A man sits in a nearby Subway. He has spilt mayonnaise on his Next Generation commander uniform and is awkwardly trying to wipe it clean with a napkin.
He is met with looks of mild embarrassment from those around him, they seem to say: ‘Captain Janeway would be deeply unimpressed.’ Having travelled through the space-time continuum, I am at ‘Destination Star Trek’ in Birmingham, a three-day convention, devoted to a shared love of all things Trekkie.
Whilst I have never seen an episode of Star Trek, I have always felt a deep affinity with the people who attend these conventions. Long ago, I also had a penchant for science fiction. My obsession manifested itself in a collection of Doctor Who action figures. Yet this love was, unfortunately, abandoned at the age of 12, when a group of ‘friends’ found these limited edition figurines, I mean, toys, and mocked me mercilessly. Humiliated, I packed them all in a box and, rather unceremoniously, abandoned them in the cellar. Without so much as a goodbye. On quiet evenings, I can still hear them calling to me. This convention, therefore, can be described as a return to my roots and the fanboy culture I had left behind 8 years prior.
“That’s the great thing about Star Trek fans…they never stop talking.”
The night before the convention, I find myself at the most happening place in the whole of Birmingham -the bar of my hotel where all the fans have gathered for a night of drinking and mingling. Surrounded by tattoos and piercings in obscure places, I feel ill at ease. The hard-core fans wear garish 80s uniforms. Some wear generic sci-fi t-shirts. A very lost girl is decked out in Slytherin robes. I feel like I’m in William Shatner’s wet dream. Across the bar, I see a drag queen dressed as Spock, with whom I would later perform a very moving rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams. While the situation facing me seems ridiculous, I avoid retreating into the cynicism ingrained into me from years of reading Lena Dunham’s Tweets, instead reminding myself that Kim Cattrall appeared in Star Trek before Sex and the City and, if she can blend seamlessly between these worlds, then so can I.
At first, I receive some mild abuse from a hard-core fan who, literally, shudders when I try to greet him with, ‘may the force be ever in your favour!’
However, two lemonade and gins later, I have delved into deep conversation with Ariekaz, a fabulous woman, dressed like an extra from The Hunger Games, with a deep love of Star Trek: Deep Space 9.
Ariekaz: DSP is not the best of humanity. It’s the realness and rawness. All the moral questions that we ask ourselves every day. It’s got everything: politics, race, social justice.
I am moved by the passion with which she speaks about this show. At one point, I can’t help but interrupt her.
Me: I love you. Please never stop talking.
Ariekaz: I want to keep you in my pocket.
We exchange a look that says ‘I think I may have found a bosom-pall.’
That’s the great thing about Star Trek fans…they never stop talking…because they are so inspired. As Ariekaz expresses her love for the show, I feel my scepticism begin to fade. I can imagine how exhausting it is to be such a huge fan of something that so many people dismiss without a second thought. It’s the best feeling in the world when your monologue about why something is so amazing, becomes a shared conversation. In that regard, Destination Star Trek is, I suppose, a safe environment that encourages people to ‘nerd’ out about the thing they love, because there is always someone else willing to engage with them.
While the elaborate costumes (I think I saw someone dressed as Michael Jackson?!) and excited faces did entice me to the world of Star Trek, it is worth pointing out that even the bright lights of the Starfleet aren’t safe from the cruelty of the past. Science Fiction has always attracted a huge gay following -perhaps it’s the men in pleather (Sorry, mum) –but there are, nonetheless, undeniable examples of homophobia in this ‘community’. I spoke to Jamie, long-standing homosexual, and even longer-standing Trekkie, about his experiences. His idea for an LGBT ‘meet-up’ at the convention received heavy backlash, with anonymous ‘keyboard warriors’ even linking to the Holocaust, meanwhile, the Pokémon GO gathering (a far more concerning hobby for adults, if you ask me) was fully supported and endorsed. It is worth saying that the organisers of the convention promised that no prejudice or abuse of any kind would be tolerated, but it is somewhat telling that a purely innocent proposal, intended to inspire a sense of solidarity and comradery, would receive such cruel responses.
Despite this, Jamie stands tall and proud, with a rainbow flag hanging from his trousers and a somewhat smug look on his face.
I was subsequently assured by a group of very drunk and very rosy Irishmen that Trekkies are abnormally accepting when it comes to being different. In fact, I will never forget the man who grasped my arm, looked deep into my eyes, and told me that ‘Star Trek fans are willing to look to the future.’ Whilst it did feel very culty, I was touched nonetheless.
On the final day of the convention, as I sat on the ‘sub-bench’, surrounded by an unstoppable force of subculture, I couldn’t help but feel great admiration for these fans. While somewhat flawed (although considerably less so than the football hooligans, oozing masculinity, I regularly see on the 11:47 pm train to St Alban’s), it does seem to me that Trekkies have tried hard to embody the values of courage and acceptance depicted on the show they love so much. As Adam Farina, organiser of the convention said, ‘no one gives a shit whether you support Klingons or Vulcans -there’s an element of understanding. It’s about acceptance. And kindness.’
As I found myself submerged in gasps of ‘Woah’, during the unveiling of a new spacecraft in the Star Trek universe, I was truly moved by the belief that everyone in that room had probably been made to feel like an outsider in their life. But they had found each other and made their way here to the final frontier. At that moment, I was certain that they would live long and prosper.