Let me put my cards on the table up front. I’m a straight white bloke in my 30s with a wife and 2.4 children. I am the furthest point from even the slightest suggestion of diversity that could possibly be imagined. Last week I read the Uncharted Realm Story about Alesha, Who Smiles at Death. Uncharted Realm is now the only place the story of each block can be read. There used to be novels, then ebooks, but now it is all told on Wizards daily MTG website. I like the lore of the Magic universe. I enjoy learning the storylines of the block and reading the back stories of some of the cards.
The week before we had the story of Nico Bolas fighting Ugin and Yasova Dragonclaw using her act of treason ability to turn the dragons against Ugin. It was a very flavourful story and I like that when next I play an Ugin or Yasova I can know what is going on flavour-wise in the story. It doesn’t give me any advantage in the game or anything but I do think it makes the game more enjoyable. It isn’t important for those who are just nuts and bolts spikes; it’s for a certain section of the community who want to delve a little deeper into the world of Tarkir.
So I read the Alesha story.
Stop now if you don’t want any story spoilers.
Alesha and her clan are out slaying dragons. They do not mess about, bringing them down out of the sky and then slaying the scaly beasts. As they do so, we learn this is how the Mardu earn their names. We have orcs called stuff like Wingbreaker and Headsplitter, the sort of thing we have come to expect from those war hungry Mardus.
And then we get a standoff between an Orc and Alesha, where the orc mocks him for being a boy who thinks he’s a girl. I must admit when I first read it I thought this was standard orc jeering but, a little further into the story, Alesha flashes back to the day she gained her war name and it is clear that this is a story about Magic The Gathering’s first transgender character.
I read the story on the train. I so wanted to nudge the person next to me, point at my phone screen and say “Look… progress.” But I didn’t. I finished the story. It was a good one. We see Alesha command her clan and use an analogue of her ability, which is shown as her calling her warriors to battle and them following her commands for the good of the whole. In the end she tells the orc, who has found a begrudging respect for his clan leader, that he must find his identity in life. Personally I found it to be a decent bit of storytelling and the revelation that Alesha is Magic’s first trans character was handled with a nice bit of subtlety. Alesha’s attributes as a fierce warrior and strong leader were the focus.
And here’s the bit where that matters…
I’m a father of two children. My son is Magic crazy and consumes everything he can get his hands on. When I had finished reading the story, I thought about my son, who was probably at home reading it right then. Because of the way the story was presented it won’t be a big deal to him at all, it’s just another part of her personality. But, because of this story, if he comes across trans people later on in his life, he starts with a reference point of Alesha, Who Smiles at Death. It’s like Ghandi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
I love the Magic community. Locally I’m part of a decent-sized group of friends and, writing a weekly column, I get to interact with the UK community and beyond. I know some people are going to get a bit flustered by the introduction of a trans character and some, like me, are going to bang on about how great it is, but the majority of people are just going to say “Sure, cool. She gets Goblin Rabblemaster back from the graveyard when she attacks!” Because essentially we are all very different but the one thing that we have in common is this game we play. It’s also not escaped my notice that the subtlety that was used in the original article is someone lost in me sifting over the details in an article like this.
As I said when I started, I’m Mr Average, so with that being the case it’s easy for me to find a character to identify with in Magic. Just look at the Standard legal sets and see how many white blokes you can match me to. (Although Wizards have negated to make one with NHS style glasses.) There are less women but still enough that a young girl can pick Elspeth, Sun’s Champion or Liliana Vess as the person she would imagine herself being in the game. Most races and colours are represented, although sometimes these considerations obviously take a back seat to the limitations of each plane.
So now a young trans player has her first character to imagine being in the game. This might not seem that important but it is. Looking around your world and seeing there is no-one like you is a terrible feeling. To a lesser extent you can see this on some threads online. A young player has gotten into the game but all their friends are into sports or only like console games and think Magic is just a stupid card game. Now imagine for a moment that, instead of your hobby making you feel different, it was actually who you were that was isolating you from the world.
In a LGS somewhere in the next couple of weeks a player is going to play a turn 3 Alesha and somebody is going to remark on her being trans. Wouldn’t it be cool if the person went on to talk about how badass she was and how they would want to be on her side if they were going to battle huge dragons? And then a young player who has been struggling with her own identity gains the confidence to tell her friends and fellow players who she really is because of how they spoke about Alesha.
I am not naive enough to believe this is all going to be rainbows and sunshine, and some trans players are going to face adversity over this. I hope it’s very few and that other players will not put up with any sort of bullying in their shops. Don’t be a player that discriminates against your fellow players for whatever reason, race, sex, skin colour or gender identity. I like to think we are like Roman gladiators and when we enter the arena to do battle we have a respect for our fellow combatant.
Unless they play blue, of course… those folks are the worst.
I understand that this subject might elicit a strong response. Please use the comments to tell me what you think. Remember to be respectful and reasoned when trying to get your point across. I’m thick skinned and can take criticism for the way I write or the subjects I chose, but please avoid any personal attacks.
I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on this matter,