On June 3, 1969, Episode #24 of the third season of Star Trek, entitled “Turnabout Intruder,” aired on CBS. I was eight years old at the time, almost nine when I watched it, and it blew me away. That episode caused such an upheaval in me, it pretty much stayed in my memory banks for life.
“Turnabout Intruder” turned out to be the final episode for what was one of my favorite shows on television at the time, but the cancellation of Star Trek was not why Episode #24 of Season 3 stirred so many of my emotions that I never forgot it.
It was because in that episode, Captain Kirk was a trans man for a day.
So here’s the story.
Star Trek comes on, and there I was, this eight-year-old trans kid, watching “Turnabout Intruder.” Except, I didn’t know from being a trans kid.
At the time, there wasn’t a clear thought in my mind that I was a boy. I know trans guys who say they had that experience when they were kids, but it wasn’t that way for me.
I did know, however, that I was struggling. I knew that I had few friends and the other kids at school made fun of me constantly. I knew that a lot of times, life didn’t make any sense and I got in trouble for saying or doing the wrong thing even when I knew deep down that I was right. I knew that I was pretty miserable being a girl, but I couldn’t really articulate that I was a boy. I mean, how could I, when my parents and my family and my teachers and my friends had all been telling me for as long as I could remember that I was a girl?
So, yeah, I was this somewhat confused little trans kid sitting on the floor in front of the TV, watching Star Trek. And Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise go to Camus II to investigate a distress call, and they find a bunch of scientists who had been there studying the ruins of an ancient civilization. Most of the researchers were dead due to radiation exposure, but two were alive, a man and a woman.
The woman, Dr. Janice Lester, turns out to be a former lover of Kirk’s from their days at Starfleet. Back then, she got ticked because Kirk was more interested in Starfleet than he was in her, and so she quit, bitter, scorned and angry. And then they meet again on Camus II. What a coincidence…
When the man, a colleague of Dr. Lester’s, lures Spock and McCoy away, Lester takes revenge by paralyzing Kirk on some sort of alien contraption (how convenient that it was there), and when she stands next to him and throws the switch, their “essences” (which were a nice pink color) switch bodies!!!! Now, Janice Lester was in Captain Kirk’s body and Captain Kirk was in Janice Lester’s body!!!
Ho lee CRAP!!!
Can you imagine how monumental that would seem to a confused little eight-year-old trans kid in 1969? You betcha!
I was enthralled and excited. Sadly, I was also torn. I was almost yelling out loud to Dr. Lester-in-Kirk’s-body, “RUN! Get away! Hijack a shuttlecraft and get out of there! Take that body and don’t give it back!” Well, that’s what I would have done, anyway.
On the other hand, I was horrified. What about Kirk, who was now stuck in that female body, lying there, weak and helpless.
Kinda like me.
I had a huge knot in my stomach watching Kirk trying to be … well, Kirk, in a female body. It just seemed to me that he couldn’t get any respect.
And to add insult to injury, Lester-in-Kirk was gloating. “I already possess your physical strength,” she boasted as she stood over the unconscious Kirk-in-Lester. She was slapping her new manly ribcage and rubbing her masculine chin, probably feeling that five o’clock shadow starting to come in. I knew that if I had found myself in a similar position, I’d be slapping and stroking myself in a manly way as well.
But then, horror of horrors — Lester snatches the pink scarf off of her former body and goes to strangle Kirk, snarling, “Now you’ll know the indignity of being a woman. … Believe me, it’s better to be dead than to live alone in the body of a woman…”
Well, that was it. That totally screwed me up right then and there.
I mean, there it was, right on TV — how horrible it was to live as a woman! I now had proof that my feelings were justified — because Star Trek said so.
I had been working so hard and trying my best to live as a girl, struggling to live up to everyone’s expectations of me as a girl, and then have to see that not even the people on Star Trek think it’s worth being a woman?
Heck, after that, I wondered, what was the point? Why keep trying so hard? Well, I guess I reasoned I had no other choice. There was no magical alien machine that was going to put my personality in a boy’s body. I was stuck.
Now if that isn’t a depressing revelation for a little trans kid, I don’t know what is.
After that, the rest of the show turned out to be just plain frustrating. It didn’t make any sense! They kept Lester around on the ship in Kirk’s body, trying to fool Scotty and McCoy and Sulu and Chekov, but by the end of the hour, Kirk ended up getting his body back. All it took was Spock giving Kirk-in-Lester’s-body a mind meld and the gig was up. You can’t get anything past Spock if he drops a mind meld on you, man.
Of course, I thought that everyone would know that Lester wouldn’t have really stuck around, trying to run the ship. That would have been stupid. She might have gotten caught that way. In the real world, she would have high-tailed it outta there and run off with Kirk’s body to go do something important, like… write her name in the snow.
Well, that show had such an effect on me that I can’t tell you how long I thought about it afterward. I can’t tell you because I can’t remember, but I know it was a long time.
And I didn’t stop thinking about it after I turned nine. Or ten. Or even after I grew up. It would pop up into my thoughts every so often over the years and I would contemplate it yet again, although I didn’t know why.
Of course, after I realized I was trans, it made perfect sense. And with the wonder of the Internet, I was even able to go back and watch the episode from the vantage point of the proper context. It still had an effect on me, although it was different this time.
I thought, “Whoa. Captain James T. Kirk was a trans man for a day.”
PS – You can watch the full “Turnabout Intruder” episode of Star Trek here.
PPS – If you’d like another little taste of Star Trek, check out the “ATM Mission Statement” above, in the banner along the bottom of the header image.