Editor's note: Frequent Mercury contributor Andy Mangels co-wrote (with Michael A. Martin) the new novel Star Trek: The Next Generation "Section 31: Rogue," which is in stores now. The book has received a lot of attention because it's the first time Star Trek has dealt with gay characters in a meaningful manner in 35 years.

Since writing Section 31: Rogue, I find myself repeating to journalists and fans that the point of the book is NOT that the lead character is gay, but that the book is an outer space-espionage-action-black ops story which HAPPENS to have a gay lead character. But that just makes the point harder for many to grasp. Gay people who are integrated into a major media property? And it's not a ratings stunt or token appearance? Outside of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who'd even think to do that?

I grew up in Bigfork, Montana; a town as small as you might imagine. I was "different" in school. Though I knew I was gay from about age four, it was the fact that I liked to read that set me apart (being a Mormon with an IQ 100 points higher than my classmates didn't help). In grade school, teachers would punish kids by sending them to the library. Consequently, I got in trouble a lot, until a parent-teacher conference busted that scam. Mom couldn't believe they were rewarding me by sending me to be among books.

Comic books and novels--and later, Star Wars--were my escape from the world. I could launch into worlds more fantastic than mine--than anybody's--and leave behind the woods and the farm chores and the redneck schoolkids who were weaned on Budweiser as infants. Super-heroes and I had something in common: We both had secret identities that couldn't be revealed without hurting those we loved. Luke Skywalker and I both dreamed of getting out of our dreary backwater existence and doing something special.

But I never had a specific gay role model in sci-fi while growing up. Wasn't there, didn't exist, and I didn't know about Samuel Delaney's books. When George Lucas was criticized for having no blacks in Star Wars, suddenly Lando Calrissian was added to the mix: Presto, instant racial equality! But the older I grew, the more pissed I got that no one like ME was represented in sci-fi.

I'm not the only one. Sci-fi fandom has a disproportionately large number of gay, lesbian, or bi fans. Many of them are happy to read the speculative status quo of whatever Hollywood or publishers want to throw at them, content to enjoy a world in which straight white male protestants still dominate even on other planets!

A segment of queer fans turn to an oddity called "slash fiction" to make their mark on fandom. Slash stories are same-sex romps for popular characters. The granddaddy of them all is Kirk/Spock. More modern versions include Mulder/Skinner or Buffy/Willow. I'm waiting (no, not really) for the Vader/Luke incest slash fiction: lightsaber as a penis metaphor. Frankly, I don't GET slash; if I want to fantasize about a hunky character, it's Sean Connery IN his Zardoz outfit that makes me hot, not Zardoz himself. Or Harrison Ford, not Han Solo. I know, logically, that slash fiction is other fans' way of sexualizing their heroes in the same way that a younger me created adventures for them on paper or with action figures. But it's still a little hard for me to fathom.

Finally, a much smaller section of fans actually try to DO something about getting representation in sci-fi and comics. They launch letter-writing campaigns, patronize projects which support the gay community, etc. And as the post-Baby-Boomer we-had-it-better-than-your-generation grows into the world of publishing and Hollywood, some of us are doing something about it. We're influencing people like Buffy's Joss Whedon or filmmaker Kevin Smith, or we're infiltrating from within, like Scream's Kevin Williamson, who puts gay characters or moments in most of his projects.

What we really want--what I want, certainly--is to not have to shout "We're Here, We're Queer, Get Used To It Even In Outer Space" anymore. Sadly, the world is not so evolved. We don't have warp drive. We don't have lightsabers. We can't fly under our own yellow-sun-enriched powers. Even so, the world is evolving and catching up to sci-fi's technology. Now, if only the universe of sci-fi would catch up to society in its representation of diversity

So, that was the "agenda" for writing the gay lead character in the new novel Star Trek: The Next Generation "Section 31: Rogue." Representation. In this imagined utopian future of warp cores, transporters, and zero progress in natural-looking toupees, my co-writer and I wanted to show that gay people were there, they were queer, and people HAD gotten used to it.

Andy Mangels and Michael A. Martin will be doing a signing of their new book at Gai-Pied Bookstore on Wednesday, June 20th, at 6:30 pm. www.andymangels.com