Protection from Silencing

On November 8th, 2016, I settled in to enjoy Hillary Clinton’s expected victory. While I knew Hillary wasn’t widely beloved, I thought Trump’s attitudes towards vulnerable groups would be a deal-breaker for enough people. I exchanged messages with anxious friends assuring them that polls looked good. I retweeted photos of women joyfully voting in their pantsuits. I was sick to my stomach, unable to forget the many protections Trump promised to strip from the people I care about, but I was cautiously optimistic.

crippling-chill

 

By the time my husband got home from work I was lying in the dark with my head covered. I knew it was over. He tried to keep my spirits up a while longer, pointing out when she won Virginia or her electoral numbers rose, but I am seasoned at spotting and digging in against a wave of despair.

 

I have autism, PTSD, and limited physical mobility, so it is difficult for me to consistently take part in most communities. The internet is basically my home. When the results of the election were officially called, I went where I go to heal: MTG Social Justice Twitter.

 

Starting Out

 

To understand how I ended up there, it’s important to know how I began: scared and lonely. The details from my childhood aren’t important, but the lessons are. I learned to always be on guard, no matter the situation. I learned to get adult attention without letting them figure out that I had Serious Problems. I obeyed. I overachieved. I cried a lot, mostly in private. And most of all, I survived. Seizing joy and feelings of safety in the moments I could find them, sometimes falling apart, but mostly just shutting down inside so I could go about my day.

 

stony-silence

I can’t remember when or how I first discovered MTG Twitter. I’d experimented with the platform before but couldn’t figure out what to do with it. I do remember that the second time I looked into it, I was lucky to encounter the helpful and welcoming Liz Cady (@jhoiraartificer). I was mostly quiet, because people were scary and there were a lot of them and I could not catalog and avoid all the ways these hundreds of people might want to hurt me if I stepped out of line. Mostly I listened.

 

And I had certainly picked a good group to listen to. I’m sure I vaguely identified as a feminist before—I have a remarkable extended family of ass-kicking aunts—but a whole new world of information was opening up in front of me. My timeline constantly featured modern feminist fundamentals that I’d never heard before, values that certainly weren’t encouraged in my home. Your body is yours alone. You can say no to being touched and you do not have to defend your reason. What? You are not obligated to give your attention to every person who demands it. What? Pointing out that someone is being abusive does not make you abusive yourself. What?! Several times a day, I scrolled through my timeline—preview card, friend’s new haircut, life-altering truth, cute meme.

 

Seeing Possibilities

 

Right around the time I joined the community, Wizards of the Coast started realizing they were behind the times. Although they had some basic policies that were progressive when they were implemented, such as no damsels in distress, the women still tended to be oversexualized and made up a small minority of existing planeswalkers. Although the style guide instructed artists to illustrate a variety of races, ages, and body types, this was treated very loosely. The striking progress can be seen between Innistrad and Shadows Over Innistrad, when all the human women finally got to bundle up for the cold weather, and we found people of color besides Grizzled Outcasts and Tiago Chan.

 

With the release of Avacyn Restored in 2012, Wizards found itself in the middle of the growing debate of whether feminist players were being “too sensitive” about representation. The art on Triumph of Ferocity showed a key moment in the story, where Garruk is demanding that Liliana remove the curse she placed on him, and his pose ended up unintentionally looking somewhat reminiscent of sexual assault. Jesse Mason pointed this out in an article on Gathering Magic, where he carefully qualified his statement by saying that he believed it was entirely accidental, did not think the artist was sexist, and was optimistic that Wizards would be more careful in the future. This elicited a reaction from many that I would more or less characterize as “Nuh-uh, shut up.”

 

The art did not affect me personally. I basically went, “Ooh, I can see what he’s talking about, that’s unfortunate. I hoped they learned something.” What I did find disturbing was all the people on social media who were angry that someone even voiced a concern. How eager they were to convince us that we weren’t seeing what we were seeing. It’s an experience survivors tend to know well—“Why do you have to make waves?” “I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding.” “You’re so sensitive.” But what I learned that day, what my MTG Twitter friends showed me, is that I could keep telling them what I thought over and over. I might not convince them but I didn’t have to obey them. My friends and I could keep reminding each other that we see what we see and we know what we know and it’s all worth saying.

 

Breaking Through

 

And, miraculously, the last word came from Wizards itself. Elaine Chase made a statement acknowledging our concerns and accepting the experience as a learning opportunity.

(Image borrowed from here, ironically a blog post expressing annoyance at our protests)

 

Much of my life experience had convinced me that my opinion didn’t matter. Not only that people would ignore me, but that they were correct to ignore me. Because I didn’t know what I was talking about. Because I was too sensitive. Because other people didn’t have a problem with what was happening, so why should I make trouble? It is difficult to convey the impact of someone with authority stepping up, telling the people trying to silence us that they actually want to hear what we have to say.

 

Time passed. I continued to struggle with PTSD symptoms but steadily improved. I don’t want to downplay the impact of other influences, like my wonderful husband and an incredible employment experience, but Magic has come through for me in a million unexpected ways. I got to work closely with gentle and supportive men in the judge program. I got stranded in an unfamiliar airport in the middle of the night, dead of winter, and the local Magic Facebook group organized to pick me up and take me somewhere safe.  I started getting the idea that finding security was not just an immature fantasy.

 

Meanwhile, Wizards also steadily improved. The social justice community grew. My Twitter feed became a hub not only for women’s issues, but all kinds of social justice concerns—race, class, gender identity, disability. It taught me about Black Lives Matter. It taught me about boundaries, about oppression, about what is and isn’t my responsibility. It taught me to listen to the voices of the people I’d been overlooking, and it lifted up my voice when I needed to be heard. And this wasn’t some carefully moderated safe space tucked away in a corner—this was the vision presented by Wizards’ in-game representation and social media. Caring about the concerns of marginalized people was no longer “niche.”

 

Moving Forward

And so, when faced with the reality of a President Trump, the first place I turned was MTG Social Justice Twitter. Some people were in shock and terror at the dangers they saw headed their way. Some people were offering comfort. Some people were offering practical help. No one was telling anyone to “stop overreacting” or “be reasonable.” This place, at least, was free of ugly surprises. A few days later, as the mainstream media starts to normalize the frightening developments and people begin to tell me I’m being divisive, I still see friends calling it like they see it.

Seven years ago I would have been totally lost. I would have seen myself once again surviving only by letting myself go hollow and silent. I would not have known that I could do otherwise, or how. But thanks to my friends, I have words to explain why this isn’t right, and information to back up the intensity of my reaction. I have a sense of right and wrong that can’t be corroded by false equivalence or moral relativism. I can speak my mind to people outside my “bubble” and shake off their efforts to shut me down.

 

I didn’t know what I was getting into when I picked up Magic ten years ago as a lonely college kid. I wanted friends and a distraction from my misery. I certainly would not have predicted “This is going to treat your PTSD. This is going to make you part of something much bigger than yourself. This is going to empower you when you are personally terrified of your president.” But looking back, looking at the people who mixed valuable life education in with their Magic tweets, looking at everyone who pushed Wizards to open their eyes and everyone at Wizards who listened, looking at the leadership provided by Lady Planeswalker Society and Planeswalkers for Diversity, it’s not surprising at all. This is what we’ve all worked for.

 

A few of my favorite Twitter accounts combining social justice and MTG:

You can find me at @Natasha_LH and nlh.magic@gmail.com

 

5 thoughts on “Protection from Silencing

  1. Hi, I’m the person that ironicaly wrote about your protest(?).
    And first: I’m so sorry! I just looked back at that post and realized now how much I’ve changed sense
    and I think what I was trying to express was mumbled in the heat of the moment.

    Your comment surprised me a bit and I went back to re-read what I wrote almost 5 years ago.
    And I feel now like I did not bring up all my thoughts on the matter, I’m definatly against sexism and do
    agree that art like such is nothing we need in our games, and if people have issues with it, respect the fact
    that they do. I really feel ashamed for my younger self.

    Man. I will do a insert in that post within a few days to make sure that my new standpoint will be clear.
    I’m genuinly sorry for what I expressed back then and hope that I can make up for it.

    Best regards <3

    1. Thank you Natasha for your bravery… and thank you Alexander for acknowledging your mistake. I too have learned so much from this community and have become a better, more empathetic person on a myriad of issues. I’ve also had to apologize for earlier comments.

      Natasha you are an inspiration. Thanks again for sharing your words. They make a difference.

    2. You touched base on Twitter but I wanted people to see that I didn’t ignore your kind comment. 🙂 We’re all growing and learning. Thanks for reaching out!

  2. Expecting social justice out of a corporate game designed to maximize profits and exclude anyone lacking a certain ideological purity or enough money is exactly why the Clinton campaign lost. I’m bummed about this too.

    1. That’s a pretty big claim to make. I think concerns about excessive purity tests are reasonable and a very separate issue. I am proud of Wizards’ efforts, and do not believe that a cynical or fatalistic approach to social justice is going to accomplish much.

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