardent Star Trek fan who has the biggest crush on Seven of Nine. She does her best to live by her principles, and stay happy amidst all the recent negativity.