Star Trek: Discovery is heading into a new unknown next season, but the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery won’t be alone. CBS All Access has announced that two new characters are joining the cast for season three, and will be the franchise’s first explicitly nonbinary and transgender characters.
In an announcement on StarTrek.com, the network confirmed that trans actor Ian Alexander (The OA, The Last of Us Part II) and newcomer Blu del Barrio are joining Star Trek: Discovery for season three. Alexander and Barrio will be playing the first explicitly transgender and nonbinary characters in the Star Trek universe, respectively. Alexander will be playing Gray, an unjoined Trill who is “eager to fulfill his lifelong dream of being a Trill host, but he will have to adapt when his life takes an unexpected turn.” Barrio will be playing Adira, a young but confident person with memory loss who forms a bond with Lt. Commander Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz).
Star Trek has a long history of queer subtext even before Discovery introduced Stamets and Culber, the TV franchise’s first openly gay couple. Of course, there have previously been characters in the franchise that, while not specifically identified in the script as trans or nonbinary, could be read as such—including past Trill characters, like Deep Space Nine’s Jadzia Dax. Sadly, that doesn’t mean it was always a positively received exploration of these themes. For the most part, Trek’s utopian feature never really examined queer identity in the 23rd century and beyond. But some specific stories have been criticized for how they chose to explore sexual and gender identity, like Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “The Outcast,” or even Discovery’s own choice to intertwine its first gay couple in the “bury your gays” trope (albeit temporarily, because sci-fi). With the long history of the franchise’s attempts behind them, these new casting announcements are a welcome change.
In an interview with GLAAD, Barrio said being cast as Adira—a character who chooses not to reveal their gender identity to the crew right away—inspired them to come out to their own family as nonbinary.
“When I got the call that I’d been cast as Adira, I hadn’t yet told the majority of my friends and family that I was nonbinary. I had only recently discovered the word and realized that it described how I’d felt for a long time,” they said. “I knew I wanted to tell my friends and family, so when this happened, it felt like the universe saying ‘go ahead.’ So in a way, Adira’s story ends up mirroring mine. Just after I told people in my life, so did Adira. Definitely not the most common coming out story, but it was scary, special, and life changing.”
We’ll meet Gray and Adira when Star Trek: Discovery returns to to CBS All Access on October 15.
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