The first time I watched Star Trek: Voyager, I took it at face value, as I would any other Star Trek show. Sure this one had some unique elements: a badass lady captain who took no crap, a tough lady engineer, and most impressively. a cool lady cyborg science officer. And they weren’t just soldiers doing their duty together—it had such a strong found family dynamic between all these characters with different backgrounds thrust together into a new unknown situation.
It became my comfort show. Every morning I would make some coffee, cozy up with my cat and throw on Voyager. I would watch every episode, every season, over and over, and I never got tired of it. When I told people my favorite character was Seven of Nine, the ex-Borg, everyone in my life said: “Yeah, big surprise.” She was technical minded, efficiency driven, self assured, and never hesitated to speak her mind— even when she was punished for it. Do you know how many times I wish I had the courage to say: “Do not engage me in irrelevant discourse?” And, of course, being part robot was the icing on the cake.
But as I started to come out to myself as a trans woman, new layers of the character presented themselves to me. So much of my own experience coming to terms with my identity was reflected in Seven’s gradual, painful, stop-and-start transition from Borg to Human. I identified with her guilt, trepidation, her relapses and her triumphs. Through this lens I also saw the Borg Collective in a new light: as a vast ever-expanding empire of forced conformity, categorizing unique individuals into broad, rigid taxonomies for the benefit of nobody inside the system, but simply for the continuation of the system itself.
It became clear to me: the Borg are Cis-ciety and Seven is a disoriented, repressed victim of the violent normative pressure exerted by it. And through a lot of pain and self reckoning, (and with a lot of help and love from her found family) she develops the tools to discover who she is, and liberate herself from an oppressive society and an intolerable situation.
When they first appeared in TNG, the Borg Collective represented an existential threat to everything the United Federation of Planets stood for. The Borg would strip you of your freedom, of your identity, they would erase your culture and violate your body, mind, and soul. And they would do so with no malice or regret, because after all, they’re just helping all these aberrant species become well-adjusted, productive members of Borg society. They’re improving their lives. Choice is irrelevant; the Collective knows what’s best for you.
In Season 5, Seven defines romantic love, distinct from platonic or parental love, as a sexual attraction that facilitates procreation. This is of course, a very heteronormative view of romance that also wrongly conflates sexual and romantic attraction. It tracks that the Borg would only care about this aspect of culture insofar as it facilitates the creation of more individuals to be consumed. And so that definition of love, and the gender and sexual binary it communicates, is what Seven internalized. In her own words, she was raised by the Borg, and also raised to view anything that was different as something to be made Borg.
I have no doubt that this will sound familiar to many people anywhere on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum who may have experienced invalidation and forced conformity in their own, real life society. It’s absolutely pervasive and heartbreaking, the pressure and need by cissexist heteronormative society to force everybody into boxes and mold them into what is perceived as ideal, or normal, or acceptable. As the Collective would say, perfection. Many real life groups like terfs, conservatives and authoritarians view and treat people not as unique individuals with minds; they see people as their bodies, what function their bodies serve to the greater society, simply as inevitable results of their biology.
And the people enforcing these norms are also bound by them in a vicious cycle. The Borg and their violent assimilation of those struggling to resist can be read as a sci-fi metaphor for what many of us know all too well. The nanomachines and robot implants, in classic Star Trek fashion, can serve as a conceptual suspension bridge for people who can’t relate to the version of this tragedy that occurs in real life.
Seven of Nine is different from other characters we’ve seen recover from Borg assimilation, like Captain Picard, who are able to go back to their lives and regain their individuality quickly. Seven has only ever known the Borg way of life, and resists the transition to human. Even years later, Seven of Nine doesn’t choose a new name for herself, not even once she’s fully accepted her humanity. Not all trans people choose to change their names either, and like Seven they can be harassed for going by their deadname, or by choosing to go by an “unusual” name which might have a personal significance, or with which they identify. Several times throughout the series someone will hear the name Seven of Nine and say, Oh you’re a Borg? And she has to explain, no, I’m an ex-Borg. Sometimes people say this after just looking at her. She’s visibly trans in that her transition, in this case from Borg to human, is apparent to people who don’t know her story. She’s more often than not judged for it, and exploited because of it.
Something a lot of people say is: “Oh you’re so brave,” and a lot of people respond: “I’m not brave, it’s what I had to do to survive. I didn’t have a choice.” Seven didn’t have a choice. But she did have a relentless supporter in Captain Janeway. When Chakotay asks rhetorically whether Seven is too far gone, whether the extent of her indoctrination makes it impossible for her to live a happy fulfilling life as her true self. Janeway responds that Seven has no choice but to adapt; it’s the only way for her to survive. That the alternative (continuing to live as a Borg) is unacceptable. We’re not giving her back to the Borg, she’s coming with us. The dedication and support Janeway displays is incredible.
Seven eventually learns to value her identity and respect the identities of others. In Season 6, she’s put face to face with people assimilated because of her, given the choice to either go back to the Borg or live a month as themselves. Confronted yet again with the consequences of her actions as a Borg, she decides that “survival is insufficient” and that “they would choose freedom no matter how fleeting” and this parallels the motivation behind transition for many people. Simply surviving as drones is not really living; being yourself is what matters.
To close out, I have to include the exchange of dialogue that first opened up this interpretation of the character to me, and what I think has the strongest trans undertones of anything in the show:
JANEWAY: One voice can be stronger than a thousand voices. Your mind is independent now, with its own unique identity.
SEVEN: You are forcing that identity upon me. It’s not mine.
JANEWAY: Oh yes, it is. I’m just giving you back what was stolen from you. The existence you were denied, the child who never had a chance. That life is yours to live now.
SEVEN: Don’t want that life.
JANEWAY: It’s what you are. Don’t resist it.