[Trigger warning: discussions of homophobia.]
I started the first Mass Effect game in December 2014 when my five-year relationship with a man was falling apart. Since this was my first relationship and I didn’t register that I had experienced attraction to women before, I assumed I was straight. Heteronormativity made it very difficult for me to acknowledge that I sometimes had crushes on women. I thought I just wanted to be friends with them. I was also hassled by my stepdad, who insisted that I must be a lesbian because he didn’t consider me suitably feminine. I know that it isn’t an insult, but I internalized that it was by the way he used it against me. I didn’t want him to be right about me being attracted to women.
Even before I knew the relationship was falling apart, I had started to question if I was straight. While I was still with my boyfriend, he was letting me play Dragon Age: Origins on his Xbox. (I am so glad I got to finish it before we broke up!) I had some feelings for Leliana, but didn’t register them as me being attracted to her. The small part of me that was questioning was drowned out by the much bigger part of me that was saying, “Why does it matter? You’re dating a man right now, you don’t need to figure it out.” I know that who you are dating doesn’t determine your sexuality, but it served as a way for me to avoid reaching a kind of scary conclusion.
Eventually, the relationship blew up. There was a lot of anger—and I could deal with that better than the sadness. The explosiveness and anger made it easier for me to completely push him away and not feel bad about it. It was best to cut as many ties as I could.
About three days after the end, I finished the first Mass Effect game, and as I like to explain to people, I rebounded with Kaidan. Still with a man because I was not ready to face some deeper truths about myself. It was the safest possible option: a completely virtual rebound without real-life consequences and without bringing up any questions about myself. I’ve never been much of a risk-taker.
I soon moved on to Mass Effect 2. I carefully avoided any and all relationships in-game as well as in real life, still avoiding asking myself the deeper questions. But as I became a more capable player, I started to take more risks in my playing and in real life. I still managed to shove my developing feelings for Liara into the back of my mind, because I wasn’t attracted to women! Was I? However, while answers were certainly forming, I was still scared to ask the questions.
By the time I started on Mass Effect 3, I was a little more ready to ask questions. I was becoming more brave in-game and in examining myself. While I still wasn’t ready for a relationship in real life, I felt I could handle one in game. And I ended up picking Liara. While it was safe, completely virtual, and with no real-life consequences, it felt like a big step in acknowledging that I wasn’t attracted to men exclusively.
It was a step towards accepting myself.
It has already been a while since I finished Mass Effect 3, but that first step it helped me with was just the start of a great journey. I know that Bioware romances can be problematic or just plain cheesy, but for me, they have had a lot of importance. They helped me learn things about myself once I stopped being so afraid to ask, and they provided a way for me to accept myself.
While I’m not yet sure what label I want to put on myself, as long as I keep asking questions and facing the answers, I’m sure I’ll figure it out eventually. It felt so wonderful and liberating to figure this out. To me, this is a big reason why video games and representation matter. When we’re allowed to explore new ideas and ask questions about ourselves, we can only grow and learn from it.