When I transitioned, I looked to Dax

Jadzia and Ezri DaxIt was late last year. I was re-watching one of my favourite TV shows, curled up on the couch, coping with uncomfortable hormonal issues and just generally wanting some escapism. Then a certain episode involving my favourite character came on, and I burst into tears.

I’m a trans woman, and I love Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The reason? Far beyond simply being the best and most nuanced Trek story yet told… it’s because of Dax.

Dax, the symbiont who has lived numerous lives in various humanoid bodies… is trans. She may not be explicitly trans, but in terms of the stories that get told through her – about gender, personal change, social discomfort and assumptions based on appearances… she is very much trans.

When I was a kid, I remember thinking, in the phrasing of pre-teen me, “I don’t want to be a boy.” I had no concept of what being ‘trans’ or gender dysphoria was. I just knew that increasingly, as the absolute horror-show of a puberty I didn’t want continued, life became hell. Girlfriends refused to include me in things I wanted to do, and boys told me terrible things about girls when I was alone with them. Everything felt wrong.

So I escaped into Star Trek. At the time it was TNG, which was running at the time, but once I hit my depressing teenaged years, DS9 began and I vanished into that show.

Dax and Sisko in "Emissary"

I remember the first time Sisko called Jadzia Dax “Old Man” and I realized, “She used to be a man! I wish I could just move my symbiont into another body. A proper body. A female body.”

I relished Dax stories – especially ones relating to her past lives. Both because it helped me escape even further into the then-fantasy that I could just move bodies and everything would feel right. I imagined what life would be like if I did that.

How would people I know treat me if I woke up one morning as a girl – Elissa, the girl I wished I was?

But as time went on I lost that fantasy as it seemed to be just that. Even when I became aware of trans people, thanks to horrific media representation, all I knew was that trans people were the punchline of jokes – people who’d had surgery I’d never be able to afford, and who’d never live normal lives. They were murdered sex-workers and depressed people who lived their lives in shame and fear.

So by my 20s this had vanished, and I slipped into the most intense denial of my inherent gender dissonance. I over-played being masculine, performing a male “character” whenever I got uncomfortable.

Until it all became too much. I had met other trans people by this time and while they faced difficulties, I realized that they were normal people, with jobs, passions, relationships and lives that were almost universally better than mine.

So I began the complicated process of seeing doctors and coming out to my friends. I was lucky and so much of the hard work by people transitioning earlier in life had been done – I still suffered some gatekeeping and, of course, the physical and social discomfort of going through a second puberty, but… I did it.

My body changed faster than I’d imagined, and I suddenly found myself realizing something:

I’d been primed for this.

It was Dax. Both some of the earlier stories, and more or less the entire final season.

In the story, Jadzia dies and the Dax host (and therefore all her memories – in story times, *her*) is transferred to another host, Ezri. In this case, a slightly younger woman. Her friends had no idea how to treat her; her partner broke up with her. When she entered a room and he was there; she watched him leave, clearly uncomfortable.

Ezri Dax struggles when she first arrives on DS9.

It hit me like a ton of bricks, re-watching this, how much of Ezri’s experience had been about being trans.

When I had strange moments of looking at myself in a mirror having almost forgotten that my entire body had changed in the preceding eight months or so, I thought of Dax.

When a partner or a friend looked me with a strange disassociation, unable to see me because they saw a totally different person… I thought of Dax.

When I had to process that what might have been a heterosexual relationship in years past now made me a lesbian, I thought of Jadzia’s kiss with her ex.

Jadzia Dax and Lenara Kahn kiss

When I felt hurt or uncomfortable that a friend or family member couldn’t seem to effortlessly cope with me transitioning, I thought back to Ezri as she learned that her friends were, in a sense, both mourning a lost friend and having to welcome a new one.

When I saw Dax as a kid, I saw someone who had done what I wished I could do, and to my absolute shock when I finally did it myself, I discovered that Star Trek had, without me even realizing, given me a basis for at least beginning to understand what this might be like.

It laid the groundwork for the emotional complexity of your physical body changing, and now when I think of Deep Space Nine, I smile more than ever.

Whether or not they intended to, the writers and performers on that show made my life better and easier in a very specific way.

And so, a year into transitioning, I did something which felt only right: I cosplayed as a trill. I put on the distinctive Trill dots and a Star Trek science uniform – a nod to the TV show that helped me cope with transitioning.

  12 comments for “When I transitioned, I looked to Dax

  1. Amy Grace
    April 4, 2017 at 9:05 am

    For me it was Seven on Nine on Voyager — who has her entire body violently reshaped against her will (twice!) and then has to learn from scratch how to be an adult human woman in her late 20’s — but yeah, this, every word of this. <3

    • Kara
      July 22, 2017 at 2:28 am

      YES! THIS!

  2. April 4, 2017 at 1:07 pm

    That was beautiful. For me Spock was a source of comfort and help coping, for the commenter above it was Seven of Nine, for the author Dax. What each of us gets from these characters and shows can be very different in details but I think the underlying message is always the same. The way you are is okay. Who you are has value. This is why I will love Trek until the day I die.

  3. April 4, 2017 at 1:53 pm

    Such a great piece thank you so much for sharing your story. I love Dax and it’s son exciting to see the parallels of her story with that of a trans person. DS9, and trek as a whole, often ahead of its time in social commentary. If you haven’t read The Lives of Dax I HIGHLY recommend it!!!

  4. Rene Dax Buffalino
    April 4, 2017 at 5:51 pm

    Very similar for me (except non-binary and more toward the masculine end of the spectrum). I even had my middle name legally changed to Dax. 🙂

  5. Adam M West
    April 4, 2017 at 6:16 pm

    Thank you for this! I love DS9 and I always loved what Dax represented. I’m glad to hear you gained courage and comfort from their story.

  6. Jackie
    April 4, 2017 at 8:20 pm

    Many thanks to Elissa Harris for sharing her story.

  7. April 4, 2017 at 9:50 pm

    I’m starting to realize how many trans folks (myself included) relate to certain characters within the Star Trek Universe and I’m so happy these characters exist, whether intentionally or not.

  8. Katrina K
    April 5, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    This so much!!! As a fellow Trans trekkie, let us all give praise to the Dax!!

  9. Martin mould
    April 8, 2017 at 3:13 am

    This aspect of Dax had not occurred to me though s/he was my favorite character. I’m happy to see this and how helpful Dax has been. I always appreciated Star Trek from the beginning with how it dealt with social and political issues, especially the so-called dualities of gender, good and evil, black and white,human and alien. The new movies are sadly lacking in these,being mainly high tech glitz.

  10. Casey
    April 15, 2017 at 4:46 am

    Even though I’m not a trans woman (my own gender is complicated), this really resonated with me. Thanks for sharing this

  11. Jude
    July 21, 2017 at 11:39 am

    Star Trek was great for exploring these issues.

    There was also the TNG issue where everybody was genderless, but some of them started feeling like they had a gender. The elders of their society frowned upon it and they ended up brainwashing them to conform… It’s so tragic because that’s a real thing that people go through because some people don’t accept that maybe people feel differently than what some other person expects them to be.

    I’m glad that you found something to help you understand yourself over time. I’m glad others who posted here did, too.

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