This article was written in light of the recent victory of Feline Longmore at SCG Seattle.  It’s not about her victory so much as it is about the type of discussions we have as Magic nerds after things we consider to be Black Swan events.  For a long time, a transgendered woman winning a major tournament was one of these events: so rare as to be unthinkable to the vast majority of people who don’t know the trans players who play within their midst.  But we do play this game, and some of us are even good at it.  Thus, this event has triggered yet another round of discussions on the topic of trans people, to which I would like to add my two cents.

Writing about trans issues online is a difficult proposition for even the best of writers.  Trans peoples’ identities have always been a flashpoint for conflict; few systems are as integral to the construction of your typical western id as gender, and the idea that some people transgress this system can provoke fierce emotions in even the most rational of individuals.  This is why the liberal blogosphere has had many a kerfluffle over trans rights and identities, and this drama has repeated itself among the LGBT and feminist blogs as well.

Unfortunately, now these discussions are entering the Magic blogosphere, and unlike in those other forums we don’t really have the language to talk about these issues effectively.  The concept of privilege is not something we discuss when we talk about Magic; there is a base level of privilege we all have to play this hobby, in intelligence, money and time, but it seems as though to talk about that directly is considered gauche by members of the community.  Certainly the pro players don’t help this, as the general response to people not being able to afford key cards in decks and such is, “prepare to lose.”  And if we can’t have an open discussion about the type of privilege that we all have concrete evidence of being blessed with, how are we going to be able to talk about the benefits individual Magic players have from being white, male, straight, or being one of the many other social categories that is privileged in our culture.  Heck, Magic is played worldwide; we don’t even share the same base culture and we literally do not all speak the same language.

But then something like this trans thing comes up again.  It’s a lot like when “women in Magic” comes up as a conversational topic, in that it’s theoretically helpful but about as much fun as drinking Drano if you happen to be a member of the group whose legitimacy is being discussed.  It’s not the first time this has arisen, and it won’t be the last.  For example, I plan to win a SCG tournament at some point.  It’s gonna happen.  Get ready to be pissed.  But in response to events like this, there are inevitably voices that speak on either side of the issue, wherein the issue in question is one of basic human respect for the person who sits across the table from you.  Fundamentally, there is no discussion to be had.  It is always better to treat your opponent with respect.  It offers the moral benefit of not being a dick, and it offers the concrete advantages that come from being respected within the Magic community.  If you’re a jerk, people don’t want to play you, don’t want to trade with you, and won’t invite you to their Magic parties.  This is a true thing, and people should be aware of it.

Invariably, though, this simple discussion gets complicated in a number of ways.  In this past cycle, two responses have particularly stuck in my craw.  There’s the fairly typical outcry of protest from people who don’t want to acknowledge that privilege is a thing that exists and that they have.  These people are the same type of people who go to a site like yoisthisracist and whine about it being anti-white.  These people have bad code in their head that tells them to be reactionary assholes in response to things that challenge them, and sadly the only thing to be done about them is to make it so that they feel their beliefs are unwelcome in positive spaces.  Eventually, they will learn to shut up, and they might even become better people for it.

The other response is somewhat more insidious.  Sometimes, an affected person will write an article from his or her own point of view about these things, and do so in a way that is lauded for being a welcome insight into what it’s actually like to be a Magic player who is even slightly askew from the straight white male stereotype.  But these articles are almost universally full of fail.  There’s a common idea that to speak about what it’s like to be an X who happens to play Magic one has to first credential themselves as an X.  The pitfall here is that in credentialing themselves, often people present their own histories, experiences and beliefs as being more universal than they truly are.  We’re all special little snowflakes, after all, and while we might all share bilateral symmetry, that’s often where the commonalities end.

These archetypical responses have past come up, among other places, in the struggle to get trans women accepted into “women born women” spaces, a type of environment common within feminist communities in the 70s and 80s that have long since gone out of style, save for a few hold-outs.  When the proponents of exclusion tried to keep out trans women because they hadn’t had “traditional girlhoods,” what they instead found was that there was far more variation among the girlhoods that non-trans women had experienced than they had ever imagined.  It made these arguments sound false, and eventually the barriers to entry in these spaces crumbled to make way for fresh blood.  And fresh blood is important, because without the regular addition of new people to a space, movement or even a game, even the most vibrant community can wither and die.

Sometimes it’s not accidental, though.  Sometimes, the purported universality is more about defining oneself as being an “acceptable” member of the community and then creating a false other category to put all those bad women and dangerous “trannys” into.  And yes, I can use that word and you can’t.  Deal with it.

Recently, one article was predicated on drawing these distinctions.  A trans woman Magic writer made sure to separate trans people into two categories: in one column were straight women like her, who were post op, who had boyfriends, who didn’t “create drama,” and who dressed conservatively at Magic tournaments.  In the other category was everyone else who happened to be trans.  And this is deeply messed up, not just because of the way in which these complaints are gendered (I mean, it’s not like trans women are the first category of women to take shit for how we dress), but because by coming from the mouth of a trans person they legitimize the fears that those reactionary assholes feel.

Straight dudes have a huge hang up over the idea of being sexually objectified by someone they perceive to be a man.  And whether we like it or not, no matter how well a trans woman “passes” there are going to be jerks out there that are going to see that woman as being a man.  Now, this is not to say that the fear of these straight men is a legitimate one; this is not a fear that women get to have, since women have to deal with male sexual objectification on a daily basis.  But the trope of the predatory transsexual is a real one, and it is used to oppress and stigmatize trans people all the goddamn time.  It’s just called “horizontal oppression” when it’s a trans woman who is using the trope to separate herself from other trans people.

Which brings us to the last part of the article.  It’s last because it’s least important.  I am a trans woman who plays Magic.  I’ve been doing it since I was a kid, pretending to be a normal boy of my age.  I fell in love with Magic because it was a game that gave me a benefit for being smart, which was fundamentally opposite from how the rest of the world felt at that time.  I am engaged to a wonderful woman who has played Magic for longer than I have, and who happens to be better than me at the game.  Sometimes.  And my genitals are none of your damn business.  None of these things are universal truths.  But the following is about as close to a universal truth as it comes: I started to play Magic because it was a welcoming environment, and if it became drastically less welcoming to me (or people like me) I would probably stop.

It’s in all of our benefit to get more people to play Magic, and the best way to do so is by demolishing the idea that it’s only straight white boys who play this game.  It’s truly a win-win proposition.  So get on board.  And don’t listen to anyone who gives you license to treat another person with anything other than dignity and respect.

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