Movies + TV

Boldly Going Where No Man (or Woman) Had Gone Before

How a bunch of nerd girls saved Star Trek from total obscurity.

Illustration by Kelly.

Illustration by Kelly.

I was 13 years old when I went to my first Star Trek convention. It was a family outing: me, my brother, and both of my parents, all Trekkers to the core. My little brother and I were raised on Star Trek: The Next Generation, which we’d watch with my parents as soon as we were old enough to sit through an hour-long program. I especially liked watching it when it was just my mom and me—it made me feel like I was part of an exclusive ladies’ tradition that the dudes of the family couldn’t possibly understand.

My mother was a lifelong sci-fi/fantasy nerd who instilled those genres’ values in me: an unwavering idealism, an interest in getting to the truth, a love of learning, a sense of fairness and a desire to right wrongs, and most of all a tendency to constantly question humanity and our place in the world. One of the things both of us loved about ST:TNG was that in every installment the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise encountered a new race of people with their own cultural traditions and languages and clothes—and of course a whole new set of problems needing to be solved in some dangerous manner. (If we were lucky, we’d even get a new complicated romance.) The main characters were explorers, not warmongers or detached anthropologists—their goal was to help people, and to learn about them in the process. And there was something else that I didn’t think about then, but that I must have notice unconsciously: These starships and planets held lots of different kinds of people—of many different races and genders and traditions and cultures—and any of them could be a leader. Anyone could be respected, and could make a difference.

My whole family went to that first convention, with my best friend, Dara, in tow. She was an old pro: Her parents had taken her to her first Star Trek convention when she was five. She dressed appropriately, in a linen shirt of her dad’s with pictures of planets on it. (I wore puka shells and a backwards cap.) I remember the whole day unfolding in two modes: total bliss alternating with abject humiliation. We watched some of our favorite actors answer fans’ questions about their on-screen pets and met a few others; we convinced my parents to shell out a few more bucks than we could justify for handcrafted, glittery dragon/sprite/whatever horns you could tie on like a headband. A woman selling DVDs and pre-signed headshots showed us an adorably minuscule primate (Galago? Marmoset?) she had just adopted, very illegally, as a pet. (It nested, much to my horror, in her voluminous cleavage.) My mom bellowed the Klingon word for “good luck”—“Qapla’!”—to a cluster of passing cosplayers. Dara and I walked away quickly, cringing. Dara laughed—it wasn’t her mom, at least this time—but I suddenly felt weird about everything. Was what I was feeling just you typical parents-are-soooo-embarrassing scenario, or was it something deeper? In that room, surrounded by so many grown-ass people dressed up like it was Halloween and who seemed so hyper-fixated on a TV show, I suddenly realized that my own dear mother was one of them, maybe I was too. I loved Star Trek, and I loved celebrating that love with other people who felt the same way. But suddenly I was hoping no one I knew would see me here.

As I got older, I kept on being a fan, but after that convention I learned to be careful about whom I shared my feelings about The Lord of the Rings, The X-Men, Harry Potter, Veronica Mars, or The Hunger Games. I had designated friends with whom fandom talk seemed safe. They were girls who, like me, read a lot, did theater, and got As because they were terrible at sports. Boys didn’t like us all that much, but we were mostly OK with that. We poked fun at one another for being freaks, but it went unsaid that we actually were kinda freaky.

Over the years, because of maturity, but also because geek culture has become more popular over the past decade or so, I became more comfortable with and open about loving the things that I loved. Still, Star Trek remained, for the longest time, the one thing I never really talked about. After that first (ew, totally weird) convention, I didn’t go to another. I eventually stopped watching the shows—I never got into the last two series, Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise—and in high school I buried my DVDs deep under stacks of indie-rock CDs and thrift-store clothes and copies of obscure foreign films.

Then in 2009 J.J. Abrams rebooted the series and made it safe for lapsed Trekkers to re-enter the fold. He’d made popular shows like Felicity and Alias and Lost, and admitted before his Star Trek movie came out that he had never watched the franchise in any of its iterations. He wasn’t one of us, he was one of everyone else, and while that made a lot of diehard Trekkers mad, it made it so friends of mine—non-fandom friends—were suddenly interested in the show. After years of hiding my Trekkie past, I was suddenly proud to be able to offer answers to their questions about the canon, and regretful that I wasn’t up on the latest developments.

One night, probably in a fit of term-paper procrastination (I was in college), I started reading up on started reading up on Star Trek’s history. At the end of a long trail of increasingly specialized links, I discovered something I wish I’d known when I was 13 and ashamed of my mother and the lady with the monkey in her boobs and myself: I wouldn’t have even known about Star Trek back then—and no one would know about it now, and J.J. Abrams wouldn’t have made $830 million dollars (so far) on his two Trek movies—if it weren’t for the efforts of a handful of plucky and unashamed nerd girls.

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18 Comments

  • dylonlee July 26th, 2013 12:56 AM

    PRAISE THIS POST
    Love Uhura’s little Feminist badge <3
    So proud to be dressing up as her for Comic Con this August!!

  • rainingmay July 26th, 2013 1:04 AM

    I’m in love with this!!!!!! I saw star trek for the first time YESTERDAY and I fell in love and it’s just the best thing ever.

  • Pentom July 26th, 2013 1:44 AM

    This is so cool! I’m a Trekker myself and it’s always awesome to read stuff about your fandom. :D I first heard about Bjo’s letter writing campaign through Trek Nation, a documentary by Roddenberry’s son, and I was so happy when I saw it here on Rookie!

    Live long and prosper.

  • elliecp July 26th, 2013 3:24 AM

    This is awesome. Praise be to rookie

    http://roseandvintage.blogspot.com/

  • stellarbell July 26th, 2013 3:44 AM

    i am absolutely IN LOVE with the original series–i can totally understand why they fought so hard to keep it on the air! i do have some problems with J.J. Abrams’ reboot, though

  • flocha July 26th, 2013 5:05 AM

    NERD POWER

    http://www.whimsicalprocrastination.blogspot.co.uk

  • Sophie ❤ July 26th, 2013 6:24 AM

    I haven’t really watched Star Trek yet; but I want to really badly after reading this!

    New blog in town:

    http://theneonpapaya.wordpress.com

  • whyamidreamingwhenimstillawake July 26th, 2013 7:05 AM

    This is really cool.
    I wish Rookie would post a Star Wars article though. I’ve seen so many other fandoms represented but not Star Wars. I am a huge Warsie so this makes me sad.

    One thing that really annoys me, though, is that at the bottom of the second page, it says ‘when sexism was still happening’. I know it’s a quote, but it really really bugs me.
    I’m just saying this.
    Sorry.
    I feel stupid now.
    I am sorry for being obnoxious.

  • KatGirl July 26th, 2013 10:09 AM

    I’m going to be annoying here, but in the second-last paragraph on page 1 it says, “made a lot of diehard Trekkers made”.
    qaHoy’ for writing this article! :D

  • wallflower152 July 26th, 2013 10:29 AM

    This is an awesome post! I’ve only seen the rebooted Star Treks but I loved them. If Spock is anything like he is in the movies I’m sure I would love it. There are just so many things I need to watch. When there are shows/movies about the future I think it’s awesome when the characters are played by both genders and a variety of races, but I think it’d be even better if they were played by actors of mixed and ambiguous races cuz that’s what people in the future are gonna look like…hopefully. : )

  • ellestolemyname July 26th, 2013 1:49 PM

    I was never a big fan of Star Trek, but I recently saw the reboots and I loved them so much I’m definitely going to have to waste a few hundred hours watching the original series :)

    http://www.ellestolemyname.blogspot.com

  • loonylizzy July 26th, 2013 7:34 PM

    ahh this is so great! moral: never underestimate the power of nerd girls who love their fandom!!!

    http://www.theflightoftheflamingo.blogspot.com

  • momobaby July 27th, 2013 12:31 AM

    I love Star Trek!! Nerd chicks are probably the best people in a lot of different fandoms. My parents are both Trekkies so I sort of inherited it. Women passionate about anything are almost unstoppable! :)

    http://littlerebellia.blogspot.com

  • Katzemuse July 27th, 2013 2:33 PM

    I love rookie and I love Star Trek,so I was excited to see two of my favorite things combined. But the quote “we got As because we were terrible at sports” made me grimace. Please don’t assume someone who plays sports has terrible grades. That declaration has all types of ugly stereotypes nestled in it and for someone like me who works very hard at school to achieve good grades and enjoys sports, it’s alienating. I love a good fan fiction and Daniel as much as I want as well as being athletic. Just something to think about, darlings.

    • dev0n July 29th, 2013 12:22 PM

      You’re totally right that you can be both! Another of my best friends growing up was an all-star varsity athlete – I used the line “we got As because we were terrible at sports” to explain how I, personally, had time for my own schoolwork. Doesn’t imply other wondergirls can’t juggle both. :)

      • Katzemuse August 9th, 2013 1:54 PM

        ah! thank you so much for the clarification. I’m no wondergirl, just someone who gets unnecessarily butthurt at generalizations. really enjoyed the article though! thanks for sharing :)

  • ArmyOfRabbits July 28th, 2013 1:28 PM

    The Next Generation and Deep Space 9 are my favorite Star Trek series.

    I liked the fact that Jean Luc-Picard does his best to negotiate with difficult encounters rather than plainly attacking. There’s something so diplomatic about that show. It feels very homely.

    In Deep Space 9, there are actually some Ferengis (and other species) who are portrayed with more empathy, as if they’re not so different from most humanoids, including Earth humans.

    It feels like Degrassi, but in a science fiction form.