Disregard Canon, Acquire Representation: Commander Shepard is a Transwoman

How many death threats did you say you wanted, Robyn?

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This article deals with gender-related terminology. Any unfamiliar terms are available here easy reference.

A young Shepard had been dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder after surviving a Thresher Maw attack. Being the sole survivor, all of their friends dead—perhaps even a wife and kids—they were admitted into therapy for post traumatic stress. Therapy discovered something else: gender identity disorder. Or, perhaps Shepard was a war hero. Having risked their life to save their crew, Shepard became depressed. Therapy again, was suggested, and gender identity disorder was found. Maybe Shepard was ruthless, throwing people under the bus; unnecessarily aggressive. After sacrificing three fourths of their troops and murdering surrendering Batarians, Shepard was sent through therapy. Aggression was being funneled out of anger at feeling like they need to fit a gender they don’t identify with. The Systems Alliance existing in the far future, there’s no ban on transgender people serving and Shepard transitions using body reconstruction and hormone replacement. She now lives her life as a woman, and eventually becomes the savior of the galaxy.

Ugh, I hate it when you forget you're wearing a dress.Male body language: Something many transwomen struggle with during their transition.

Commander Shepard is a transwoman, and I shouldn’t have to justify that with an explanation why. However, this column is all about me being verbose about why your favorite characters are trans in some way, so let’s get started! A big thing that makes me think this is that Commander Shepard uses the same model wiring regardless which gender you choose. Male Shepard seems to be the default, and so female Shepard walks like male Shepard. As a feminine transperson, male body language is something I have to struggle with, so it is believable that this was a conscious decision by BioWare (and not intended to save time and resources) to subtly give female Shepard male body language. As pictured above, she’s wearing a dress yet has her legs spread like men usually do. BioWare has been good with implying there is no canon Commander Shepard, but I believe that she’d be a transwoman.

"Shepard." "Wrex"“Shepard.” “Wrex.”

Honestly, this would be extremely important for feminine transpeople as well. She’s a fighter, a leader; not as sexualized as other videogame females, her gender rarely brought up, and especially since the game makes no mention of transness, this makes it all the more important—because she’s a woman that is taken seriously and presented in a serious manner. To say she’s a transwoman, even post-release, would further say that transwomen can be taken seriously and be presented in a serious manner. That her transition is something that feasibly could have occurred in her background and doesn’t need game time addressing is also important, as transwomen often only appear in media if they’re transitioning. That she faces no prejudice for being trans also brings hope; that other people can envision a future where transness isn’t something demonized, but treated normally and not made as big of a Thing as it is now. These are all incredibly important.

"Shepard." "Grunt."“Shepard.” “Grunt.”

Would attaching a trans narrative to Commander Shepard ruin what the character means for ciswomen? No, it literally would not change anything, because transwomen and ciswomen are both still women. Further, transwomen need positive representation in videogames, and Commander Shepard is one of the strongest women in videogames today. It would do femininity a boon if anything, because here we have someone who accepts their feminine identity, transitions into it, and not a bad word is said about it. Commander Shepard would still be the admirable hero she is if she were a transwoman, and as someone that showed masculinity to become feminine that sends an important message that being feminine isn’t bad. It’s a message that benefits ciswomen and transwomen.

"Shepard." "Wrex"“Shepard, Shepard, Shepard.” “Wrex.”

Also, the benefit it does for addressing transpeople in a future military structure is astounding! Right now, Gender Identity Disorder is a disqualifying condition for United States military service that cannot be waived. An example of some conditions that are not disqualifying are zoophilia, voyeursim, and pedophilia. There’s something wrong about that, and it’s a constant source of stress for the transpeople serving in the American armed forces. There’s also the fact that if you enlist and it’s found that you’re trans, there’s a huge circus around kicking you out or keeping you in, and usually it’s a one-sided fight to kick you out. Our lives in the military are full of fear and suspicion of everyone around us, and seeing a military in fiction that doesn’t even question having a trans member would be something that gives us hope.

"Shepard." "Grunt."“Commander Shepard.” “Grunt.”

In closing, there’s not a whole lot in canon to support this—there has been no official denial of this as a theory, but the name of this column isn’t “Embrace the Vagueness of Canon”. It is far more important that Commander Shepard be a transwoman. It would be great to see a society that doesn’t turn its head hearing someone is trans, it would be great to see a transwoman where her transition isn’t focused on by the narrative, and it would be great to see a military transwoman.

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About the Contributor


Since 2013

Obviously, I'm Robyn. I'm nonbinary/gender neutral(my pronouns are xe/hir), into videogames, and other stuff. Somehow I found myself on this corner of the internet. I hope we all can be friends and have a good year together at this school!

2 Comments

  1. Not bad and possible! While there is no true hard evidence, I have always thought of my fem!shep as a male to female transwomen! To say this might be cannon is cool! Thanks for this!

  2. I love the idea of a trans Shep. In fact, it bugs the crap out of me that Bioware never realised how easily they could have done this and got away with it on the basis of plausible deniability (in places of the world where to do so would mean the game got denied to fans there by the government, for example).

    ME1: pick a gender.
    ME2: you can RE-PROGRAM YOUR GENES apparently (make yourself facially entirely recognisable as a completely different race!), and (I think) maybe even some of your backstory from the previous game (when you’re talking to Jacob and Miranda leaving the base where you woke up?)
    …but you CANNOT switch gender?!
    INSANE. You should have been able to do that – it actually made LESS sense not to be able to.

    “Oh no we wouldn’t know what to do with the gender pronouns in all the conversations in-game after that!” – Simple: just make them match whatever gender the player chose for their Shep in customisation.

    The only reason someone would struggle to accept THAT, is if they feel a desperate need for switching sex to be made a big deal. In other words: NOT normal, HAS to be explained, HAS to be shocking therefore, to everyone else.

    Imagine playing after that and EVERYONE literally talks to you like you’re the same person, they just switch pronoun and apply your present one when talking about all your past exploits too. How refreshing and future-building would that be?!

    [Actually I WOULD have loved one tiny bit of dialogue inserted in for my Shep if I’d played trans for ME2… and that’s to just have the first familiar person I meet ask me something like “Did you change your hair?” and leave it at that. One tiny nod, that they acknowledge a difference. That’s it.]

    [Shrugs] Such an easy thing to do. Then, they could say “Oh well it was just part of the customisation process” and point out all the other things you can alter – like your skin colour and bone structure – and they instantly get “we didn’t intentionally allow a trans character” get-out-of-jail-free card. So maybe that game would get to fans who are trans all over the world, quietly supporting them through representation.

    Pissed me off no end that I couldn’t switch gender.
    I’m cis-female, and I didn’t want to, but it pissed me off that I could change race, effectively change sexuality (or at least it can become apparent through the game “Now you know I’m actually bisexual!”) for example, but not my sex which is *infinitely easier* to change than any of those other things in reality.

    But I object wholeheartedly to the notion that your piece here shouldn’t upset cis-women because it really upset me – but not for the reasons you’d expect.

    In particular you said that trans women struggle initially with gender-normative behaviour like walking for example.

    Yeah, well… Cis-Women are *taught* how to walk that way – it isn’t natural. To those of us who don’t walk that way, you’re telling *us* – you’re telling ME – that I walk like a man?!

    Thanks for that… Because that’s totally not something I’ve had to deal with my entire friggin’ life making my school day in day out a fucking nightmare for constantly being told I don’t ‘pass’ for female? Hmm.

    Just one problem: I AM female so walking like I walk is no ‘less’ female than say… my wearing a pink sombrero or having an addiction to skinny dipping. More to the point, I’m quite content to stay that way – I’m one of the lucky folks who saw their bits and pieces and thought “Yeah – that figures” and not “Woah this is NOT what I should have down there!”

    So I’m really not ‘walking like a man’, I’m walking like a woman who hasn’t been taught to walk in an overly sexually-advertising way. 🙂

    On that particular point, you got me livid, because it touched off on traumas and misery I’ve endured all my life precisely because people make those presumptions and applied them to *me*, told me I’d “make sense” if I were gay, or if I were trans. The number of fake ‘outs’ I had from schoolmates was insulting enough. They could NEVER accept me for who I was.

    …I suppose in a way I must have traumatised all of them when in the end, I neither ‘became gay’ nor did I decide to have a sex change either. I’m still old me, and that must piss them off terribly… A woman who’s sure she’s a woman who’s nevertheless good at science, jumps into brawls to save innocent bystanders or just because ‘that needs to stop right now’, speaks her mind without apologies, is resourceful and commanding and downright heroic. Yeah. That DOES upset a lot of people.

    It was insulting to be fake ‘outed’ not because I would be disgusted to be gay or trans. It was insulting because just as gay and trans people suffer with acceptance in this way, I was being constantly told – just like they all to often are – what I SHOULD be, and what I COULDN’T be, by other people, based solely on my attire, my movements, and my style of speech.

    * You can’t have a gay guy who isn’t camp.
    * You can’t have a woman who isn’t.
    * You can tell a trans person by the inconsistencies they show in these ways.

    – Says who?!

    That’s part of the problem, in my opinion. Those attitudes and presumptions of how we fit in, are what need to be thrown out.

    I don’t walk like a man – I walk like a woman. Deal with it.

    So your custom transShep (I make a point of saying CUSTOM, because people have a right to pick and chose their Sheps to reflect who they are – whatever else that may be) …

    YOUR custom Shepard doesn’t walk like she ‘used to be a man and now is struggling with transition’ – no. She might be struggling with transition and that’s fine, but she WALKS like me:

    – She walks like a Cis-woman who didn’t subscribe to the indoctrination to walk a certain way, and/or is used to wearing non-feminine clothes that offer greater freedom of movement, and/or is used to adopting power-stances not ‘I’m a sexy dainty damsel’ poses.

    Your Shepard is pretty fucking cool.

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