I realized I was asexual on Valentine’s Day 2020. My then boyfriend and I had recently agreed that our relationship wouldn’t work out and that it would be best to split on good terms. A month later, while I was still uneasy about my newfound sexuality, the pandemic sent me home from college. Relinquishing my university’s community so soon after uncovering my sexuality hindered my ability to comprehend what asexuality means to me and extinguished my ability to settle into it in my established community. There was no place for me to process this one-on-one with a confidant anymore. Most of my correspondence with friends were occasional game nights over Zoom, and a lighthearted “This is what I am!” when “ace” was my word to draw in online Pictionary didn’t spur any introspection the way talking over coffee on campus might. However, when signing up for classes for the first remote term, I got one of the last spots in a course titled “Star Trek: Voyager, Ethics, and Enlightenment.”
The class was an ethics and philosophy course that used Voyager as its central text (yes, really). In addition to works one might expect to read in a college ethics course, we were assigned episodes to watch that corresponded with the topic of the week. Topics of discussion included history (“Distant Origin”), medical ethics (“Critical Care”), immortality (“Death Wish”), enlightenment (“Think Tank”), and more.
The professor and I had fostered a great relationship the previous term in his Writing and Composition class, and I jumped at the opportunity to take another course with him. The Star Trek backdrop only added to my excitement. Having an established relationship with the professor, I felt secure in expressing myself in class discussions, or at least confiding in him one-on-one. In our discussions of identity, I had a vehicle in which to examine my own.
The best topics for class discussion, especially given the isolating pandemic circumstances, were that of individuality and community. Star Trek shows, having ensemble casts, give ample opportunity for discussions that explore the meaning of an individual in the context of their crew. In terms of unpacking my asexuality, “Latent Image” of all episodes was the one that aided me most. In the episode, the Doctor discovers someone has been meddling with his memory, and he sets out to find the culprit. It stimulated class discussions about memory, causing me to reflect on past relationships—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and on childhood cues of asexuality that seem so obvious in hindsight.
This class, and by extension Star Trek: Voyager, gave me a space to accept myself when I didn’t have another place to do so. Having a community, even one not inherently set up to process my asexuality, was key in scrapbooking together some semblance of an ecosystem for my awareness of my asexuality to grow. Not flourish but grow.
Though my priority at the time was looking for the space and time to express my experiences to people I trusted and to process my sexuality, not necessarily finding representation, I did notice the lack of asexual representation in media during my coming out journey. The potential for exploration of asexuality did exist in Voyager. The most intuitive way to venture into this may have been through Seven of Nine and her quest to comprehend humanity. However, romantic and sexual relationships crown her fascinations with human nature, and other characters encourage her pursuits in romantic endeavors.
I am not suggesting that Seven should have been an asexual character. An asexual Seven could have swerved into the territory of blaming the Borg for her lack of sexual attraction, framing it as something the Borg robbed from her, either directly in the narrative or interpreted as such by the viewers, furthering the notion of asexuality being abnormal, wrong, and something to be fixed.
Rather, I propose that there was a potential for discussion of asexuality via assuring Seven, had she not experienced attraction, that asexuality is a legitimate state to exist in as a human, Borg rescue or otherwise. Surely the Doctor could have had medical insight into asexuality being a valid experience and not a hormonal imbalance, stunted maturity, or several other medically inaccurate assertions lobbed at asexual people.
Potential in the text for the direct confrontation of my sexuality aside, what brought me into my own was the community that cropped up around the show and discussions of identity and society the show stimulated. Today, I am more in tune with my sexuality, even though the ideal space in which I could unpack it never existed. While college is still online, I have moved back to the vicinity of my university, though most of my friends have yet to do the same. Zoom game nights continue, and I still exist in a semi-solitary state, aching for that community I once had. On particularly lonely nights, I often return to Voyager to take me back to this bizarre blip of time when I studied it alongside Kant, Marx, Emerson, and others- the time I tried to comprehend a core aspect of this collection of star stuff that is me in a universe teeming with infinite diversity in infinite combinations.
A lovely article! I’m always happy to see other ace people in the Trek community!
I definitely agree with the idea that Seven (and Data, perhaps) would be good vessels for discussions about asexuality and how sexual attraction is not a requirement of humanity. However–as you pointed out for Seven here–these characters both have scapegoat characteristics that would allow the audience to recognize the character’s asexuality without acknowledging that asexuality is perfectly normal. I think it would be really helpful for asexual and aromantic normalization if characters that were helping these characters in their quests for humanity (particularly the Doctor in Seven’s case) didn’t use attraction as a milestone in that quest. Specifically in Voyager’s “Someone To Watch Over Me” and TNG’s “In Theory”, many characters emphasize that attraction and relationships are very important–if not vital–parts of humanity, and if those characters were a little more flexible about this I think it could lead to lots of interesting discussions.
Anyway, I loved the article and completely agree with you!