I thought I might sell some stickers, and, if I was lucky, maybe also pins and patches, to make a little money for surviving the pandemic / recession / resurgent fascism. It turns out there was more demand than I knew!
So I keep making memes, combining pop-culture references (especially Star Trek, particularly Deep Space Nine) with elements from queer history, labor history, and liberation movements – and also, I hope, a little humor. Sometimes they’re an end in themselves, for a joke or a little agitprop. Sometimes I just throw them at the wall to see what sticks, and I’ll develop an idea more thoroughly if it connects with people.
If you’re curious about the backstory to how I came to be doing, specifically, Star Trek fan merch with a liberationist bent, keep reading.
As a kid in the ’80s, I had no shortage of media – movies, cartoons, and so many great toys – featuring incredible monsters, creatures, and aliens that still fuel my imagination. My favorite stories have always been ones about misfits and found family, and the particular way that Star Trek combines those themes – in the context of campy space adventures – drew me in early.
Around the third grade I began to be aware that I was… different. It wasn’t something I felt within myself so much as something other kids relentlessly pointed out to me (as kids that age will), but sometimes adults too. I was interested in the wrong things, I didn’t perform masculinity correctly, and I liked Star Trek too much. The reason being that Star Trek helped me not just to cope with preadolescent angst, but actively to revel in my individuality.
I was eight years old when DS9 premiered, and nine when a Quark action figure became the gateway to my most obsessive and long-term collection in a lifetime of trolling flea markets and junk shops for treasures. By fourth grade I had made my love of Trek the cornerstone of my personality, where it remained well into middle school, when it was gradually supplanted by Magic: the Gathering and Monty Python. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
But it was The Next Generation that had first hooked me, and the crusty but deeply principled Captain Jean-Luc Picard was one of my most important childhood heroes. So in my twenties, when Star Trek was something I remembered fondly but didn’t think about all that often, I always said TNG was my favorite Trek. That only changed when I watched DS9 again from the beginning for the first time, in 2020, against the backdrop of the pandemic, that summer’s uprisings, and Trump’s re-election campaign. If you know, you know; the show has aged remarkably well.
I had a Christian phase that started when I was sixteen, following my first job as a wood finisher / painter / jobsite lackey on a church building under construction. It ended when I dropped out of seminary fifteen years later, with only two courses left to finish my degree, and no good answers to my most pressing questions.
The people were lovely; they were my found family, and their genuine warmth had everything to do with why I stayed as long as I did. That, and I was fascinated by Jesus, a man who – simply on the basis of what the New Testament says about him – was vehemently opposed to unjustified hierarchies, scandalously progressive in his interactions with women, had run entirely out of patience for religious people’s bullshit, and preferred the company of poor people, sex workers, and untouchables.
But God was never anything to me but absent.
And I didn’t like who I was becoming. I had developed a habit – necessary for maintaining my faith – of reasoning backward from desired conclusions rather than following the evidence. And the qualities I admired about Jesus – his revulsion at hypocrisy, his pointed disinterest in conventional respectability, his identification with outcasts and his fierce commitment to their inclusion – were not being formed in me. Not supernaturally by the indwelling of a Holy Spirit (lol), nor even naturally through the practices of the Church. In fact, to the extent that those qualities existed in me by nature, I found myself suppressing them to conform to the culture of the Church, especially after I made the decision to be a Christian professionally.
Meanwhile, like everyone else in my age cohort, my adult life has unfolded in the shadow of a litany of incremental but inexorable advances into dystopia. For most of that time, I was a pretty basic Stewart / Colbert progressive. That started to change around 2015, prompted by my growing disillusionment with what I had been taught, and catalyzed by events on both sides of the presidential primary. I wanted to learn from people actually doing the work of liberation, and that has consistently drawn me leftward.
2020 pushed me over the edge. That year we saw how little our government cares for its people, and how little most people care for each other. In their response to COVID we got a preview of how they intend to address the climate crisis. In the midst of historic uprisings against police brutality and repression, we saw establishment liberals unite to snuff out any hope of even moderate social democratic reforms and to nominate the most pro-police ticket they could find. And I learned just how many of my neighbors are actual, honest-to-goodness fascists. What the Trump years revealed about people destroyed so many relationships I used to value. It has left me feral and misanthropic.
But something funny I discovered spending time in leftwing social media is how many Trekkies there are in those spaces. Which isn’t really surprising; you find Trekkies wherever there are nerds. But I found my way to a specific little corner of the Trekkie Internet occupied mostly by queer neurodivergent leftists, and they made me feel at home. At a time when I was trying to figure out who I was apart from the faith that had defined my identity for almost half my life, they were my impetus for getting back into Star Trek. It’s been an important avenue toward reconnecting with who I was before all that.
So I’m making the best use I can of the skills I developed alongside my formal education: making things with my hands, participating in Internet subcultures, and eking out a living online. But the loftier goal I have for the work I’m doing is that it might contribute to promoting and supporting emancipatory politics among Trekkies and (God willing) in nerd culture more generally. Because sci-fi fandom is, in part, escapist fantasy – which I would argue we all need sometimes – but it’s also part imagining and, at its best, practicing what a better future might look like.
One of my very favorite things to hear is that wearing my merch helped someone find their people out in the wild, because a stranger saw it and struck up a conversation.