Hope Eternal—Trans, Not Special

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.

19 Responses to “Hope Eternal—Trans, Not Special”
  1. DMG says:

    Thank you for writing this. I think it gives a good grounding on inclusion in any community and it worth thinkng about whenever you’re trying to make your social spaces open and welcoming to new and different people.

    • thejlina says:

      Thanks for saying that! I still don’t understand why people would make their spaces less welcoming to whole categories of people. I get wanting to keep out the jerks, but jerks are individuals, not categories. Any category-based filtration protocol is going to keep out more good people than vice versa.

      • Matt Jones says:

        It’s because of fear, duh.

      • DMG says:

        Man, screw fear. Life is too short for that BS.

      • thejlina says:

        Is it really that simple? I don’t get it! I am afraid all the time and it doesn’t manifest in a desire to keep out people who are different. It manifests in a desire to keep myself out of spaces. Like, my fear (when it comes to these things) is that I make a space worse through my presence; I can intellectually grasp the idea that some people are afraid that different people will steal their space from them, but I have no frame of reference for what that actually feels like to experience that fear.

        I say this as a person who has been pushed out of spaces before for being different! And I had true ownership in some of those spaces. I’ve had the experience, and it didn’t create in me a fear that it might happen again, it gave me the irrational fear that I deserved being kicked out in the first place.

      • Matt Jones says:

        I think it’s simultaneously that simple (generally) and complex (specifically). I don’t have answers. I’m a 6 foot white dude from Rochester that grew up saying “that’s gay” without thinking about what it meant. I didn’t recognize any LGBT people in my high school and wasn’t really confronted with anything beyond a jock-dude reality until attending Cooper in NYC. EVEN THEN it was and is an incredibly slowly developing/evolving process. eighteen+ years of programming from one’s culture isn’t reversed because you move, because you recognize the reality you live in. You can change the ruts in your brain and there can be some really quick jumps forward but getting to that place where you decide to work on advancing your compassion and abandoning your fear … that’s difficult. Lots of people stick with their mental/emotional/social habits and rarely, if ever, work to question/challenge them. I just rambled. Anyway. It’s hard and worth it to do it all b/c people are actually all pretty awesome when they’re not being jerks and jerks aren’ a culture, they’re rogue. 😉

  2. As the writer of the 2nd article in question I feel compelled to point out that in order to discuss the subject I chose to discuss with this audience it was necessary to “head off” a number of predictable counter arguments at the pass. This is where my list of “qualifications” comes from. Also, I at no point in time separated Transgendered women into two groups; the article is well crafted and if I wished to contrast and compare two types of trans woman I could have quite easily done so.

    You say trope of the “predatory transsexual” (is that even a word anymore?) whereas I merely spoke of a self centered, annoying person who was attending the tournament for ulterior motives. Perhaps you’ve never seen another transgendered woman purposely making all the “breeders” uncomfortable at a Magic tournament, I have. You can’t expect people to treat you like “just another person” if you’re going out of the way to shove your differences in their faces.The idea was to spare neither “side” nor anyone involved in the situation and to point out how everyone can work to make this an issue of the past.

    When you venture off this blog you will discover that not everyone is as enlightened or as well versed as you are madam; if you want to accuse me of lowering myself to explain something to the kind of cretin who would think of me as a gay man who likes to wear women’s clothing if I DIDN’T mention my boyfriend, I am guilty.

    The rest of what you accuse me of is simply not true. I didn’t expect my message to be popular. Thanks for reading and despite our disagreement I really did like your blog.

    At this point I’m just tired of people trying to sympathize, empathize, brutalize, dehumanize or whatever silly other “ize” you want to throw out there. I’m a Magic player, I’m here to play Magic. Understand that or beware.

    • thejlina says:

      You’re not a victim. I mean, I dispute your position to make that true about all trans people (CeCe MacDonald is a victim of a fucked up justice system, for example), but I take it as true when it comes to you. What this means, though, is that you were not forced to credential yourself in the way you did; you chose to do so. Your choice comes with consequences, and you can make the argument that you think those consequences were worthwhile, but you can’t make the argument that those consequences don’t exist or that you had no other choice but to make the decision you made.

      The majority of people who read my article were straight males. The majority, but certainly not all. And while it may have pissed you off as a person, it didn’t offend members of either community. It was written in such a way as to be accessible to everyone; it is proof of concept showing that you didn’t have to make the choices you made in order to end up with something readable.

      Similarly, no matter what your experience might be like with bad trans people who don’t sufficiently conform to the norms you expect, I don’t think you have the right to further stigmatize other people just to make your individual life easier. And that’s the heart of the assimilationist argument. The presentation of others makes your life slightly harder, so you’d rather drive them out than deal with a slightly heavier load. Let me tell you; those people who do not assimilate to your degree are shouldering a much harder burden than you are, and no matter how much you think their actions affect you, they affect them more. Further stigmatizing these people is morally wrong. You’d rather add an extra pound of pressure to their backs in the hope they crumble than deal with an ounce of extra complication. I can’t ever approve of that. I’ve spent years fighting against that, in trans spaces and in political spaces as well.

      What really has made me sad about this whole thing, though, is that my partner loves your writing. She’s the one who brought it to my attention that you were trans when she read your article and thought it was problematic. So I read it, and I passed it on to some of my trans friends who play this game, and the universal reaction was one of dislike. And clearly this has not been the majority view, since you received many comments of praise and such. But every person I know who found problems with your article has been involved, directly or indirectly, with movements to make easier the lives of those less privileged. And as you said in the comments, that’s something you’re done with. You “burned your pamphlets” and whatnot. When I read that, I realized it was impossible to reach you. So I tried to reach others, tried to let people know that there’s no license to treat the weirdos differently, particularly not in spaces that were founded by the nerds and the different. And my game space, in the hipster capital of the world, is better for it.

      • I shall attempt to venture forth without your approval. I dunno how I can accomplish this, but I’m going to keep trying.

        I’m not an outside, I know all about how Tgirls count coup off each other (OMFG I SAID TGIRLS) and frankly I’m a little tired of our discussions and your ability to turn what was a powerful statement of working to come together into a little tableau of hate towards Trans women.

        You must be proud, sister.

        Have a good day, I shall not be returning.

      • DMG says:

        I don’t think that Jess was trying to attack; she was just disagreeing with you, and being civil about it. I frankly find your response, which is absolutely an attack on her, and a very passive-aggressive one at that, to be offensive and unhelpful.

      • Matt Jones says:

        So … let me see if I get this. Jess writes a post about her experience and her thoughts about her experience and to encourage dialogue within the community. Then Nina writes a emotional comment telling Jess off, spewing anger and contempt. Jess responds politely and clearly encouraging further dialogue. Nina comments, again aggressively and emotionally, stating she won’t be back to the blog to continue the dialogue.

        It seems that could’ve gone better, been more interesting/dynamic, and that Jess did her best to foster constructive and helpful conversation on a usually difficult to talk about subject. I don’t really get Nina’s beef. Anyone care to explain to me why she’s so not into this? Seems to be pretty juvenile with comments like “I shall attempt to venture forth without your approval,” – do people really talk like this? Passive aggressive is very aggressive.

  3. Wooo! What a great article!

    Can’t really add much! As a gay dude I come across a similar phenomenon to what you didn’t describe as “Trans-distancing”. It is my experience that many younger gay guys go through a second adolescence when they come into their own as gay guys. 0-18 was carving an identity, coming to terms with your differences. Then you “make it” into the community and you are back to being defined by everyone around you. That’s why if you interview a 16 year old gay dude he will have lots of gay friends, a 20 year old will still have friends but will also have dyed himself in a gay-niche (most popular forever is: Straight acting) and a 30 year old dude will be back to wanting all gay friends.

    I wonder if it’s the same? If I was trans, I would probably want to focus on my own identity and try to not have too many trans friends or something. But that would require that my life would be roughly the same as it is now which is a foolish thought.

    Anyway, love this!

    • thejlina says:

      Heh, I’ve heard it referred to as the highlander symptom… THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE! But it gets complicated for trans people, because there’s this age thing where the point at which one transitions begins a period of re-socialization, so instead of getting clean categories like you’re describing, it’s more of a “years past transition” categorization than anything else.

      And it can lead to awkward situations, because sometimes people transition late and end up acting out in these early socialization ways when they’re in their 20s, 30s or even later. Which, I mean, I get why that makes some people uncomfortable, but you just have to look at them like an idiot teenager… they’ll grow out of it! And, like most teenagers, they usually do.

  4. Rich Stein says:

    First, this is very well thought out and addresses the critical notion that ours is a community that needs to continue to grow, and that hostility towards transgendered people (or any marginalized group) is detrimental to that growth.

    As a privileged white man, not unlike Matt, who grew up in a predominantly white community where it was perfectly acceptable to use terms like “gay” and “sissy” in colloquial terms, it has taken a lot of work to understand why this train of thought is harmful not only to society but also to my friends and myself.

    You are spot on when you call out the community to make the same growth transition from a group that is hostile towards things that we don’t understand (and to Matt’s point we therefore fear) to a group that is welcoming to people from all walks of life. Otherwise we will surely fail in the long run as we continue to alienate a rapidly growing demographic.

  5. This is a comment I left on Nina’s manadeprived article, I hope the copy paste formats correctly but I feel it important to post here as well:
    I’m going to preface this comment by saying that I fit your assumed discription perfectly aside from the being well off thing. I scrape every new standard to slap a deck together for FNM and going to play at local area PTQs is the world’s worst grind when you push yourself to pennies for the game that you love. If I play modern or legacy my deck is a hodge podge of remants from other locals with much better collections than I, but this isn’t the point. I just want to establish that I am the exact stereotype of a Magic player, mostly.

    Then I am going to tell you that I dislike you, not for being Transgendered, or being a Woman playing Magic. I am not so close minded to believe that there is no place for people different from me at a Magic table. I don’t dislike you specifically because of the nature of your article. Occasionally, you are in a minority group, one that is treated unfairly, and that requires one to stand up. That is admirable, especially when it’s on the internet and you still choose to avoid the protection of anonymity. I dislike you for turning into the exact sort of person you rail against in your article.

    In your article you talk very candidly about a group that I am going to call the ‘Mob’. Every game store has a Mob, who’s goal it is to pick on and grind out the weaker players, and ultimately, if a player sticks up for themselves and plays well, without even realising it. They become members of the Mob. It’s tragic, but it’s true.

    Magic as a game on the whole has a Mob. I certainly wish it didn’t, but it does. 18-30 year old males who don’t want girls, especially girls who they can’t tell are girls or are maybe uncomfortable perceiving as girls getting their cooties all over the beloved cardboard battleground. To be candid, f*** those guys. They miss the point of social games like Magic, which are first and foremost about bringing people together, before having them compete against each other. It’s like the olympics, for geeky folks.

    But there’s a reason I call them the Mob. Because they engage in Mob mentality. One member of this group speaks up, and like termites out of the woodwork they come a crawling. You mentioned in a comment in a sort of L-O-L manner, that there were two places that people were just railing on you. Which by the way, having looked at both places that were supposedly blasting you, you get a hearty “one out of two ain’t bad” from me. You then proceed to add “I’m not asking you to comment” to absolve yourself of all guilt, then proceed to encourage people to respond to these posts and defend you, like your shining knights from Camelot.

    While Reddit has never been the best forum for debating serious issues, looking at the comment thread, you seem to have taken just as many shots for being a Christian as being Transgendered, and while that’s still terrible, that’s not the sort of personal attack people who approve of this article should need to “protect you” from anyway.

    Now let’s talk about Jess Stirba’s article, one that if anyone from here went over there and commented negatively because you asked them to, I’m going to be very disappointed.

    Stirba doesn’t attack you or the content of this article in any way except for one. She laments the dangers of putting too much emphasis on personal experience, and potentially typecasting people into one of the boxes that the traditional Mob is so afeared of. You comment in a manner that is pretty well thought out albeit a little passive-aggressive, and then Ms. Stirba responds to you in a manner that is also well thought out as well, if not, again, a little passive-aggressive. Your response was then a brief comment that was full of spite, before leaving and claiming you would never return to her little blog.

    If this were the end of the story, I could live with it. Discussions get heated and sometimes dissenting opinions hurt or catch you off guard and if it made you angry, sure. Except that the dates matter. If you look on Ms. Stirba’s blog you will see that your comment was made on Dec 14, 8 days ago as of the writing of this comment. If you look down at your comment to this article, your own, you’ll see it was made 8 days ago. So that’s what happens when you lose at a debate…

    Congratulations on being Krenko, to make a topical reference. After spending an entire article talking about pigheaded and bigoted opinions and people. How these groups of hatemongers are horrible people you did what… Right, you lost in an argument and then proceeded to go back to your safe little world and people with opinions matching yours and tried to group them together to gang up on Redditors and especially Ms. Stirba. Congratulations 1 vs. 100, you are the Mob.

    This is a shame really, because your article speaks of an issue that we should all come together to stop. Yet, you allow it to even further divide us.

  6. I hope you don’t mind but I’m going to quote you in a discussion I’ve been engaged in with one of my local playgroups.

    Thanks for the article.

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