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Star Trek's new non-binary star Blu del Barrio talks their debut

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Oct 30, 2020, 2:00 PM EDT

Star Trek: Discovery made space waves recently with the announcement that there would be not one, but two trans characters joining the cast this season. With the third episode, "People of Earth," we've met the first — Adira, a young, extraordinarily brilliant officer of the United Earth Defense forces with a few secrets. SYFY FANGRRLS sat down with Blu del Barrio, the actor portraying Adira, to talk about their experiences joining the long-running franchise and pushing it into the future. 

Warning: The following may contain spoilers for Season 3, Episode 3 of Star Trek: Discovery.

So to start off, in this episode, we don't really know yet who Adira is. And Adira doesn't really seem to either because of the issues with the Trill symbiont aspect that we find out later. Did this make it easier or harder for you to find your way into the character as an actor?

It was definitely hard. I struggled in the moment because I was really scared and anxious. It was my first episode and I was super overwhelmed. But thinking about it now, that probably helped because I think Adira was in the same place at the same time that I was. They were super anxious and a little introverted and shy and sort of running on fear a little bit. And so I think that where I was, was kind of in a similar place.

So, Adira was introduced via press releases and media as a non-binary character, and I’ve read in previous interviews that your own pronouns are they/them. But I noticed, and some viewers may notice, that at least at first, Adira is referred to as “she/her.” Is that something that’s going to be addressed? 

Yeah, so that will definitely be addressed. And Adira is non-binary. Even when people are using she/they pronouns, for Adira, because they have not shared their identity with the Discovery crew. Yes.

And this was basically the case because I still wasn't really out to my family and I didn't want to be out on screen as a character who was out until I was.

That makes sense. 

Yeah, so I wanted to wait until I had told my family and my friends. So I kind of came out alongside them.

I love that. That's actually really interesting.

It was weird and very surreal, but I really wanted it to be an accurate representation. I didn't want to do anything that I hadn't done yet. 

Yeah, I think that makes it much more realistic. I also know as someone who came out as trans,  it's not like you say it once and then the whole world knows it. like it's a long laborious process of getting people to understand and changing their language and stuff. So I was wondering if that was a journey we're gonna see the show go through with Adira.

Oh yeah, totally, you're constantly coming out, like, again and again and again. Yeah, totally empathize with that.

Despite a lot of its idealism, Star Trek has kind of a terrible track record with dealing with stories involving other gender identities. Notably, “The Outcast” episode of The Next Generation and “Cogenitor” on Enterprise were painful to watch. Was there any awareness when you were talking to the [Discovery] writers and developing your character of an active process to kind of be aware of these issues in Trek’s own history and actively try to fix those past mistakes?

I think they set off right off the bat, with Ian [Alexander] and I, [in] wanting to give us as much control over these characters as possible. Which I think is what made this process a good one for all of us, and for the show itself. They really put us in control of what we wanted to happen with Gray and Adira in terms of their gender and of their queerness. They put us in control of that. We also had a lot of help from Nick Adams at GLAAD, who has been wonderful this entire time in helping everyone to do the right things and go in the right direction. So that there are no mess-ups. And so that these two characters can be enjoyed for what they are. So yeah, it's been really good so far.

What we learned at the end of “People of Earth” is that Adira is a human host for a Trill symbiont. Trill have often been held up as this example, often by cisgender people, of trans and non-binary narratives in Star Trek, even though the actors that have played them have been cis and the Trill hosts have presented as cis. Do you think that Discovery is going for an intentional subversion of that exact argument by having it be a statement of something along the lines of, “No, this character is a host of a symbiont, but this character themself is not cis, regardless of the presence of the symbiont?”

Yes, exactly what you just said is the perfect way to put it. There is definitely a lot of the queer community that attached itself to the Trill species. But not because the Trill were necessarily like “oh, you know because they are a host of multiple consciousnesses, they must be trans.” It's that there were sort of like mirrors of experiences, it wasn't like the trans experience. But there are like parts that sort of could speak to some kind of a queer narrative. So exactly how you put it is perfect. Adira is non-binary, has always been non-binary before they were a host. It wasn't that having the symbiont brought out something else in them.

But I do like how they've brought in the Trill species into Adira’s storyline, which kind of validates, maybe, a lot of what queer Star Trek fans have seen in the past and their identifying with the Trill in some ways.

I’ve been on sets as a trans person where I felt like I was the only one speaking to my experience, and it was pretty isolating. Has having Ian there on set with you been a source of strength? Knowing you know you have at least one person right there who has your back?

Oh my god. So much so. I could not be more grateful that it's me and he and there's two of us. And it's also so rare to have two trans characters together. Just having both of us as people here is a huge blessing. To have Ian as a friend as an ally and be each other's support system is so amazing,

I mean it's just the two of us here in terms of trans people. I mean we have Anthony [Rapp] and Wilson [Cruz] as well, who've been wonderful, but like, yeah, it's just us. And we are young, but also we do need to speak up for ourselves because we just have to. So we've been trying our best. 

I think that’s a really strong argument for why we need to have plural representation and not just the occasional token casting. You need to have multiple characters who have a wealth of experiences so that you can have that kind of voice.

Absolutely agree. Yeah, a hundred percent.

Star Trek: Discovery is now airing on CBS All-Access in the United States and on other streaming outlets worldwide.

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