At the opening of the episode, Vis à Vis, Voyager encounters an alien vessel in distress. They scan it and detect one life sign. The entire bridge crew from then on refers to that pilot using the pronoun "he." Examples:

  • PARIS: We can't just leave him like this.
  • KIM: Nothing. Maybe he's ignoring us.
  • PARIS: Or maybe he's unconscious. We've got to do something.
  • PARIS: ... We'll tractor him in to kill his momentum, generate a warp field around his ship.
  • TUVOK: His flightpath is erratic. We'd be risking collision.

How did their sensors detect the alien's gender? Especially strange is that the alien at that time was actually an imposter from an unknown species impersonating a being from what was also a previously unknown species to Voyager.


2 Answers 2


The sensors in Star Trek have been shown to be very sophisticated. We also know that they have something similar to neural networks, computer programs which are capable of 'learning' and making conclusions on new data based on existing samples.

With a few notable exceptions, biological sex is pretty binary in Star Trek, including among alien races, even those in the distant Delta Quadrant. It's not unreasonable that the sensors are able to distinguish biological sex of a life sign, or at least make a best guess (new conclusion), based on known sensor data (existing samples of life signs) in comparison.

In fact, sensors have been shown to be capable of distinguishing biological sex in the past, in the Voyager episode "Basics" (Hat-tip):

KIM: Showing one life sign, adult Kazon male. He's in critical condition.

There is also the Next Generation episode, The Chase, which demonstrates a common ancestor between multiple species in the Milky Way and why they have so many common characteristics, including sex.

As for identified gender, it is unlikely the sensors could determine that. They are simply making a "best guess", either arbitrarily, or based on their sensor data.

It's also possible they simply chose a pronoun arbitrarily out of convenience, until being corrected by said life form. For what it's worth, their guess on both biological sex and gender does turn out to be correct. Out of universe, the writers already know the character is male - so they simply slipped in the pronoun in advance, in a foreshadowing-esque way.

As for "how did Tom get the info", it seems likely that all consoles (bridge consoles at least) are capable of receiving sensor data - at least when the plot requires it. That's not to say that all officers are reviewing the sensor data at any given time. But Tom, as the pilot, would certainly have info about the life signs on his console, as he may need to navigate towards them.

  • This is an okay answer. Thanks for your efforts. But can you base this more directly on in-universe information? Even if from secondary materials like technical manuals, or retroactive in-universe explanations given by creators? I don't presume that you know how to find this or that this information exists. It's okay if you don't know. But if you do, please consider updating.
    – user96544
    Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 10:12
  • I think it's a good question. I'll post for examples over on Sci-Fi Stack Exchange. They are better equipped to handle heavy research questions than I am.
    – Tronman
    Commented Sep 8, 2022 at 19:21

This is a matter of English usage, not a plot detail. In the English language unidentified persons are usually referred to as 'he' unless there is good evidence that the person is female.

The pronoun 'they' is sometimes used instead, it has a long pedigree, and is considered grammatically correct, but hasn't replaced 'he' yet. Probably won't ever.

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