These five words will never cease to thrill me: Star Trek’s first gay character. Every once in a while they roll this one out, creating some buzz before letting the rumour die an ignomious death on screen. The last candidate was Enterprise’s straight-laced British security officer, Lt. Malcolm Reed. This would have made me happy for any number of reasons, including but not limited to Dominic Keating in black lycra shorts with red piping on the bum.
(My not-so-secret confession: I have watched everything Dominic Keating has committed to tape, including the godawful Highlander rip-off The Immortal and an episode of the VisionTV show Credo in Hollywood.)
Internet historians (I’m sure they exist) generally agree that the first slash fiction was penned (literally penned – this was before the internet) about Kirk and Spock. Even for bros, they do seem a little prone to collapsing over each other in times of weakness. Not to mention that they’re both very, very dreamy. So Star Trek and homosexuality have enjoyed a long if sometimes tenuous affiliation, and it wasn’t just on the fan’s end.
You see, Gene Roddenberry, the original creator of Star Trek, was a pretty cool guy. We watch the original series now and can laugh at the blatant tokenism – the one black chick, the one Scottish dude, the one obviously-gay-so-let’s-give-him-a-family-in-the-first-movie Asian guy – but Roddenberry in his infinite wisdom had to fight to get even that level of racial diversity on a television show in the late sixties. An episode of Star Trek marked the first televised interracial kiss ever. And I’m not talking white-on-green. It was progressive.
And Roddenberry kept pushing the envelope with Star Trek: The Next Generation. This is when the first of the ‘openly gay character’ rumours started flying around. But before he could Queer Eye the Enterprise, something seriously uncool happened: Roddenberry died. While his wife, Majel Barrett-Roddenberry (Nurse Chapel, the smoking hot cougar Lwaxana Troi, and the voice of every Federation computer up to and including the latest reboot, actually released after her death), retained some of the creative control of the series, many of his socially radical ideas fell to the wayside under the guidance of network execs who were scared of risking the controversy.
Which isn’t to say that Next Gen didn’t have its moments. Lwaxana was notoriously unfettered with her affections, they tried to hit on transgender issues (even if they missed the mark) and even Dr Crusher had her lesbian fling. Then again, Wesley’s mom wasn’t actually interested in a chick. She was interested in the spirit of an ex-boyfriend who just happened to be inhabiting the body of a woman. But Star Trek only flirted with fabulousness through three different series.
And then came Lieutenant Ren Hawk. Or Sean Liam Hawk. Or Neal Hawk. It depends on who you ask. Young Lt Hawk, portrayed by the square-jawed Neal McDonough, was a helmsman on the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-E, which as anyone knows is the incarnation of the Enterprise under the command of Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: First Contact. My dear little Hawk was supposed to be Star Trek’s first openly gay character. For real this time, no fake-out. Until they happened to cut the ‘openly’ part out of the movie, until all we are left with is a slightly swishy vision of what could have been. Next time you watch First Contact, pay attention to Lt Hawk’s hand gestures and movements. While I am not one to stereotype – he looks a little gay, dude.
He got to come out in one of the numerous companion novels, where he is happily shacked up with a male Trill. So canonically, he’s gay as blazes. I just wish that we coulda seen a little bit more. I don’t mean have him strip down to a regulation thong and start go-go dancing on the bar in Ten Forward. Even if he was gay, the movie had only a man doing his job and doing it damn well. But c’mon. Just one little flirtation, one last letter home to a worried boyfriend, one comment.
Just one little comment to tell me that in the great and glorious United Federation of Planets, there are people like me.
What to you think about Roddenberry’s original five-year mission? Does the Federation have a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy? Can you not get the mental image of Lt Reed in drag out of your mind like I can?