Content Warning: This article discusses self harm and suicidal ideations, and contains homophobic language in quotes.
Growing up in a small town, I never knew what the term gay or queer meant. I only knew it was something that was used against me. A verbal knife to pierce my soul, daily. I would walk down the halls of my school with my head held low. A naive little boy who knew nothing of what he was being tormented about.
“Is that a boy or a girl?”
“Look at it. What is it?”
Those were some of the various phrases used to torment me and force me to hide further within my introverted mind. No one in my family knew anyone “gay” so it was never talked about. I wasn’t without friends but I often felt so very alone and isolated. What was wrong with me? Why was I so different from everyone else? I often found solace in television. There were so many different worlds to explore and lives to see. My one escape to fantasy lands where I didn’t have to think of the cruelty of my peers. Late one night (I’ve always been a bit of a night owl) I discovered a show called Star Trek. I was entranced by not only traveling through space but that the people were all different but a cohesive crew. I mean aside from Dr. McCoy’s repeated rants about Spock’s “green blood,” the Enterprise crew didn’t seem to care who was different. Even though there were no queer characters (at least out), I felt that this was something I could relate to so much.
There were many a night when I prayed for an alien spaceship to take me away. Or maybe I could find a way to time travel to be on a ship like the Enterprise? A place where everyone that was different was accepted. Their whole mission was to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. If only! While I liked all of the crew, my absolute favorite was Uhura (Nichelle Nichols). She was just so fierce and fabulous, always. I also had a bit of affection towards Yeoman Rand (Grace Lee Whitney) and that fabulous basketweave hair she sported. (Side note: how do they style their hair like this in the future? Is it a hairstyle replicator helmet or something?) Clearly, there were always signs that I would end up being a drag queen.
In my own world, I felt so trapped. There was a hopeless desperation that ran rampant in my mind. It’s those feelings that lead me to try and end it all by taking a large amount of pills one night. Maybe there would be respite in another form of life or death? It saddens me, remembering how that seemed like a viable option then. It felt so isolating to know you are different and not know why.
My home town was in the southern tier of New York. Much like many small towns it was not very open minded. I really didn’t realize that until I was much older. When we moved to the town of Olean, it was the middle of the school year in second grade. I was excited to move, but sad to leave some friends behind. But being young, it was an adventure. What I didn’t know was that in this new small town, I was about to be bullied for the next nine years. That’s where the not so subtle whispers in the hallways started. The looks. The pointing and laughing. It was scary to be surrounded by a large group of kids threatening to beat me up for simply existing. Then there was that relentless bully who threw me up against the bathroom wall one day, mocking like he was going to kiss me.
“You damn queer.”
Why were they doing this to me? What do these words even mean? I was very naive about it all. My family also didn’t know anything about anything queer. Why couldn’t people be more like the people I saw inhabiting the Enterprise? Why couldn’t someone just beam me out of there? In my world of despair, Star Trek gave me the hope of a bigger world than the one I felt so trapped by.
There is one Original Series episode in particular, which stood out to me and still does to this day, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”. It was a race of humanoids that kind of resembled half-moon cookies but black on one side, white on the other side of their face. They were warring because the ones with black on the right side of their face saw the opposite as inferiors. This episode really so easily pointed out the ridiculousness of racism (albeit from a 1960’s lens) and even more so the ridiculousness of hating a person that looks different than you. It made no sense! Why? 52 year spoiler alert: their people end up destroying their world over it.
I often think of my youth when I’m watching Star Trek: Discovery. While there has been a light sprinkling of queerness in Star Trek’s history, I was blown away by the characters of Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) and Lt. Commander Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) in a relationship. It’s not an issue? No one has to proclaim it's a gay relationship? What? Not even a mention about them being a gay couple?! Fabulous! To see that was so ground-breaking, amazing, and honestly filled my heart with joy. Then Discovery added even more to the queer realm with Commander Jett Reno (Tig Notaro) and a trans and non-binary couple, Gray (Ian Alexander) and Adira (Blu del Barrio), respectively. Again I say, fabulous!
Imagine a lonely little boy seeing people that would help explain to him why he felt so different from those he was around. His little, unknowingly gay heart might have exploded! He wasn’t so different. He just hadn’t found his squad, yet.
I don’t really like to dwell in what-ifs, but I pondered how different I would have felt if I saw Star Trek: Discovery when I was a young kid. I know that younger version of me would haven’t felt so alone in that bedroom. I know he would have felt a little stronger and bolder. Sometimes, in certain moments, all you need to know in life is that you belong. You just need someone to validate you for being you. That wasn’t to be then because that was not my journey. I know that I am stronger today because of what I went through. I can also pass my story onto others in hopes they might not feel so alone.
The world of Star Trek taught me that some people will accept you for who you are. It showed me that there was a place that I would fit in. I found solace in a fictitious, sci-fi world that I hoped one day would be my reality. While I’m not flying around on the Enterprise, I can look all around me and know that even though I am different I am right where I belong. Though, I still want that basketweave wig.
Michael Steck (he/his she/hers) is a writer, comedian and drag queen, Pandora Boxx. Steck is proud Trekkie living the dream in Los Angeles, CA. Twitter @thepandoraboxx
Star Trek: Discovery streams on Paramount+ in the United States, airs on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave in Canada, and on Netflix in 190 countries.