Actor Ian Alexander traces cosmic trail as Star Trek’s first transgender character

[June is Pride Month, and this year we’re celebrating by honoring 30 LGBTQ firsts. To see the full list, visit nbcnews.com/pride30.]

Ian Alexander isn’t new to small screen premieres. Five years ago, the hot 20-year-old Alexander broke new ground as the first American transgender actor on television, in Netflix’s “The OA”. And last year, he was cast as the first transgender character in “Star Trek” history, playing Gray in season 3 of “Star Trek: Discovery” on Paramount +.

Alexander first came out as a trans man, but now identifies as transmasculine and uses he / he pronouns. Alexander’s character, Gray, is a trans man belonging to the Trill, an alien species in which certain members can join with symbiotic companions, or “symbiotes,” who harbor the memories and skills of Trill, with whom they share. a mutual bond.

In the absence of explicitly queer characters, Trill’s storylines in the 1990s “Star Trek” iterations “The Next Generation” and “Deep Space Nine” remain some of the franchise’s most compelling allusions to. LGBTQ subject. In “Discovery,” however, the Trill – and the show’s queer portrayal – jumps light years away.

As Gray, Alexander brings new complexity to the allegory of the species, giving audiences an ethereal character who seems truly gifted with generations of wisdom. And newcomer Blu del Barrio, who stars alongside pioneer Alexander as Adira, the franchise’s first non-binary character.

Blu del Barrio as Adira and Ian Alexander as Gray from the Paramount + series “Star Trek: Discovery”.Michael Gibson / CBS

Gray and Adira are long-awaited accomplishments of creator Gene Roddenberry’s original intentions for the franchise. Roddenberry has been described as a radical of his day, whose utopian view of space travel was based on an absence of bigotry, in which race and gender were not in contention. The original cast, which included cultural icons George Takei and Nichelle Nichols, set a standard of portrayal that is often seen as a primary factor in the series’ success and the continued – perhaps unmatched – passion of its fan base. .

Over the decades, however, the spectacle characteristic inclusiveness has not been extended to the queer community. Roddenberry passed away in 1991, before he could keep his promise to add an explicitly LGBTQ character, and aside from a brief scene from the movie “Star Trek Beyond,” which was included as a tribute to Takei, subsequent directors and producers did. never took over the mantle – until “Discovery”.

Producers and co-showrunners Alex Kurtzman and Michelle Paradise were fans of Alexander from “The OA” and offered to shaping gray’s part specifically for the young actor. (Originally, Alexander auditioned for Adira.) And since their casting, Alexander and del Barrio have been summoned to use their personal experiences to shape their characters’ narratives. Alexander was vocal in interviews about the need for trans and non-binary voices to write the stories of trans and non-binary characters, but he also praised the leadership of “Discovery” for its trust in the cast and its partnership with the director of media and from GLAAD’s transgender portrayal, Nick Adams.

The new season of “Discovery” is slated for late 2021. Exactly how Gray and Adira’s storyline will unfold remains a mystery. But Kurtzman and Paradise have publicly stated that there is a lot to explore in the characters’ stories.

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