Capt. James T. Kirk – Trans Man for a Day

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.

The U.S.S. Enterprise

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…

Or was it?

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.

Face it — if you want to screw with a trans boy’s head, turn virile Captain Kirk into a woman right before his very eyes and then announce how horrible it is to live as a woman.

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?

And what about my mom?  My grandma?  What about all the women in my life who I thought were pretty great people?  Was it horrible for them as well?

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.”

Lucky him…

–ATM

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.

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14 Responses to Capt. James T. Kirk – Trans Man for a Day

  1. Zoe Brain says:

    I saw that when I was 12… looking at it from the opposite side of the mirror.
    Wishing that what happened to James Tiberius Kirk had happened to me.
    Had I been a little older, and realised that I was stuck like this, that boys and girls were born with different anatomy, the differentiation *didn’t* happen just at puberty…. I would have lost it.

    And in those days, they were still lobotomising girls like me.

    It’s bad now. But it was a lot worse in 1970.

    • Thanks Zoe.
      If only Gene Roddenberry had known how much his show was traumatizing little trans and intersex kids.
      Of course, society and life in general was traumatizing trans and intersex kids and adults…

  2. j says:

    I’m overwhelmed reading this. It has really shaken me.

    I just hope some school teachers will read this. What would be your advice to them? You know as cisfolks get more aware of transsexuality the education board is going to get ‘involved’ and want to do something. What would be your recommendation?

    Zoe, happy birthday to you in advance. Wish you a most wonderful year ahead with all the best things.

    • Wow, J, I didn’t realize it would have that kind of effect. I sort of had fun writing it.

      What would my advice be to school teachers? Accept the concept that children know who they are better than you do, even the youngest ones. Listen and try to understand rather then try to change them or tell them they’re wrong *about themselves.* (Of course, it’s okay to correct them if they got a wrong answer on the test.)

      It’s Zoe’s birthday? Happy birthday Zoe!

  3. Denise V says:

    Wow! A blast from the past! I always looked forward to that episode whenever it aired longing to be the one transformed into a woman instead of Kirk. I always thought that there was something wrong with Dr. Lester for not wanting to be a woman but then again I was too young to realize that maybe she was trans. In the show hir reason was for revenge, power, envy, etc but hir thoughts may have revealed more than I was able to comprehend then. She/he seemed to enjoy being a man too much not to be trans when seen through adult eyes.

    I never looked at the show from a F-M perspective (Well yeah! I’m the other way) and really enjoyed your viewpoint Andy. Your take on an old favorite made it seem new again. It’s funny how we could both watch the same show and see it so differently.

    Another episode that messed with gender was a Star Trek Next Generation episode called The Outcast http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Outcast_%28Star_Trek:_The_Next_Generation%29
    The J’naii had evolved beyond gender but there were always throwbacks that needed “correcting”. Hmm! Reminds me of how we are viewed by some.

    Thanks for sharing Andy!
    Kindly,
    Denise

    • Hi Denise.
      Yeah, I remember that episode. It didn’t have the same effect on me as the episode I wrote about because by the time the Next Generation was on the air, I was so deeply repressed that watching “Boys Don’t Cry” didn’t even cause me any thoughts about gender, let alone Star Trek.

      But I see why you viewed the show from “the other side of the mirror” as Zoe put it. That makes perfect sense.

      Thanks for commenting!

    • Denise, that NG episode with the J’naii…I cried the first time I saw it before I realized I was trans. Then when I saw it again after, I cried harder.

  4. Cameron says:

    Wow, I totally haven’t seen that episode of Star Trek! I just remember the one with the salt monster that had suction cups all over itself.

  5. Joshua says:

    Weird, I just saw this post now, but I actually watched Turnabout Intruder 5 days after you posted this, and commented on the trans undertones. I’m glad I didn’t see this episode as a kid.

    • Hey Joshua. Yeah, must be Star Trek in the air or something. Matt Kailey just mentioned an episode of TNG on his latest blog post too, the one mentioned above about genderless beings.

  6. Jun says:

    This post reminded me of how much I liked Disney’s “Mulan,” and how disappointed I was that she was discovered to be a woman when she was injured. I saw that movie when I was 10, and wish I could pass just as well as she seemed to be able to! I thought, “If I were Mulan, I’d just stay a boy forever and nobody would ever know.” I’d take that body and run too.

    I was obsessed with any kind of female-to-male genderbending in media, such as Japanese manga “Ouran High School Host Club” (where the female protagonist goes through school as a boy for various reasons) and movies like “Just One of the Guys” (and the 2005 version “She’s the Man”). Of course, they all disappointingly end up being heteronormative, and the female protagonist always goes back to being a girly girl (not that there is anything wrong with heteronormativity or femininty, but I was just envious of how well they could pass and was annoyed at the implications about gender norms that their de-transformations made).

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