Blu del Barrio as Ensign Adira Tal in Star Trek Discovery season 5

‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Reminded Blu del Barrio Why Playing Canonically Non-Binary Characters Is So Important

Coming out as non-binary can be tricky enough. Coming out as you’re starring on a show that’s part of a legendary sci-fi franchise? Whoo! But Blu del Barrio made it look effortless on Star Trek: Discovery.

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He* gave us the endearingly anxiety-ridden Adira Tal and showed us that respecting non-binary identities really isn’t that difficult. The Mary Sue had a chance to chat with del Barrio about, among other things, what he believes the impact of Discovery’s inclusion has been on a mainstream pop culture that has historically whitewashed and homogenized the human experience. Del Barrio’s casting on Discovery dovetailing with his coming-out journey made certain things clearer to him.

“Something I didn’t really realize as much until I, like, had come out and was also playing a trans character on TV,” del Barrio explained. “Was that with minority groups, not everybody in the world will know somebody in their immediate circle of friends or family that is part of that group. Therefore, their only way of learning about different kinds of people is through film and television.”

He went on to describe the harm that is caused when marginalized groups are consistently played by, say, lighter-skinned people, or by people outside of that particular community who aren’t presenting an accurate or nuanced depiction of that group. “What do you think is gonna happen to the rest of our world when we’re trying to, like, function and work together?” he wonders. “It doesn’t work and it’s really harmful and can be the cause of a lot of violence and like miscommunication.”

Ian Alexander as Grey, Blu Del Barrio as Adira, and Wilson Cruz as Culber in a scene from 'Star Trek: Discovery." Alexander is a Vietnamese trans masc person with short blue hair and wearing a long black jacket. Del Barrio is a white Latine non-binary person with short dark hair wearing a blue Starfleet uniform. Cruz is an older Latino man with short, dark hair and a light salt-and-pepper beard wearing a white Starfleet uniform. They are standing in a row and all looking at the same thing, smiling.

The importance of nuanced and authentic representation in mass media and pop culture clarified a mission of sorts for del Barrio when considering the future of his career. “I think being a part of [Discovery] helped me realize more why [being a non-binary person playing a non-binary character] is so necessary. And I think helped me realize, like, a more succinct path for myself, which is that I wanna keep doing what I was doing with Adira, and I wanna keep portraying characters, trans, non-binary characters, in a very, like, fluid and true-to-myself way.”

And then, of course, there’s the sheer geeky glee that comes from being on the set of a Star Trek show. That nerdy magic wasn’t lost on del Barrio, who refused to ever sit in the captain’s chair on set until the end of the series, when he felt like he’d earned it.

While it seems that del Barrio became more familiar with classic Trek after having landed this role on Discovery, he nonetheless appreciated and gushed about the amount of care that the show put into bringing their corner of the Star Trek universe to life.

When he first toured the sets upon landing the role of Adira Tal, he marveled that “all of our hallways and rooms and areas within Discovery are real and are built. And I think that for me was very, like, oh my God, this is very real. This is very longstanding and there is a lot of energy and love and care put into this series and this franchise and this world.” Del Barrio was impressed with the craft and attention to detail that the crew put into every aspect of the show.

Blu del Barrio as Adira Tal and Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham in a scene from 'Star Trek: Discovery.' Del Barrio is a white, non-binary Latine with short dark hair wearing a dark blue zip-up jumpsuit. Martin-Green is a Black woman with long, black braids wearing a dark blue and gold Starfleet uniform. She is standing at a console while del Barrio stands behind her.

He also had a huge amount of love and respect for series lead Sonequa Martin-Green and frequent director Jonathan Frakes, both of whom del Barrio credited with maintaining the high level of enthusiastic energy required for making a show like Discovery.

“[Frakes] cares so much, and he loves it so much, and that energy he has from the second he walks onto set until we all leave to do the next day…it is really intoxicating in the best way possible. If you have a director or, like, a Number One who doesn’t have that kind of energy, it’s really hard to carry through the day. But like with Frakes and Sonequa especially, it’s the biggest gift in the world.”

Blu del Barrio

del Barrio loves the world of Discovery so much that when asked which episode made him the most proud to be in in the final season, he chose an episode that he was barely in: episode 4, “Face the Strange.”

“That for me was very, after going back and watching a lot of Trek … going back to the roots and really cool and fun,” he explained. Though he was only in it for a few minutes, he appreciated how it captured the spirit of the franchise.

His only regret about the final season being the final season? “I wish I could have done more. I wish I could have done like Mirror Universe stuff.”

However, Star Trek is an iconic franchise that often brings back beloved characters in different stories. With Starfleet Academy on the way, it’s possible that Adira, along with characters like Mary Wiseman’s Sylvia Tilly, will continue to appear, timelines be damned.

Though del Barrio would really prefer a more animated Adira appearance. When asked which series he’d like to see Adira make an appearance in, without hesitation, he replied, “I’ve always said Lower Decks. It’s a selfish thing because I’ve always wanted to be animated, but I also want Adira to be animated. I also just think like, God, they’re so socially inept and sweet in that way that I think like they can be very cartoonish. And I always thought that would be a really fun fit.”

Like Discovery, Lower Decks is entering its final season this year. However, nothing’s really over in Star Trek. Here’s hoping that del Barrio’s animated Adira dreams can come true! Until then, we can always enjoy watching Adira Tal and their queer family in engineering on the USS Discovery whenever we want!

All five seasons of Star Trek: Discovery are available on Paramount+.

*del Barrio uses he/they pronouns (and “elle” in Spanish). I use “he/him/his” throughout this piece for consistency.

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Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.