You agree to meet with the man who slandered the organization you lead, who told billions of people that actions you believe helped protect them were, in fact, “dishonorable” and “criminal.” He arrives and speaks in “we” as if he hadn’t left your shared workplace fourteen years before, forcing others to clean up the mess he made.
So you curse at Jean-Luc Picard, remind him of the trust he’s broken, the things he’s said, the facts he’s blurred to suit his purposes.
You’re incandescent in righteous fury.
And my mouth falls open in awe because there you are — a female Commander in Chief of Starfleet.
I never thought I would see the day.
Let’s rewind the tape — a VHS tape, actually, because this story, for me, begins in the mid-1980s when my mother had Star Trek pretty much on loop on the family VCR.
Nyota Uhura taught me that I could learn anything I set my mind to.
Christine Chapel taught me that care for others could be important work.
And Janice Lester taught me that women couldn’t become captains in Starfleet.
It made sense. My elementary school teacher said no girls could run for class president because there had never been a female president of the United States. When teachers wanted help moving books or tables, they always asked for “a couple of strong boys” to volunteer for the job. I knew women weren’t professional football or baseball players, so, I reasoned, there must be some jobs women simply aren’t allowed to do.
Including captain a starship nearly 300 years in the future.
Then came Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and the unnamed captain of the USS Saratoga, Star Trek’s first female captain by our calendar (not the internal chronology of the Trekverse).
I stared at the movie screen, head cocked in the darkness.
Women could be captains.
Star Trek: The Next Generation brought more female captains, including Silva La Forge, Phillipa Louvois, and Rachel Garrett. TNG, and later DS9, also brought female admirals, including Alynna Nechayev and Margaret Blackwell. As we all know, though, it was Voyager’s Captain Kathryn Janeway who proved that a woman’s place could be in command, not only for a guest spot or recurring role or in-universe temporary necessity, but for seven seasons and a film promotion to admiral.
I thought that was pretty darn good, and my college roommates and I watched Captain Janeway give orders with the firm belief that we, too, could become respected leaders. And if, once Voyager made contact with Starfleet, Janeway seemed to talk only with male admirals, well, okay. At least we had a woman in command … in an egalitarian future in which the show’s main cast was two-thirds men.
Then something wonderful happened. Star Trek spiraled backward in time with Enterprise’s Captain Erika Hernandez and Discovery’s Captain Phillipa Georgiou and Admiral Katrina Cornwell among those who, in-universe, predated and falsified Janice Lester’s proclamation to Kirk that, “Your world of starship captains doesn’t admit women.”
Yet, Commander-in-Chief, the highest rank in all of Starfleet, had only been portrayed by men.
Until Kirsten Clancy — forthright, quick-thinking, trading insults with Picard, tossing around words like “hubris” and “quixotic,” ordering investigations and squadrons. Her leadership reminded me why I would eagerly await peeks into female officers’ pasts, reminiscences that would help me glimpse events that shaped who they became.
Beverly Crusher’s reason for learning medicinal values of roots and herbs.
Kathryn Janeway’s Cardassian War service.
Kira Nerys’ actions during the occupation of Bajor.
Yet, Discovery’s Captain Michael Burnham had given me more than glimpses. She had given me the opportunity to see a female officer’s family, career, relationships, stumbles, and growth.
I wanted that for Kirsten Clancy, too.
Beta canon could help, and I knew Clancy appeared in The Last Best Hope by Una McCormack — and I also knew that I wanted more, much more, and Star Trek would be unlikely to dedicate an entire book to a character who appeared, generously speaking, in three scenes across two episodes.
But every character is a main character in their own story.
Someone just had to tell Kirsten Clancy’s.
So I did, with inspiration from another book by McCormack: The Autobiography of Kathryn Janeway. In that work, McCormack made beta canon the multiverse of possibility that I believe it should be, with her take on Janeway not limited by previous novels. With that model in mind, I wrote The Autobiography of Kirsten Clancy as a 16-chapter, novella-length love letter to a character I found wise, defending the safety of people for whom she is responsible, yet humble, offering an apology when she’s wrong, while remaining loyal to her duty to protect the Federation.
I wrote it as a love letter to an egalitarian future that, in-universe, would sensibly include an autobiography from Starfleet’s highest-ranking officer.
I wrote it as a love letter to Star Trek.
In charting Kirsten Clancy’s rise to power, I aimed to depict a truly 24th century Starfleet — an inclusive meritocracy that the autobiography’s self-aware, realist narrator constantly aims to improve. This meant exploring:
- what it might be like to enter Starfleet Academy as a diversity admit, then, once in power, kick down Earth-centric admission barriers for others.
- ramifications of Admiral Kirsten Clancy as the same “Ensign Clancy” from two, season two TNG episodes (the latter of which names her “Clancey” in the script, but the ensign is played by the same actress both times).
- a balance of family and Starfleet service in the vein of Beverly Crusher, Ben Sisko, and Miles O’Brien, but with both partners working through dedication to their Starfleet career path and to family.
- how a rise through the ranks could entail mentorship from any gender as well as baked-in LGBTQIA+ and racial representation not noticed by the protagonist because that’s the reality she lives in.
- personal repercussions of large-scale events such as Wolf 359, the Dominion War, and the destruction of Mars, including varying degrees of connection to other women such as Deanna Troi, Leslie Wong, and a Starfleet officer from TNG’s “Best of Both Worlds” not named in alpha canon.
It took too long for Trek fandom to claim Lwaxana Troi as a strong role model who chooses happiness when she could easily sink into despair, and Dr. Kate Pulaski as an example of growth and change as she gains information that challenges her assumptions. I hope we will be quicker to appreciate the bright light of feminism and leadership that is Starfleet Commander-in-Chief Kirsten Clancy.
After all, she’s incandescent — in anger, in apology, and in power.
What a wonderful article. I love the glimpses you give of your own story and how you came to write Admiral Clancy’s. And despite the fact my fic to-read list is somewhat out of control I’ve just added Autobiography to it for a reread. Thank you.
Wonderful article (and a wonderful biography)
I’ve always considered myself a bad feminist because I while fully believe in feminism, I guess I never felt like it needed to be shown. I mean, I’ve always felt that a woman can do whatever a man could. It was obvious to me. So, while some were saying “They need a female captain on Star Trek as the lead”, I wondered why it was so important to be shown. I wasn’t adverse to it, I just didn’t get the urgency. When I was in school in the 1980’s, women were making such strides, I never got the sense that I *had* to see a woman on TV doing the job to believe that a woman could the job. Janice Lester notwithstanding, I’ve always believed that there would be female captains in Star Trek. Considering that we’d seen women in Starfleet, i didn’t feel the urgency to show woman in high positions. I guess I figured “just because we don’t see them, doesn’t mean t they’re not there.” (A part of this may be that I grew up watching shows like Charlie’s Angels and Wonder Woman so I was used to seeing women as heroes anyway)
But like I said, that makes me a bad feminist. While I could imagine that woman have always been in high positions many in society may not have. Others may have needed to actually see it to believe it. And despite the lack of urgency on my part, it is great to see women in powerful positions on TV. Just because I thought it was a forgone conclusion doesn’t mean everyone else did. So, I applaud the depiction of powerful women in Trek, including Clancy.