A number of years ago (I’ve lost count, but it was before ME3’s release) I took over as Admin1 of a Facebook page called Mass Effect Female Shepard, and several years later: somehow I’m still doing it. We (myself and one other co-admin) post anything we can find that is FemShep related. Sometimes we throw in a little science, sometimes a few ‘freedom and equality’ posts too, written into context as if part of the Mass Effect universe.
Being able to play a female character I personally can identify with meant the world to me – it had never really happened before Mass Effect. Everything from the way she walked to the way she hauled Kaidan or Ash’s ass onto her shoulders to get them out of danger worked for me – including that way of sitting she had which everyone noticed once she donned a dress (cringe-worthy and yet for me, so painfully true!).
She, and being able to invent stories about her – small ones like the little ones I’d post to the page on Facebook in the captions of fanart that had inspired me, but also long ones like my ongoing Zaeed x FemShep fanfic – helped me not only practice writing (I’m still working on that!), but also to use writing as therapy.
Everyone’s been through tough times, some more than most. Putting my traumas into the framework of an alternate universe helps me distance myself from those events, reason through them, and by having to refine my explanation enough to put it into words: enable my mind sufficient associative links to embed those experiences in my biological hard drive instead of having them float around as unsaved work, clogging up all the other operations my brain is trying to get on with. Even little things like frustration with university politics when I was doing a PhD or anxiety over a deadline, I could evolve into a short two sentence status update, in some context where Commander Shepard might well find themselves feeling a similar strain… To say nothing of the really serious PTSD-inducing life events a person can go through, a few of which I’m unlucky enough to have experienced.
Shepard means many things to many people, for all kinds of reasons. For me, [she]pard is representative – a long lost voice I’d gotten used to not hearing (a voice that talks like mine), a personality I only ever before saw in my own actions, and a ‘sense of being’ and purpose portrayed as natural which, on the contrary, I’d gotten so used to thinking alien [for my gender] that I wondered if I was from another planet.
The female version of the protagonist will always hold a special place in my heart, as will all the kind and compassionate fellow fans (ignoring the ones who aren’t…) that I’ve met along the way. With them I’ve shared my trivial frustrations, laughter, heart-rending loss, elated triumphs and utter despair… Whether they knew it at the time or not, they’ve been my backbone.
I don’t know how long I’ll keep administrating that page, but for now it – as much as she – is a part of who I am, and I’m willing to admit: I still need her.