Hipsters of the Coast is celebrating our fourth year serving up complex takes with a side of snark, and it’s a good opportunity for me to discuss what I’ve learned. After writing over 200,000 words since I first joined the collective, I now have a better sense of my voice, my love for our shared hobby, and the value in what we do.


My first article for this site was highlighted earlier in the week, but it’s still worth delving into its context. Leading up to when I wrote it, Magic had been serving me as a way to keep myself from falling entirely out of the social world. I had been beset by unemployment, the result of job discrimination in 2010 in a constricted labor market, and I had not been dealing with it well. I was depressed, in large part because I gain purpose from what I do and unemployment had eroded that aspect of my life. Depression lead to isolation, the degradation of my physical health, and despair.


But Magic gave me a release for this despair. It offered to be something I could be good at, inspired a sense of community when all my other communities had forgotten about me, and got me out of the apartment at least twice a week. I would not be exaggerating to say that kept me alive in that dark time, and partly because my Brooklyn community, in which Hipsters was germinating, was really trans friendly. I’m not the only trans person who plays Magic, or who has dealt with depression, so I was happy to see people like me when I’d go out to events. I met one of my closest friends at Magic prereleases, shyly seeing her a few times before we actually started talking. Many (but not most) of the friends I made fell somewhere within the LGBTQ umbrella, which helped cement that sense of community. Things were okay. Not great, but okay.


But then trans folk popped up on the radar of the larger community again. These things go in cycles, after all. We’ve been around forever, but Feline Longmore won a SCG event and suddenly everyone lost their mind about trans people in Magic once more. Back then, whenever a woman did well at a professional REL Magic event it inspired a flurry of articles trying to figure out what it meant. Because Feline is trans, that round of articles was extra titillating.


Four years ago was still before the trans moment that cis folk have been having over the last few years, stealing our stories and casting cis men as our women and cis women as our men. Watching shows and movies like Transparent, the Danish Girl, and the Dallas Buyers Club all get feted with awards for their stereotype-conforming casting decisions has radicalized me, and it’s not like I was conservative to start. But back in 2012 trans was still new to some people, so Feline’s victory was an opportunity for sites to promote some trans voices in response.


My partner pointed me towards one of those voices, an article by a person who, at the time, had been someone D thought well of. Her article, which last I checked had been lost to the aether, was a respectability rant. “People will like us more if you follow this list of misogynistic rules about how to dress demurely and how to be straight” probably seemed like a good article to write at the time, but I’ve never been one for the idea that things will get better by lecturing the dispossessed. It just came off as judgey, one point in a long tradition of marginalized peoples making their personal situation better by legitimizing cis distinctions between “good” trans people and “bad” ones.


The problem with such a dichotomy, as I have explored elsewhere, is that cis people set them up in order to get trans people to justify cis prejudices. The benefit to trans folk is illusory. By legitimizing the idea there’s a wrong way to be trans—or whatever identity, really—those respectability politicians are validating cis contempt towards trans people. I mean, there’s a reason “I have a black friend” is such a derided phrase. While they might feel like they’re drawing the line in an appropriate place, their cis friends will draw their own lines, and there’s always a real chance that they do so in such a way as to cut out the respectable. To cut out their once-justifying friends.


Anyway, I wrote my response to try to puncture the position that we need respectability politics in Magic. I don’t care how much it makes the normies nervous, there’s really no excuse to try to shame people about their bodies or clothing choices. I have been consistent about this, or as consistent as a person can be; I have also discussed this in the realm of fatphobia, after the infamously named “Crackgate”, to pull an example out of the air. If ever there was a game where we should be above the base bullying of body-negativity, it is Magic. This is a game accessible to almost all. This game was a refuge for many of us when we were young and bullied, and an opportunity for people of all ages to make friends. That’s the difference between driving out people who engage in predatory behavior versus people who have bodies or fashion sense looked down at by the crowd; that corrosive conduct, typically having a basis in choice, makes the space less safe for those who are perturbed by their presence. Bodies just make the space less comfortable for some.


This is not the first space that has conflated comfort and safety, and it likely won’t be the last.


Anyway, I made a point to address the issue and not the person as best I could, a tactic which has served me well over the years. Of course, the person whose article made me annoyed enough to step out in the public square tried to rap my knuckles for daring to speak out. She took issue with the basis of my critique, defending respectability politics. She proto-brigaded me, sending her commenters over to Hipsters to stir up some shit. She accused me of “counting coup” (she’s a straight white girl best as I could ever tell, not that it would be much better without the appropriation), because I was a nobody and she was a somebody. She tried to get me to shut up, and four years later my voice still sings out on this blog.


Not to be petty, but years later I accidentally followed her on Twitter without realizing it was her. By the time I realized she was one and the same I had already blocked her, irritated at the way in which she was using DARVO tactics against one of my favorite public-forum feminists. Gross people stay gross unless they work on their shit, I guess.


Anyway, I got a taste of the good fight again, and Hipsters gave me an outlet for my voice. As anyone who follows me on social media knows, I like to write. Asimov is quoted as saying, “I write for the same reason I breathe . . . because if I didn’t, I would die.” And I feel that. There is a wellspring of words in my heart, and when I cork it and keep it inside it floods and ferments. Hipsters gave me the space to develop a minor following, to explore ideas outside the confines of a typical Magic column, and to push us to be the better community I know we can be.


For this I am forever grateful.


My first column was named “Trans, Not Special” to highlight a fact that was not in (cis) evidence at that time: trans people is people. We’re not people with asterisks and lifelong caveats, we’re everyone and everywhere. But four years later, I want to end on a different note. I am trans and I am special. And dealing with the oppressions of the former in a caring and empathic fashion has been what turned me into the type of person who can see the value in what I do and in what I am.


I’ve come a long way since my depression days. Hipsters has been an important player in my personal growth, and hopefully I’ve helped some of you grow with me. Magic brings us together, and together we are stronger than we are alone.


Jess Stirba is special.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.