Throughout September, we’re celebrating Women in Queer Sci-Fi & Fantasy here on Just Love, including interviews and guest posts from some amazing authors!
Today we’re joined by RoAnna Sylver, author of the fantasy novel Chameleon Moon and more, as she talks about one of her favorite queer female characters, and healing with the power of story. She’s also written a gorgeous poem to accompany her post!
For Jane Shepard
* * *
When my homeworld burns behind me, and danger lies before me,
Grant me the courage to take another step.
When tyrants take my Citadel, when they seize power with bloody hands and rule with iron fists,
May I stand tall before them and look them in the eye. May I not blink.
When floodwaters rise, as stars fall, as everything I love goes up in smoke, or down in flames,
Bless me with the will to break the surface and take a breath.
When those who would destroy us descend like a cloud of locusts,
And my blood freezes in my veins, spur me to action.
When our heroes are slain,
When they fail, when they lead us astray, or betray us,
May we rise to take their place, unshackled, and become the heroes we need.
When silent nights stretch before me like the vacuum of space between stars,
And oily shadows whisper horrors in nightmares, when memories deny me sleep,
Promise me that the sun has to come up again sometime.
When skies darken, may I stand beneath the oncoming shadow and remember
That all things come in cycles.
All things end, even suffering.
When we are weary, frightened, outnumbered, overwhelmed
May we look to those still standing beside us, and call them friends.
May we hold the line.
May I find strength in you,
And when others look to me for the same
May I not disappoint them.
What Would Shepard Do? Narrative Psychology and Healing with the Power of Story
Out of everything I learned in school—high school, college, everything—my favorite subject was narrative psychology. This is the study of of how we process and share our thoughts, feelings, and lives through stories. Identifying with characters (sometimes called experience-taking), and using them to learn about and express ourselves, even when our own emotions are overwhelmingly painful, or seem bafflingly complex. This can be a powerful tool for recovery, addressing and healing trauma, or finding and cultivating personal strength.
My textbooks referred to this mostly in Jungian concepts: cultural symbolism, what he called ‘the collective subconscious,’ and how we use character and story archetypes to symbolize our lives’ journeys. And these were mostly in terms of mythology, legends, and religion—however, we still very much use narratives to make sense of our lives and our place in the universe.
We do it with our favorite characters when we identify with them, understand the hardships they’ve gone through, and cheer them to victory. (Often just watching a character I identify with grow and succeed can feel like a victory for me too.) We do it with movies and TV and books and videogames. Whether we know we’re doing it or not, it can be incredibly helpful and healing.
This is one reason why good representation for everyone, particularly marginalized people, is so deeply important. There is no feeling like the first time you see a character who shares your marginalization and represents you. And there’s no pain like seeing a character like you suffer or die, which, sadly, happens all too often in fiction (though even their pain can sometimes be cathartic, if it’s written in a non-exploitative way; ownvoice stories are best here). But when they’re given the chance to be the hero, when a marginalized viewer sees someone like them thrive—there is so much strength and encouragement to be gained here. So much good.
I’ve been experience-taking and generally putting narrative psychology to use my whole life, with many treasured favorite characters. But maybe with no one so directly and passionately as Commander Jane Shepard from Mass Effect. Her bravery and dedication, strength of spirit and resilience are something I want very much to emulate. Also, she’s bi as heck and gets to romance super cool aliens! (And humans. Even if, yeah, there’s sapphic representation to be desired here—don’t get me started on Kelly!)
I know Jane Shepard best as full Paragon. Every playthrough. (I’ve tried to go Renegade, I have. Can’t do it. Either she’s too real and fixed in the blue by now, or I am.)
When I’m scared, or in pain—which is often; I have many chronic illnesses and pain is a universal constant—I ask myself what she would do. What would be the dialogue option in neon blue?
What choice would be the Paragon Interrupt?
Find that. Do that. My gosh, do it with all my heart. Even if it hurts. Especially then.
We need heroes now more than ever. 2016 took a lot from us, 2017 just keeps taking, and in the dystopian hellscape that is the current political and social climate, some heroes we’ve looked up to our whole lives are letting us down. But Jane Shepard is still here. So is every other character in whom we find hope and meaning. And so are we.
If we’re experiencing a hero shortage, it’s time to step up and become them ourselves.
This is my prayer that I’ll know what to do when the time comes.
Like she would.
RoAnna Sylver wrote this poem. And also sings, voice acts, draws, has several weird genetic conditions, knows too much about Star Trek, currently writes the oddly-hopeful-dystopian Chameleon Moon series, and lives with family near Portland, OR. The next adventure RoAnna would like is a nap in a pile of bunnies.
For never-before-read Chameleon Moon content and more exclusive rewards, support RoAnna Sylver on Patreon! – Patreon.com/RoAnnaSylver
Official Chameleon Moon Merchandise and Art Available on Redbubble and Teepublic!
Chameleon Moon on Facebook: Facebook.com/ChameleonMoon
RoAnna Sylver on Facebook: Facebook.com/RoannaSylver