Let’s start with something simple: sexual harassment isn’t a joke. It’s not funny. It’s not light. It has as much potential for levity as a loaded gun. This shouldn’t be a controversial statement, but in the context of the latest failure of empathy by our Magic celebrities, tournament organizers, and judge staff, it seems like it still needs to be said.


Here’s why. A few weekends ago a Magic Pro sexually harassed a woman, at a Star City Games event in Syracuse, while she was playing Commander off the side of the event with some friends. This flashed on my radar after a milquetoast apology was given context by a breakdown by the woman in question. (Worth adding, a day or two later TCGPlayer wrote their own statement, which is reasonable and changes nothing of what I am going to say.) And having read both “sides” of this tale, I am left with the disturbing feeling that the Pro is lying, perhaps to himself, that the judges on the ground utterly mishandled the crisis, and that there’s one more thing I need to be wary of at a major Magic event. It boils down to three major aspects of the situation which ring sour.


First, let’s talk about the apology made by said Pro, who I am choosing not to name because this isn’t about the kid himself, this is about his role in the community, the social networks which have taught him what constitutes acceptable behavior at a Magic tournament, and what the failures of his apology say about modern sexism. If I hammer this kid specifically it’s easy to get bogged down in the whole “but he’s so nice to me” thing; if I depersonalize this example, it can tell us more about our community, and not just the failings of one man.


So here’s how the Magic Pro (MP) portrays the situation, paraphrased: MP came up to a random woman he saw from afar, playing Commander with some friends, and he asked her if he could “cop a feel,” because it was funny to him to ask if he can touch a woman’s breast. Now, personally, this doesn’t quite scan to me. What is the humor about this? If we’re only examining this through a lens of vanilla sexism it doesn’t really make sense, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. I don’t believe that this dude would have thought it was funny, or acceptable, to go up to some random cis woman and ask her to cop a feel. No one capable of writing such a well written apology could be so socially clueless that he thought it was cool for him to act like a subway pervert in a space where he was a relative celebrity.


But there are two factors he downplays or elides in his apology, and they both make his conduct make a bit more sense to me. First, Amanda is trans, and here’s how she describes her presentation: “I’ll be honest. I don’t pass. I don’t have some delusion that I look like a normative cisgender female. I accept this.” In her view, and it is a compelling one, the joke that the pro references but never explains was not that he was sexually harassing some random woman, but that he “came up to me because he thought I was a male wearing a stuffed bra as a joke. A joke he was joining in on.” Basically, that the trans thing MP makes passing reference to once is not just some ancillary factor, but is in fact the heart of what he was laughing at.


The “joke” in this read was gender variance, and someone misreading another person’s gender in the most asinine way possible. Considering how many “man in a dress” jokes people are exposed to in our culture, this seems in some ways the most understandable read of his conduct. He wasn’t a predator, he was an asshole. Still awful, especially to come up to someone and ruin their day that way!


The other read, which Amanda does not bring up but seems relevant, is that she is a woman of color. There is a long history in the US of women of color having their bodies be seen as sexually available in some pretty gross ways. It’s a thing, most recently seen in the hack of Leslie Jones’s website and release of her nudes. If you want to know more, there are many brilliant women of color who have written on this topic. Suffice it to say, the presumed sexual access to brown women’s bodies that some men exhibit is tied into a lot of racist, colonialist bullshit. (This presumption is also at play for trans women, so trans women of color live at an intersection of this type of misogyny. Fun.) But that bullshit is often played for humor; this is another place from whence MP’s “I thought it was funny” explanation could stem.


But MP only addresses the misogyny, not the racism or the transphobia. Does this mean he doesn’t see the effect they may have on his conduct? Perhaps. But this might also be a reflection of the strange state of the Magic community in 2016. Are we at a point where, due to the rise of open misogynists in our community, sexual harassment of a stranger is more acceptable to admit than racism or transphobia? That people are more willing to handwave away sexual harassment as “boys will be boys” in a way that’s harder to do when racism and transphobia directly affect men too? Or is it just that discussions about the role of women in Magic have given MP the tools to think about his sexism, whereas we still need to get people thinking more about their transphobia and racism? I don’t know the answer, but I am unimpressed with this man’s conduct either way.


Because, and here’s my second point, let’s take MP at his word 100% and say that the racism and the transphobia don’t factor. Even giving him that benefit of the doubt, the behavior he is defending is super creepy and aggressive. Sexual harassment is nasty conduct no matter what, but there’s a difference between someone overstepping boundaries with someone they know and someone crossing into a different social sphere to harass a stranger. Neither is acceptable, and both cause pain and deserve sanction, but the former offers a piece of (potentially legitimate) cover that the latter doesn’t. When you sexually harass someone in your circle you have a relationship with the person, and there’s something between you to possibly misinterpret; when you sexually harass a stranger, particularly when you enter a conversation with that person for the sole purpose of sexual harassment, there is nothing to misinterpret. The only information you have about that human is their physical appearance. It is objectification. It is dehumanizing. It makes people feel less safe.


Is that something we can just handwave away? If MP was just sexually harassing some stranger, what does it say about his social circle that he thought this was acceptable? What does it say about the future safety at events? Will forgiveness here result in more open sexual harassment, now that people know that a) some Pros think it’s funny, and b) you can just apologize without learning a lesson and people will cape for you on social media and try to drive the person you harass out of the community? I don’t know the answers to these questions, though I fear the worst. In doing this, MP has not only damaged his own reputation, but he damaged the reputation of the game as a whole, and provided an opportunity for our worst elements to come out and defend their othering conduct. That’s why I think TCGPlayer made the right call, completely independent of any action or persuasion by Amanda, to sever ties with MP.


And speaking of damaging the game as a whole, my third point is that the judicial response is deeply troubling. Here’s a list of the places where the response failed:


  1. The wavering on the part of the judges, who appear to have been trying to find a reason to make MP’s conduct acceptable, so as to not give him an Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Major disqualification.
  2. The inclusion of a Star City Games employee in this process, particularly one who takes the side of the MP and tries to defend the conduct in question as boys being boys. (I mean, “Patrick assured me that [MP] was not being transphobic” is an unacceptable sentence to read in a report like this. Who is this man to make such assurances?)
  3. The Star City Games employee responding to a flat declaration that the (admitted!) sexual harassment made an attendee feel unsafe with, “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
  4. The Star City Games representative stressing that removing someone whose best-case explanation of his conduct is sexual harassment was a difficult decision for them.
  5. The judges giving MP an opportunity to confront the woman he harassed after it became clear his actions would have consequence.


On a practical level, it is necessary to have the people who have been made to feel unsafe be the ones to speak with the judge staff. Sure. But once that initial contact has been made, pushing for an acceptable resolution should no longer be the responsibility of a person who has to deal with the trauma of being singled out and insulted for having the temerity to exist in a public space. In response to something like this the judges should act swiftly, and any close situations should be resolved in a fashion that makes people feel safe. They did not do so in this situation. And again the best case scenario is pretty awful: MP was given deference due to his Magic fame. Because the alternative to that is that Star City Games, and the judge staff of this event, would rather go to the bat for some random sexual harasser than ensure the safety of the harassed.


Side note: it is possible I am misreading the role of the judges here. Still, the following points stand. Even if this wasn’t the case in this instance, this is a discussion of best practices. Face to face confrontations fall below that bar.


Face to face confrontation is also a problem in a situation like this. There are two ways of looking at the interested parties in one of these conflicts. Either the interested parties (a) are just the person who did the thing and the person to whom they did it, or (b) the interested parties include the tournament organizers, the judge staff, attendees, and everyone else with a stake in making Magic events welcoming environments. Personally, I find (b) to be the compelling paradigm. MP did not just hurt Amanda, he hurt the people around her, the people online who hear about this and think “well shit, now I know SCG won’t have my back if I get harassed at one of their events,” the tournament organizer who so bungled the response, and the judges who didn’t think to generalize the harm something like this causes.


Even if you think Amanda should be involved in the response, though, putting a sexual harasser in the face of his victim to wheedle explanations of his conduct is super shady. First off, Magic judges are no court of law. There is no right to face your accuser, because our rules have no mens rea requirement. Judges don’t need to know why a person did something, just whether or not they did. If this is noncontroversial when discussing a new player who asks their opponent to roll to see who wins a tie, why is it any more controversial when we’re talking about someone making another player materially unsafe? So giving MP the opportunity to confront the person he has already injured only compounds that injury, and for no meaningful purpose.


Side note: again, it’s possible this is not how it went down. In that case, good.


Hopefully Star City Games’s failures require less explanation. In short, act like a professional organization. If you apologize, make sure it’s an actual apology and not some “I’m sorry you’re offended” bullshit. When you come to a decision, do so decisively, and don’t whine to the complainant that it was hard for you to do your job. She’s not the one who put you in that position! The MP was, and if SCG was going to be emotionally weird to anyone, it should have been him. Instead, MP was given the benefit of the doubt and a level of empathy that was not extended to Amanda. That’s disheartening, and is a self-inflicted wound the organization could have easily sidestepped by acting better than a Baltimore sex crime cop. And that’s not a high hurdle.


What can we learn from this scenario? A few things.


First, Magic Pros, particularly content-producing ones, should be cognizant that they are held to a higher standard at community events. That’s a blessing that comes with a set of responsibilities attached, and the MP here utterly failed to live up to them. This is not to say this sexual harassment would have been any more acceptable were it done by someone less notable, but the secondary damage, things like the groundswell of pro-sexual harassment supporters chiming in, would have been less thundering.


Second, this specific MP needs to educate himself on implicit bias, and step back from making categorical statements like “I’m not transphobic.” If that’s true, you’d be the first; bias is cultural shrapnel we pick up from living in a society so hostile to so many. There is no endgame where you defeat your bigotry and live happily ever after; we accrue more of these negative memes daily, and they evolve over time. The task of being mindful is never done.


Finally, Star City Games should sit down with the employees involved with that incident and give them some sensitivity training. The problem comes when a person only has empathy for the people in power. In this case, it seems pretty clear that’s what happened, and it’s something which can be resolved with training, so long as the employees want to better themselves. I hope they do.


But let’s make no mistake: in sexually harassing a woman playing Commander off to the side, the MP brought unnecessary pain into the life of someone doing her own thing, managed to make Magic spaces seem less safe, and brought out a legion of damned supporters on Twitter and Reddit who have taken actions in his name that only reiterate that pain. All of this stems from one senseless decision made by a person who should have known better; that he is facing some of the consequences is appropriate. As the actor who started this chain, he should face it all, but our world isn’t a just one, and I would bet in six months the MP feels more comfortable at events than the woman he targeted. That’s usually how these things play out.


Because the emotions pointed at the Magic Pro here are disappointment, fear, and disgust. The emotions getting thrown at Amanda are hatred, contempt, and rage. The goal of the campaign to hold MP to account is to get him to be better; the goal of the campaign against Amanda is to drive her from the community. The people attacking MP are doing so because MP’s conduct is a threat to their ability to play Magic in these public spaces without finding themselves under random assault. The people attacking Amanda are doing so because what she is doing, standing up to a type of biased conduct that I am certain she was not the first to experience, is a threat to their ability to keep othering those Magic players who stick out and make them face a diversity they find off-putting.


So choose your tribe. And, if you have any decency in your heart, choose the one that’s trying to expand the types of people for whom a Magic space is welcoming, and not the one that’s trying its hardest to show that speaking out against injustice comes with consequences. Don’t let the bastards win.


Jess Stirba is a hopeful cynic, a weird set of things to be.

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