Monica Roberts

Alexis Meade Is More Important Than You Think

Filed By Monica Roberts | March 09, 2008 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Living, Media, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Alexis Meade, civil rights, Gene Roddenberry, Lt Uhura, Mae Jemison, Martin Luther King Jr., Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek, television, transgender, Ugly Betty, Whoopi Goldberg

Back in 1967 an African-American actress contemplated leaving the network television show she was on and going back to Broadway. She was the only African-American in the integrated cast of this show and was upset that she wasn't getting to do anything besides be in her words 'a glorified telephone operator.'

At an NAACP event that week she was approached by a man who said that a fan of the show wanted to talk to her. She agreed to meet him, and was stunned when the fan turned out to be the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

According to the actress, Dr. King told her that the show was one of the few programs that he and Mrs. King allowed his children to watch. He told her that her character was important because the show portrayed men and women truly as equals. When she mentioned to Dr. King that she was going to quit the show, he said, "You can't do that. Your character is the first non-stereotypical role on television and is in a position of authority. People who don't look like us see us as we should be seen, as equals." He went on to tell the actress, "Don't you see, Star Trek has changed the face of television."

The actress then told Gene Roddenberry that she was returning to the show.

You Trekkies probably guessed that I was talking about Nichelle Nichols and her role as Lt Uhura. There's a reason why I'm bringing this story up, and it dovetails with my complaints about the negative images of African-American transwomen on television.

What Dr. King knew and I know is that image is everything. Dr. King spoke and wrote volumes about equality and brotherhood, but a TV show demonstrated it. Star Trek inspired an African-American girl from Chicago named Mae Jemison to reach for the stars and become an astronaut. A little girl in New York named Caryn Johnson was inspired by seeing Nichelle Nichols on television to become an actress. As Whoopi Goldberg, she landed a recurring role as Guinan on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Mae Jemison even had a cameo role on Star Trek: The Next Generation herself.

Rebecca Romijn's Alexis Meade character is that important, peeps. While Ms. Romijn isn't transgender, her character, like Uhura 40 years before, is a representative of a group marginalized in American society. Alexis is not only intelligent and beautiful, but is shown in a position of power and influence. The reactions of her family members, ranging from her mother Claire's total acceptance of her daughter to her father Bradford's outright rrejection and her brother Daniel struggling with the changes in their relationship, mirror what goes on in our lives.

She also gives non-transgender people a glimpse of the prejudice we face, the alienation that we experience from friends and family alike, our complicated love lives, and the gut wrenching emotions we go through before and after transition. I could write posts every day for the next ten years about these issues, but a top rated TV show such as Ugly Betty in the one hour it's on the air reaches more people than Bilerico and my TransGriot one combined.

Like the unknown positive effects of Nichelle Nichols' Uhura that became apparent decades later, how many transkids who are being teased, tormented and bullied flip on Ugly Betty and are reassured by Rebecca's character that they aren't alone, they aren't freaks and they can one day BE Alexis Meade? How many of those transkids will be inspired to do great things because of this character?

How many people who didn't have a clue about some of the crap we transgender people go through, see her character, emphatize with Alexis and now support us in our fight to get included in ENDA and hate crimes legislation?

How many people in 'flyover country' who believe that all transwomen look like NFL linebackers have their minds opened to the fact that transwomen not only exist, but are smart, attractive and talented people that can do more than turn tricks?

Even Rebecca Romijn realizes how important this character is. She's stated in some interviews she's in constant communication with her transgender friends to ensure she gets it right.

So yes people, Rebecca Romijn's Alexis Meade character has the potential to one day be as important to the eventual acceptance of transgender people as human beings in the United States as Nichelle Nichols' role of Lt. Uhura was for African-Americans.

And it's why I'll continue to push for realistic portrayals of African-American transpeople until it happens.

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You're so right Monica. I love Ugly Betty period, but I've loved it even more since Alexis's character debuted and Marc's character has given Justin advice about accepting himself for who he is. This show is amazing!

I don't know if you remember what I did at the NRC National Dinner protest last year? I gave Dana Beyer a button that had the Transgender Pride Flag colors on it and the words "Trans and Proud." I asked her to give the button to Rebecca Romijn and tell her thank you for the wonderful job she was doing portraying a transgender woman.

Later, we found a photo of her standing at the podium receiving an award, wearing the button. I hope she will one day wear it on Ugly Betty, but that would be way too much to ask. I'm just glad she has it.

I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Jemison and we talked about Star Trek.

She mentioned in an interview that she loved the show. She also said that she was so influenced by the Lt. Uhura character that during her 1992 shuttle mission, she opened any radio communications with Mission Control with the phrase 'hailing frequencies are opened.'

That's the power of television.

Would that happen to be the same 2007 HRC DC dinner protest that many of us either flew or drove six to ten hours to participate in?

That was a neat picture of her and Michael Urie.

Who knows, maybe they'll write an Ugly Betty script that sets up a situation in which she can wear it.

Good article the more were seen and not just as the drag queen the average person will learn that were not unlike there selfs.

Agreed, Cathy.

Star Trek broke new ground on many levels. Uhuru and Kirk were also the first on-screen inter-racial kiss.

(Can you tell Jerame is a Star Trek fan and that I've had to learn all of these little facts to keep a happy home with a Trekkie? *grins*)

More important than the chararacter of Alexis was Romijn's willingness to stand up to the anti-MTF trash that Jimmy Kimmell tossed around when she was on his show.

Ultimately though, I think that Candis Cayne's Carmelita from Dirty Sexy Money - and the numerous intimacies that she's been shown in with William Baldwin - will be more of a breakthrough than Alexis of Ugly Betty.

Btw im a fan of Star Trek in all its forms and the prefered term among the convention crowd anyways is Treker not Trekie me im just a fan.Just had to toss that out there "winks". Also Fly over country is any place thats not a major city here in south Georgia were flyover country to and theres some of us who are trans some who are gay and lesbain living in the boonies so were here making our mark in our own little ways.

Star Trek was ahead of its time back in the 60's. I'm still waiting for a gay character on there. All we've gotten is an episode where alternate universe Kyra Nyris kisses alternate universe Ezri Dax. And a little affection earlier between Jadzia and Curzon's widow.

Although if something more happened on Enterprise, I wouldn't know about it. I stopped with the TV at that point.

Great post!

Star Trek has had a transgender character.

Jadzia Dax from DS9 was a Trill. Trills live for 500 plus years in a host body that can be either male or female. There was the TNG episde when Dr. Beverly Crusher met Curzon Dax who was aboard Enterprise on a diplomatic mission and fell ill.

Beverly found herself attracted to Curzon Dax, but after he was implanted into Jadzia's body and she expressed interst in continuing the relationship, her attraction cooled off.

You would hear Captain Sisko, who knew Curzon, affectionately refer to Jadzia as 'old man'.

In ST:NG, there was also an episode where Riker fell in love with a person from a gender neutral world. The episode was fantastic, because their law forced people to accept gender neutrality, but many on that world felt they were either male or female. That was against the law. Anyone caught expressing a specific gender had their brain washed to accept society's gender-neutral law. See any similarities to what we face on this planet?

Love the thread. Need to be a ST dork for one minute though: the trill Beverly was romantically involved with in that one episode of TNG wasn't Curzon Dax. His name was Odan.

As B.B. King once sang, "The Trill is gone."

It's impossible to have a discussion of queer issues in Star Trek without the Dax symbiont coming up like 18 times.

Dax got around!

Too bad 7 of 9 didn't get around . . . in the queer world.

We talked about this previously Monica, on another one of your posts. I do see your point. In spite of the comedic nature of the show, there are many positive attributes that are dealt with seriously. Still, it is disappointing that hollywood still feels the need to use a cisgender woman to portray a trans woman. Kind of like Ava Gardner getting the role for Julie LaVerne in "Showboat" - a part that was originally meant for Lena Horne. It all gets me angry. What it breaks down to is stupidity. I have just had enough stupid.....just venting...

"Too bad 7 of 9 didn't get around . . . in the queer world"

Her real-life ex-husband got sex clubs.

That revelation caused him to have to relinquish the '04 IL Repug senatorial nomination, paving the way for Barack Obama to have only Alan (hack, cough, snicker) Keyes to beat for the IL US Senate seat.