Emma Handy recently wrote what we think is a very eye-opening post on her Facebook page regarding women in competitive Magic. We felt that it is important to try and make this piece as accessible to as many readers as possible, and with Emma’s expressed permission, we have re-blogged it here on our on website for more to read.
Would you be interested in an interview with Emma Handy regarding being transgender in a gaming community? If so then please do let us know in the comments below.
And without much further ado…
Being a Trans Woman in Competitive Magic: the Gathering (MTG)
I’m Emma Handy, and this is the closest thing you’ll get to a “Women in Magic” article out of me.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with my work or person, I write for Starcitygames.com, stream on Twitch a few nights a week, am active on Twitter, grind The SCG Tour, and judge Magic events on off-weekends. In my mind, I’ve given just about as much of my life to this game as one person can give. Oh, I’m also a trans woman that transitioned at 22-23*, but started playing Magic when I was 12, delving into competitive play at 18.
*depending on how you measure it. Began transitioning at 22, “went full-time” at 23
To address a couple of things up front- there are some things in Magic that many women have to deal with that I’ll never have to deal with. For those issues, I don’t want to talk over people who have experienced them, and as a result I won’t be discussing them. I’ve never presented as female as I was learning Magic. I’ve never been part of a Magic-related friend group due to associating with my significant other.
On the other hand, there are things that have changed in Magic in the time since I transitioned. I’m treated /very/ differently as a result of the gender that people perceive me as. Today, I’m lucky enough to be a minor celebrity in Magic due to my writing position with SCG. I’m treated much better today than I was treated when I was ‘nobody.’ It isn’t just because I’ve gone to being a known player either- I’ve been a known player in another game (I wrote articles and was a minorly-to-reasonably notable trade-shark/table-vendor in Yu-Gi-Oh! for a short time). I know what that difference feels like.
Very early in transition, one of the things that I noticed when presenting en-femme at Magic tournaments was that it was generally assumed I was less knowledgeable at the game. This wasn’t always on men- it happened a non-zero of times with a woman I was playing against. It manifested itself in different ways; someone not believing a strange card interaction worked the way that it did; people being quicker to call a judge if I tried to hold them to a play or stick to the REL we were playing; a couple of individuals trying to bend the rules in their favor and insist they were confident in the rules working to their benefit- until a male or judge assured them that they were incorrect.
This wasn’t as much of an issue when I presented as male. Previous to transitioning I was generally had to deal with a judge call one or less times within a Competitive REL tournament. Today? I consider it an outlier (albeit a positive one) if I don’t have any judge calls within a single Competitive REL tournament (and that is since becoming a player that is sponsored by the Tour I grind).
During the time that I presented as male, I received a pair of video feature matches (you’re welcome to try and dredge them up, I don’t really care to) and going back and finding out what chat said wasn’t ever that horrid. This is in part because I was a nobody, and in part to the fact that these features occurred earlier in tournaments and while I was playing all in all uninteresting decks.
Since transitioning, this has completely flipped. Due to my being such a minority as a woman in Magic, there is a sortof ‘mantle effect*’ that I have to deal with from time to time. This basically means that because there aren’t as many people -like- me that end up in coverage, it ends up feeling like however I perform in a tournament is representative of my entire demographic. Sometimes this is even highlighted by Twitter, Twitch Chat, and Facebook messages when people reach out to say things like “Thanks for proving that girls can play Magic!” or “Wow, THIS is the best that women can get?”
*Shoutout to The Girlfriend Bracket for coining this term as far as I know. Listen to their final podcast for a reference to Christine Sprankle having to deal with it at the Loading Ready Run Amonkhet Prerelease.
This adds an entire layer of stress to dealing with tournaments, presenting oneself on the internet, and trying to be successful. It’s easy to say “Just don’t let it get to you.” but it really isn’t that easy. The first comment is pretty easy to write off. “Whatever, it’s just one person.” The fifth or sixth person you start to worry that it’s common for your actions to impact how strangers will treat people that have something in common with you. The 50th time it starts to wear- “If I play poorly here, is someone just going to assume that the woman at their card shop is inferior because of their gender- and make their life harder because they think of my as some sort of representative for them?”
The extremes are infrequent and is often depression and anxiety flaring up in a horrid way, but it isn’t uncommon for me to hear this from other women who put themselves out there in the community. Putting this weight on the shoulders of people who decide to make themselves visible isn’t realistic or fair to the person doing it, on any level.
Until recently, I worked at a local game store. While working for the card shop, I would get between two and three customers a week that assume I don’t know how to play Magic, or in more extreme cases, loop me in with the “fake gamer girl that just used her tits to get the job”-rhetoric. Previous to presenting as female, I had never even considered this would be something I would have to deal with.
I’d worked at the same store, with the same community, and similar regulars for three years. In the two years that I presented as male and worked at the card store, I had (quite literally) zero instances of anybody questioning if I played Magic or if I ‘knew what I was talking about.’ Sure, you get the people who say “Can I get some advice on my deck?” and really mean “I want to justify every single bulk rare in my mono-white control deck.” but it was different. People are now less likely to actually treat me (as a Magic player) with the sense of camaraderie I had become accustomed to.
My pride isn’t so fragile that I hand out business cards with a URL linking to my online content, but it’s more than a little backhanded to deal with multiple customers a week that assume I can’t even play the game that keeps a roof over my head.
People seem to be less trusting of women and their knowledge of the game. It’s not everybody that thinks this way, and it isn’t even a conscious thought. In a lot of cases it is an inadvertent bias that isn’t noticeable without hard numbers or a significant amount of personal evaluation.
This inadvertent bias leads to a lot of situations that include what may seem like an innocuous question or comment being incredibly demoralizing or backhanded. “You’re very good for a girl.” isn’t a compliment. “Are you here with your boyfriend or husband?” isn’t an innocent question. “Are those your cards or someone else’s?” isn’t something that people normally ask strangers.
Except these kinds of questions aren’t uncommon to a large portion of women who play Magic. They’re uncommon enough for men that a significant portion of the community is under the impression that women are fabricating these scenarios, or that a small portion of people say these kinds of things.
I don’t know a woman in Magic who hasn’t dealt with comments from men related to their gender and its exoticism in the context of Magic tournaments. Jadine Klomparens is probably my best friend. I end up googling her a good bit just looking up certain things while we’re talking smack to one another, and there are times when “Jadine Klomparens boyfriend” is one of the top ‘related searches’ when looking up her information.
In the time since her writing was moved to SCG, this search has been replaced by “SCG,” but the fact that this happened often enough for Jade and I to screenshot and send it to one another (in jest and frustration) is very telling. There are a non-zero number of male figures in the community who have similar related searches, but it tends to be figures who talk about their significant other on a regular basis (Brian Kibler is an example of this). It’s frustrating that when looking for info on Gaby Spartz or Melissa DeTora, there are enough searches for their husband/ex boyfriend/etc that it outweighs a non-zero number of their accomplishments (in common search threads).
Since transitioning to female in the public eye, the number of groups that this sortof mentality necessitates is staggering. Despite not playing at local tournaments anymore, I’m still regularly invited to local women-only, safe-space, and trans-/non-binary game nights by people who won’t play at game stores. It’s hard to blame any of them for not wanting to have to deal with people who treat them differently for reasons related to their gender, appearance, religion, or status as a person with a disability.
In these divided groups, people can talk about things that would otherwise draw jeers or protests from other people. Talk about periods isn’t taboo. Anime Tiddy Mat #500[™] isn’t something you have to deal with. South Park-styled jokes that aren’t-so-funny to the demographic they’re mocking (a la “Dirty Jew”) aren’t thrown around. Liking a specific genre of music isn’t something that becomes parodied or requires a defense. Tics that result from Tourette’s Syndrome aren’t mocked by a group of teenagers.*
*Though some of these points digress a bit from the ‘Women in Magic’ discussion. These parallels are just drawn to highlight points of ‘accepted’ local game store culture that are also problematic and drive people from the public sphere of FNM, PPTQs, and so forth.
Despite there being things that make me feel like I drew the short end of the stick (in relation to my gender identity) there are still a lot of privileges that make me very lucky. I blend in with cis women reasonably well and didn’t start presenting as female until I’d lost a good bit of weight, and had a relatively feminine figure. Because of this, the amount of hate I have had to deal with (in person) has primarily been misogynistic, and less homophobic and transphobic.
This isn’t always the case for a lot of people.
There are Sundays where I know I won’t have my picture taken (for SCG or WotC or whatever) and don’t really feel like dealing with makeup. Those days I tend to dress down more and don’t look as ‘ladylike’ as one might expect. My selfies tend to paint a more cis-normative picture of me that real life tends to. I’ve gotten pretty good at taking selfies and being in control of what pictures of me make it to the internet. My SCG Knoxville Top 8 picture from last year took about a half-dozen re-takes and it still makes me feel incredibly dysphoric to look at.
Because of this difference in appearance, I’ve received some amount of hate for reasons related to my gender, or related to my perceived gender. I began presenting as female at tournaments in February of 2015, and in the two years since, I have:
- Been followed for ~7 blocks from an event site while people shouted at me.
- Been chased out of a bathroom (when I felt that I had to use the men’s room, as in, I was LITERALLY USING THE MEN’S RESTROOM BC I DIDN’T FEEL LIKE LOOKED FEMME ENOUGH).
- Had rocks thrown at me.
- Received warnings from regionally-local players about specific local game stores where owners/judges have mentioned committing acts of violence against LGBT people.
The first sanctioned match of Magic I ever played with the name Emma involved a gentlemen walk behind me with his friend and say “Cool, it’s a girl. I should be outside and able to smoke in a few minutes.” The first FNM I presented as female at my local game store, I heard more than one comment about whether or not “’s tits were real” (P.S. They better be. I’ve paid damn good money to grow these myself).
There’s a point where you start to think to yourself “Maybe these things aren’t so isolated. Not all people treat women, people of color, and members of the LGBT community like this- but a vast majority of people in those groups experience this.”
I could tell miserable stories from situations that arose exclusively because of how I present myself that had never applied to me before January of 2015, but I’m not here to shout “Woe is me” from the rooftops. I’m here to present a point of view that most people don’t have.
I want people to understand that these things are real, and that without significant effort from ~everybody~ in Magic, they aren’t going to go away. Until people take a stand against this kind of humor, these kinds of comments (against men, women, minorities, and everyone in between), they aren’t going to just up and leave.
Magic needs to get to a better place. The game is great, and the best people I’ve ever met have all been through the game. I don’t talk about it a lot, but grinding the SCG Tour has lost me a LOT of money. I’m working towards some goals that make it justifiable, but for a vast majority of people, exclusively attending tournaments isn’t exactly a way to make ends meet. It’s a labor of love, and making the game better is the most important thing that any of us can do for it. I know that other people can have these kinds of opportunities to connect with one another, and I want to work towards making that a reality.
Please keep things civil, trolls will be deleted.
Thanks for reading,
If this post speaks to you, then please do feel free to share it, or share Emma’s original post.