Star Trek could have been gayer. But in the ’80s I didn’t care. I was twee and my biggest Star Trek concern in 1987 was where the hell Sulu and Uhura were and why was there a small bald British man wearing a red shirt on the bridge. But later… later I wanted to know where the gay was. Stuff close to my heart, you know?
To that end, growing up in the ’80s and ’90s wasn’t easy, especially if you were a Trekkie. There was that one episode where Riker falls in love with an agender person (played by a woman) and then everyone condemns the super heteronormative people for being in love. And there was that other episode where Crusher’s Trill boyfriend gets dropped into Riker (who she bangs), and then a woman (who she does not bang).
But where TNG was deeply heteronormative and borderline homophobic, DS9 was a fresh, if brief, breath of air.
Back in 1995, when “Rejoined” aired there was no Puppy Episode of Ellen and Xena hadn’t yet planted a confusing one on Gabrielle while she was in Bruce Campbell’s body. In 1995, two ladies kissing on TV was damned daring. But I was 12 and it was also damn confusing, and when it ends with the two women apart and Dax never mentioning her lover across ages again it kind of put a cap on things.
Later, I would find Seven of Nine and her terse conversations with Janeway in Voyager interesting, but by then I was in high school, Buffy and X-Files and ER were my life and Star Trek was just that show I tuned into on Wednesday when I didn’t have debate or theatre.
More time passed. And then one day in 2008 I was farting around on Memory Alpha, Star Trek‘s exhaustive, crowd-sourced wiki, and came across a fun factoid I’d previously only seen as rumours on Livejournals.
According to fandom lore, Seven of Nine was originally supposed to be gay. In fact, some instances of the story say that producers created Seven of Nine as a romantic foil for Janeway, but at the last minute they chickened out and veered the relationship into familial territory instead. Then, the rumours insisted, the actresses chose to play it gay as a big FU to those who had backed down.
As the person who rewatched all of Xena because my sister said Renee O’Connor was actually taller than Lucy Lawless, I felt a challenge brewing and I accepted. I rewatched Voyager in it’s entirety, descending down a terrible rabbit hole into a show about a scientist who has a mental breakdown when she and her crew are stranded thousands of lightyears from home, and the weird woman raised by an asexual robot collective in space.
Like all the best Trek stories, Voyager leaned hard on the Western tropes I adore. Seven was the foundling girl and Janeway the school marm dumped in the wilderness (Westerns, being a profoundly masculine genre, usually kill those women or drive them insane). I wasn’t quite sure what blossomed between them was love, though.
But there was a fierce passion in their every exchange — something vibrant and apart from the otherwise bland Voyager. Seven pushed and prodded and Janeway, arch in her superiority, pushed right back.
The gayness flickers in the little moments, which as a lover of X-Files and Xena I was accustomed to searching for. I didn’t look for lip locks, just those moments when they were in the frame together, touches that lasted too long, lingering gazes, or those instances when they’d risk life and limb and even the ship for one another.
The show progressed and these women’s best episodes were often wrapped up in one another and it was wonderful to watch. Star Trek is such an enduring collection of stories that it’s a world that’s easy to fantasize about, but it’s been woefully inept when it comes to some stories. Women never found each other — they never lasted — in a Star Trek tale.
And Seven and Janeway didn’t last either. Instead, Seven was snatched from both Janeway’s affection and the Doctor’s, and thrust into the arms of Chakotay (that was due to a dare Chakotay’s actor, Robert Beltran, issued to the writers to write a scene where he got to kiss actress Jeri Ryan). It’s routinely considered one of the dumbest storylines on the show — which is impressive, given that Voyager once had a plot line so bad it was stricken from canon.
But the close bond between Janeway and Seven stuck around through the final episode (and, I’m told, also through the books). The finale of the show is about an elderly Janeway taking a dump on the Temporal Prime Directive and travelling back in time to save Seven’s life. It’s as romantic as the end of Star Trek would ever get. While every other Trek finale seems to be about the tragedy of love, Voyager is about the missed opportunities of love, which is so damn gratifying.
For nearly a decade now, queer Star Trek fans have had to be content with subtext and tragedy, which is all we’ve been given. But it won’t be that way much longer. Bryan Fuller, a gay man who likes to pack his sharp adaptations of pre-existing material with super gay moments, is producing the next Star Trek show, Discovery, and he’s made it clear he’s going to bring the queer. It only took 51 years, but in 2017 Star Trek will finally break down a barrier left up too long. There will be a consistently queer primary character on the best science fiction property out there.
This has been somehow Star Trek has sorely needed, and for a very long time: Real gay characters that don’t require a squint and a head tilt, that get to be fully fleshed out and allowed to live (don’t fucking do it Fuller). This is momentous. It changes the game. It tells us that the most inclusive series out there no longer has a blindspot for all us queer folks.
I’m just sorry it wasn’t you, Seven.