Alesha, Who Smiles At Death and smashes geek stereotypes

I’ve started using the word “nerd” to describe myself more and more recently. I used to be firmly a “geek”, because geeks were cool and nerds were those awkward people who just went a little overboard in their geekiness.

But the more and more I think about just how much of a geek I am, the more I realise I’m really just a big ol’ nerd.

So of course I was a Magic: The Gathering player back in the day, spending my intermediate years sitting in the school library at lunchtime with a pretty kickass blue/white deck duelling it out with my nerd peers. I was, it hardly needs saying, the only girl in the group, clumsily figuring out who I was in the grand societal scheme of things and lacking the eloquence to express exactly why I found the boys’ drooling, grunting responses to cards like Sivitri Scarzam so … creepy.

I know the world’s moved on from then – with every birthday it feels more and more like I’m supposed to be a proper grown-up now, but even getting a mortgage didn’t make that sink in – and now we have marriage equality and politicians schmoozing the crowd at the Big Gay Out. But I was still pleasantly surprised to read that MtG now has a trans character. A bona fide, right-there-in-her-back-story-but-not-the-most-important-thing-about-her trans character.

Whenever things like this happen there’s always the objections – but who cares, right? Why should it be important? If you care so much about people’s gender aren’t you just a part of the problem?

And what seems really difficult to get through to my fellow heterosexual cis folk, especially in geek circles, is that it is important, and we do all care – but the reason we can pretend not to is because (to different extents) we get to assume that our media and hobbies contain representations of us. Before Alesha’s backstory was revealed in The Truth Of Names, I would’ve been perfectly free to assume she was a cis woman character. I wouldn’t have needed to ask, I wouldn’t even have really thought about it (and if I had been asked, I would’ve assumed a company like Wizards of the Coast hadn’t even thought about having a trans woman character.) And I would’ve assumed – I still assume because it hasn’t been explicitly spelled out otherwise – that she’s heterosexual.

The irony is that we ask “but why is it important to see someone like you in this game?” when we – hetero cis folk – already get to see heaps of people “like us” in the game. We just never have to think too hard about it. It’s assumed that everyone is like us until stated otherwise.

So having a trans woman character in MtG is a big thing. It says to trans people – hey, you’re as much a part of this wild fantasy world as everyone else. It says to cis people – hey, your assumptions aren’t valid, think about why that is. It says to the geek community – a community which can be so bizarrely exclusionary to people who aren’t straight white dudes – hey, other people count, and we’re not shutting them out for your comfort.

Meanwhile, back in our own world, an openly gay man who happens to be a fantastic defensive player just can’t get a job in the NFL. For every step forward it feels like there’s another two back. But those first steps are still huge.

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