Movies + TV

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

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

~ * ~

One other thing about those early cons. I’ll let an early-1970s TV Guide reporter explain:

Large numbers of…magazines and newsletters published and written by fans serve as an underground communications network for fans, who are a tightly knit group, and as a vanity press for hopeful science-fiction writers and artists. (Wave-of-the-future note: Most of the zines we saw were produced by women.)

Those were fanzines, you guys. For some reason, when female Trekkers (and female sci-fi fans in general) love something, it spurs them to express their love through zines. And fan fiction. As Winston, Jacqueline Lichtenberg, and Sondra Marshak wrote in their landmark 1971 book Star Trek Lives!, “Men are better represented in Star Trek artwork, craftwork, science articles, humor, organizational work, and a rare poem here and there in the fanzines. But almost all of the stories are by women.” Those women—an eclectic, multicultural group that included housewives, working mothers, college students, high-schoolers, and plenty of newcomers to sci-fi—were enchanted, probably just like my mom and Dara and me (but probably tenfold, given the times), by the egalitarian world envisioned by Star Trek, which placed women and people of color in positions of power. It opened up a whole world of possibilities to its audience; it’s no wonder their imaginations ran with it. These zines were sold, exchanged, and given away via mail-order lists and, after Joan Winston invented the Star Trek con, in vendor booths at fan gatherings.

Even back then, fanfic ran the gamut from straightforward adventure sagas to romances between a character from the show and one created in the writer’s image. By far the most popular form of Trek fandom, then and now, though, were stories featuring the logical, unemotional Vulcan Spock. Spockanalia, created by Devra Langsam (who was on the planning committee for the Winston’s con), is acknowledged as the first-ever Trek zine. (Photocopies of it turn up on eBay from time to time.) And many historians trace the beginnings of slash fiction—fanfic that pairs heterosexual characters in gay romances—to old Trek zines that told love and sex stories involving Captain Kirk and Spock (known simply as “Kirk/Spock,” it’s one of the best-known subgenres in slash).

“Female Star Trek fans [are] among the most active in engaging their sci-fi hobby in creative ways, cosplaying, writing fan-fiction, and producing artwork generally more than their male counterparts,” sociologists Maria and John Jose-Tenuto wrote earlier this year, describing the findings of an international, 8,000-fan survey they conducted back in 2006 to study fandom subcultures. “The strong connection with Star Trek by female fans has its roots in the initial days of fandom when pioneers like Bjo Trimble, Eileen Becker, Elyse Pines, Shirley Maiewski, Devra and Deborah Langsam, and Jacqueline Lichtenberg helped pave the way for many of the same fan activities in existence today.”

~ * ~

I’m an adult now, and the good news about being an adult is that although you are closer to death, you no longer care nearly as much about what other people think, which seems like a fair trade-off. I’m no longer ashamed of my Star Trek geekdom; in fact, a few months ago I finally attended my second-ever convention. Dara–still my best friend, forever bound in Trekkie sisterhood–came, too. This one took place in the ballroom of a modest hotel just outside of Philadelphia. There was only one aisle of vendors, all of whom seemed to be selling the exact same decades-old, mothballed merchandise or newly minted, overpriced, convention-sponsored T-shirts. (Alas, no zines whatsoever, though the used-paperback section—to where many zine authors graduate–was overflowing with spinoff pulp.) The speakers weren’t particularly notable characters and didn’t seem very interested in being there, and the actors you wished would take the stage were there only to sign autographs–for a fee (side-eye at Beverly Crusher).

Maybe it was because this one was dedicated to the 20th anniversary of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the second-worst Trek series, ratings-wise; or maybe it was that, as Bjo advised when I interviewed her, the best conventions are the ones organized by fans rather than by big convention companies. Then again, it might’ve just been that I am a grown-up now, and everything seems bigger and more mysterious when you are a tween. But Dara and I agreed that, compared with the one we’d attended together a decade ago, the whole thing was kind of a bummer.

This convention was better in way way though: Now unafraid to stare a little, I noticed that the majority of the people in this hotel corridor were women. Women of all colors and ages and shapes and sizes—women like Darlena Blander, who stitches her own elaborate costumes for every convention and teaches others how to do the same at her cosplay workshop in New York; women like cousins Flo Laster and Sdhari King and their daughters, who after decades watching the shows together finally braved their first con (and had screen-printed their own Trek tote bags made to mark the occasion). There were women like Adria Moore, who’s been attending conventions with her friend Rosa since the ’70s and this year convinced her daughter to let her bring her infant grandson, Blaise, and dress him up just like Grandma: in full Vulcan attire. And there was Christine, a Klingon mother to two three-foot-tall future Starfleet Academy cadets. I can’t say for sure that there weren’t just as many women at my first convention. What I do know is that this time I saw them all. And later that night, I called my mom to tell her all about it. ♦

Devon Maloney is a journalist and nerd girl living in Brooklyn. She writes about DIY culture and she likes Twitter.

Page

1 2 3

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.