Lt. Malcom Reed: Intergalactic Man of Confusion

Reed looking pensive/confused


Maybe it was just me, but my first run through Enterprise left me baffled and Malcom Reed was the center of my confusion. Malcom, at least to me, read as a tightly wound closeted character and I was excited with the hope that Star Trek finally created their first gay character.

But the show referenced his many sexual conquests with women, which was contrary to everything I had seen about Malcom during the series. He barely talked to any women, he barely talked to anyone at all – this all started to feel like overcompensation, like the writers were backtracking. I started to feel like the people in charge of the show changed their minds partway through the first season.

I was deeply confused, so I took to the beautiful source that is Memory Alpha, looking for answers. I found this short line about Lt. Reed, from the actor who played him, Dominic Keating:

Keating also stated, when asked about Reed’s romantic life, that “God knows I played him gay!”

Was Lt. Reed originally written as gay? I felt mildly validated after finding this quote but I was still extremely curious. I found the full YouTube interview that this quote was pulled from. Despite Keating’s tone, I was convinced this was an important part of Reed’s character.

If Malcom was meant to be closeted, some of his behavior on the series makes a little more sense. Hiding your identity from your loved ones and peers does irreparable damage to your sense of self. And you have a tendency to lash out at anyone.

We see this behavior many times in the series from Malcom. The most alarming and infamous display of this aggression was toward Major Hayes. Major Hayes is the top officer of the MACO security force that is requested to join crew by Captain Archer during the Xindi crisis. Because Reed is the Enterprise’s security chief, which understandably creates tension between Hayes and Reed throughout the five-episode arc in which Hayes is present. Their relationship reaches a boiling point in the episode “The Harbinger.” The tension goes far beyond the regular work place scuffle when Reed and Hayes beat the crap out of each other.

Reed and Hayes with bruised and bloody faces

I was not surprised to learn that there are many Reed/Hayes shippers after watching this episode again. I wanted to post part of their fight scene from “Harbinger” from YouTube to illustrate the sexual tension between them, but the only clips I could find were all set to love songs.

During my Reed-search I read rumors on message boards of other characters being originally written as gay including: Geordi LaForge, Commander Decker, The Original Series’ Number One, I could go on but you get the idea.

One thing that consistently caught my eye were rumors of constant meddling by executives and producers; the type that wanted to keep Star Trek on a leash. The most damning example was in the book, Star Trek: The Human Frontier:

Long-Time Star Trek writer David Gerrold had in fact already tried and failed to get a gay storyline on to The Next Generation before Roddenberry’s death, but met stiff opposition from Berman. ‘I don’t Blame Gene as much as I blame Rick Berman for this clusterf**,’ he comments. ‘Others have confirmed it. They have said in their experience Rick Berman is a homophobe.’ (235)

It’s true Star Trek has a history of backtracking on its sexual progressivism. There was the famous interracial kiss between Kirk and Uhura, but it wasn’t as epic as it could have been – they weren’t in control of the situation. And there was the kiss between Judzia Dax and her former wife, Lenara Kahn, but they were in a heterosexual married relationship in previous host bodies.

Jadzia Dax and Lenara Kahn kiss

But back to Malcom Reed specifically.

I read blog posts, forum posts, hints here and there. I mostly found unsourced hearsay and theories, including claims that the rumors were “officially” refuted. I found a snippet of an interview with Dominic Keating from 2002 where he said:

They’re not going to make him the first gay character on Star Trek like I read in TV Guide. They said that I would be the first gay character on Star Trek. And I (was) like, what? I’m playing another poof, I can’t believe it. Will this follow me around for the whole of my career? Not to say it disparagingly, but I have played a lot of gay characters because I’m good at it, I guess. But no, I don’t think he’s going to be that. And, seven years we’ve got to go and I would imagine[sic] they’ll have us run the whole gamut.

This was not the good news I was looking for, but it hardly cleared anything up either. All the information I had found up to this point were quotes from Keating until I found this passage in Star Trek: The Human Frontier:

With the debut of Enterprise in 2001, hopes were high that Star Trek would finally include a gay character among the core cast and again fans were disappointed. The character of Malcom Reed… turned out to be solidly heterosexual. (236)

The passage also points out that Brannon Braga originally told Keating that Reed was gay, in order to “wind him up… something he assumed would embarrass Keating.” Sadly, I do not have the time to unpack my disappointment in Braga if this is true.

Reed in an environmental suit, looking scared

Well, shit. It seems we are at an impasse.

At this point you might be asking, hey writer, why the hell do you care?

I care because I care about Star Trek. I care if the people who watch it, we the people who are “infinite diversity in infinite combinations,” are represented. Everyone deserves to see themselves represented in media, especially on a show that prides itself on equality and diversity.

I care that Enterprise was canceled, cut off prematurely, just when it was starting to find its voice. I care that Malcom Reed could have brought more viewers to the show and that his character could have been the key to saving Star Trek from 12 years of television silence – not just because he would have represented a portion of the population that was previously unseen on Star Trek, but that he would have meant something more to people beyond his regular character development.

I tried to consider the time in which this show was produced and remember the prevailing attitudes toward LGBT people at that time (and now, and always). But this is Star Trek. There is a reason we expect better.

Source: Barrett, Michèle, Barrett, Duncan. (2016). Star Trek: The Human Frontier (2nd ed.) New York, NY. Routledge Publisher.

  5 comments for “Lt. Malcom Reed: Intergalactic Man of Confusion

  1. In his interview, in Star Trek Communicator magazine (the zine for the officially sanctioned fan club) issue 138 May 2002, he specifically talks about how excited he is to be playing Star Trek’s first openly gay character, given all the trouble that had previously existed in getting one to screen.

  2. I remember the TV Guide article that mentioned Reed might be the first openly gay character on Star Trek. He’s certainly coded as such.

    As someone who came out at 30 I can say that pretty much everything about Reed’s personal life makes sense if you see him as closeted (the lack of people close to him who know things about him, the estrangement from family, playing things very close to the chest). When you’re hiding such a large part of yourself away, it takes other parts with it.

  3. I never believed Reed was actually gay. Mr. Keating is one hell of a good actor and I have met other actors who were ‘stereotyped’ as one thing or another because they were just too damn good at playing the part. Take actor Richard Lynch (the Phoenix). I spoke with him and he said that because he was so good at playing ‘bad guys’ he always was cast as a villan in every role he auditioned for. “I can’t exactly audition badly on purpose. Actors need to work so I usually did my best at auditions. I cannot help that directors or producers want me to play the bad guy – it just happens that way.” I believe the same is true for Mr. Keating. He’s very good at playing gay men but that doesn’t mean he is gay. I’ve seen him with a lot of girls, ladies, etc. at the Con this year and it doesn’t appear he’s gay at all.

  4. I’ve always found the Reed/Hayes relationship to be irritating and a low-point for the series — certainly more on Lt Reed’s part than MAJ Hayes. It just made Malcolm difficult to take throughout the third season … and then they killed off the the good major when Reed stops being an ~expletive deleted~. However — I was not aware a “ship” existed in the fan community, and so I can now better explain Reed’s behavior if he was having repressed attraction to MAJ Hayes. I’m about to start my ENT rewatch and will keep that in mind as I watch — what if Reed is closeted?

  5. A fairly cringe inducing situation all the way around. While I am pleased to learn that Keating’s comments were a bit more complex than I had previously been led to believe I am still deeply disappointed that he couldn’t see what an honor it would have been to be the actor responsible for helping Trek take such an important step forward. Ultimately I am glad we are out of the Berman era, now it is to be hoped that Discovery’s representation will be the first of many steps towards washing the decades long bad taste out of our mouths.

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