This story originally ran June 29, 2020
For many trans, non-binary and other gender non-conforming individuals the concept of a name is of great significance to their identity. Some are okay with the name written on their birth certificates. But for many, especially those that transition, it becomes a task of finding the right name that really fits; the one that makes them feel seen and validated, the name that is them.
Star Trek has always been a hot topic when it comes to LGBTQ+ characters, and it’s no wonder that so many people are able to come to terms with their queer identities by watching the show. I’ve even seen articles come through the official Trek website that describe this, and I’ve also seen a few that talk about individuals choosing their name because of Trek characters, following the footsteps of those that we admire and aspire to be.
I am non-binary. More specifically, I am non-binary and trans-masculine, and I was given a very feminine name when I was born. As I discovered my queer identity, there was nothing more that I wanted than to change that name. Kira, the nickname I’ve been going by for most of my life, is as feminine as I am not.
Back in mid-February, I met Star Trek: Voyager’s Robert Picardo at an event in Manhattan. When I introduced myself as Kira, he asked me if that was my real name. He then asked if I had been named for Major Kira from Deep Space Nine. I was born in 1994, between seasons 2 and 3, and with my dad as the Trekkie head of the family, anything’s possible. But aside from doing the equivalent of the heart eyes emoji (anyone who knows me knows how much I love the EMH), I enthusiastically said yes, Kira is my real name.
Whenever I’m asked by a Trek fan (Trek celebrities included) if Kira is my real name, I always feel like I’m lying. Because Kira is technically not my name. Kira is my nickname, my full first name is Kiralee. But I have been going by Kira for almost 26 years. Only my parents and my legal documents call me Kiralee, and if I don’t have to use it, I won’t. I don’t like introducing myself as Kiralee, and for a while, there was a time I couldn’t even stand using Kira.
I acknowledge that my given name is unique and beautiful — each letter stands for someone in my family tree, giving it an extra layer of meaning. The Star Trek connection is an added bonus. But imagine being told your whole life that you are a cis-gender, heterosexual girl and assuming that your tomboy phase was just lasting a lot longer than most. Then you realize you aren’t a cis-gender girl at all, or heterosexual for that matter. Yes, my name was great, just not great for me.
I came out as non-binary in college after a long, long period of gut-wrenching soul searching. I was finally able to admit to myself that I wasn’t the girl I thought I had been. It felt freeing. But at the same time, my name made me feel so trapped and caged. Kiralee and Kira were so feminine and the opposite of how I felt, how I saw myself. So I began to distance myself from those names. They weren’t me, and I wanted nothing to do with them. And I felt bad. Your name is literally a birthday gift from your parents, and I didn’t want mine. I even came up with a name to use between some of my closest friends, but I was too scared to start using it publicly besides for order names at coffee shops, so I continued to use Kira. At the time it felt like the lesser of two evils.
In 2017 I went to my first Star Trek Las Vegas convention with my dad. Our ticket level got us included autographs, and one person on that list was Nana Visitor. I am embarrassed to admit that although I’ve been a Trekkie since birth, I had never seen an episode of DS9. So when I met her, and I feel bad saying this, I hadn’t a single clue who she was. She asked my dad and I if I was named for the character and my dad, in typical dad fashion, said, “Mayyyyybe.” And I remember the biggest grin breaking out on her face (and we all know just how pure that smile is). So now it’s a running gag in my family that Major Kira had a major influence on my name.
The following year was DS9’s 25th anniversary. In prep for STLV I decided to watch the series for the first time. How surprised I was when I found out there was a kick-ass female character named Kira? Hella surprised. It was even more surprising how oddly narcissistic I felt when I developed a slight crush on her.
But I resonated so strongly with Kira. She was angry, frustrated by the world around her and the situations it put her in. I was angry, too. Frustrated with the world that made me feel hate and shame for the queer identity that had once made me feel so free. Transphobia, homophobia, and invalidation from friends and loved ones — they were my Bajoran Occupation.
It felt strange watching Kira have this tremendous development in the seven seasons knowing that I had an intimate connection to the character. We shared a name! How lucky was I! Perhaps I couldn’t be the kick-ass woman she was, but I could strive to be a kick-ass person, one who was be kind, could learn from their mistakes, and who could heal from the prejudices she’d experienced.
Since having Major Kira in my life over the last two years, I’ve realized something, something that was really kick-started by Robert Picardo asking me if Kira was my real name. I have realized that I find a sort of odd peace and comfort with my name, Kira. Now when I call myself Kira I feel this small smile appear on my face. There are times it even brings me joy, like when introducing myself as Kira at conventions. Not only do the faces of Trekkies light up, but in a way it feels like bragging. I share my name with one of Trek’s G.O.A.Ts!
If you had asked me two years ago how I felt about being called Kira, I would have cringed. But now, I’m proud to carry that name because of who I can associate it with, and I’m proud to even “Mayyyyybe” be named for a character like Kira Nerys.
Kira Knotts (they/them) is a space-loving shark biologist and a life-long Trekkie. They can be found taking care of (and singing to) the sharks at the New York Aquarium while only slightly joking about getting Shark Trek to actually become a thing. Follow them on twitter (@shark_o_saurus)!