I was just 9 years old when Star Trek: Deep Space Nine premiered, and I didn’t take to it immediately. It wasn’t the Star Trek I knew, the bright shiny halls of the Enterprise with the gallant crew racing in to save the day. No, this Trek was darker. The characters had sharp edges, and they didn’t quite fit together in the harmonious way I was used to. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but I remember watching the pilot episode and thinking to myself, “That Major Kira character is cool, but why is she so angry? Why can’t she just be nicer?”
As a kid, I was very concerned with being nice. It’s what was expected of me. In the culture that I come from, girls are expected to be nice and sweet (as they are in many different cultures), or to be obedient and demure. That wasn’t me, but I tried to play the part. I thought that maybe, by being as good as possible, I would find acceptance. I tried very hard not to make a fuss, because I knew I didn’t fit in. The burden of expectations, and feeling so alone, would make me angry sometimes. I played the part as much as I could, but I was lost.
All of this was going through my head as I started watching Deep Space Nine regularly. Toward the end of the second season, I started catching the show more often and programming the VCR to tape late-night reruns so I could catch up on what I’d missed. I noticed that Nerys no longer bothered me. More than that, she was becoming my favorite character. Not because she had changed fundamentally — it took a little while to work out the rough edges of her character, but she was the same person she’d always been — but because I had.
Kira Nerys taught me that I don’t have to be nice all the time. That it’s okay to be angry.
I’m not comparing my life to the character’s; after all, I had a pretty nice middle-class upbringing in a medium-sized town with parents who loved me. But I found a kindred spirit in the freedom fighter, someone who also was frustrated by the situations she found herself in. The difference was that Nerys wasn’t afraid to show it. She wasn’t terrified that those around her would stop liking her if she demanded better for herself and her people. She wasn’t concerned with fitting in or being nice. Nana Visitor’s excellent role was the first time I’d ever seen a woman be unapologetically angry on the TV screen. And it wasn’t the ugly thing I’d been taught it was. In fact, it was gorgeous.
All of a sudden, I had permission to be mad at the situations I found myself in. To be angry that, while I tried to understand everyone around me, no one seemed to make the effort to reciprocate. I could step back from friendships that weren’t working. I could choose to not be nice. I didn’t have to be mean, necessarily — but I didn’t have to smile all the time. I didn’t have to do the work of being a peacemaker, even when I was the one who felt wronged.
But what I really appreciated about Nana Visitor’s magnificent performance (and the talents of the DS9 writing room) was the growth that Kira experienced over the course of the series. When it begins, her anger is all she has left. Yes, she achieved her life’s work when the Cardassians were driven from her home planet of Bajor, but her life isn’t over. What is she supposed to do, now that everything has changed? Slowly, Nerys adjusts and finds a new place for herself. The character never stops being angry, but she learns from her outbursts and mistakes.
Anger can sometimes be used as a shield for a lack of self-confidence, and as a consequence it often comes with a surety of one’s own correctness. But the valuable lesson I learned, thanks to Nerys, is that you can have a righteous anger but you can also allow for the possibility that you are wrong. I learned to build things with the power of my anger and to use it constructively. I used it to make my world better, and to improve the lives of the people I care about. But I always made sure that my drive came from a place of concern, rather than one of insecurity. Don’t shout down your opponents, because that will never solve anything. Be smarter than them. Outmaneuver them. Defy the expectations of everyone who underestimates you.
So thank you to Kira Nerys, and Nana Visitor, who portrayed her with so much brilliance and prickliness and warmth and genuine feeling. Because of Nerys, I was able to accept the parts of me I didn’t necessarily like and I learned how to fight to make things better, a valuable skill in the world we currently live in. Above all, this character taught me that anger isn’t antithetical to being a woman. It’s how you use it that matters.