Keep Your Thoughts and Prayers

Trigger warning: violence, gun violence

I sat down yesterday and tried to write.  I organized an amazing charity tournament at my local game store for the animal shelter nearby.  We raised a bunch of money and donated a mountain of supplies that filled and then spilled over their donation boxes.  The volunteers and staff members were full of bright shining smiles and thanks for our efforts.  But no matter how many times I started to write, I couldn’t seem to get the words out.

Which is why this post is about something else entirely.  These are going to be non-Magic waters we’re treading in.

I figured out why I can’t write about the amazing things my players did on Sunday.

I’m angry.  In fact, I am seething.

Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve heard of the heart wrenching tragedy in Orlando.  Fifty lives were taken away from us.  Fifty futures cut short by a bigot with too much access to firearms.  Fifty of my brothers and sisters shot down while they were celebrating their lives.  ‘The worst mass shooting in United States history’ they’re calling it.

Because an angry man with an agenda had access to weapons no civilian should be able to get their hands on.

It has stricken me to my core.

I’m bisexual, a fact not widely known, and in my world, who a person loves is the business of the person and their lover.  Period.  Now I feel like if I ever found the woman of my dreams, we could get shot on the street for holding hands, for holding hands, because someone decides that their personal feelings outweigh the sanctity of my life.

That’s exactly what this was:  a hate crime. A man decided that his view of the world is more important than the happiness of others.  His entitlement led to these murders and whatever ties he may or may not have with terrorist organizations notwithstanding.  His was an agenda of fear and hatred, one which is working.  The vitriol I have seen flowing out of the people’s mouths about individuals following the Muslim faith makes angry and sick.  By focusing on that, you are taking away the real root of the problem: homophobia and way too much access to guns.

I wish I could say that this is the first shooting to affect me on a personal level, but it’s not.  And that makes me even angrier.

I remember sitting on the floor of my babysitter’s house as the news covered the tragedy at Columbine.  The image of the student climbing out of a second story window with bloodied jeans will stay with me until I die.  I was too young to process the fear and sadness I felt.  School was a safe place, school was a place for learning but now I would never look at school the same way.

I was scared to go my school for a week.

I was attending classes at Virginia Tech in the spring of 2007.  My idyllic college experience was shattered when another individual (I refuse to name the shooter), who had no business with a gun, stole the lives of 32 Hokies.  So many lives cut short before really finding themselves, professors who guided and inspired.  I remember the fear of not knowing where my friends were, of messages sent but not replied to, of phone calls that would ring and go to voice mail.  Even typing these words, the pain and panic comes back.

That was supposed to be the end. It was the worst mass shooting in America’s history at the time. This was the event that was supposed push this issue to the forefront of Congress and something was going to done.  After all, we read and heard ‘our thoughts and prayers are with Virginia Tech’ and ‘Today, we are all Virginia Tech’ so that had to mean changes were coming, right

Weeks passed, and we still hurt but the world slowly moved on and the politicians who gained publicity from our grief were now conspicuously silent.  We have continued to mourn for nine long years and nothing has changed.

In fact, it has gotten worse.

My second year teaching we had a lockdown at my middle school. A sixth grader noticed one of his fellow students place a gun in a locker and ran to tell security.  The fear and pain came back as I sat with my middle schoolers against the wall and under desks, my body between them and the door, ready and waiting to spring up if needed.  ‘Are we going to be the next sad headline?’ shot through my head as we waited.

That student saved the life of every person in school that day, but that should not be the reality we live in, where an 11-year-old can find a gun that easily.

Then Sandy Hook happened.  Someone broke the news to me while I was teaching conjugations to my eighth graders and I had to step out of the room to compose myself.  Later that night I read the accounts of teachers who saved and tried to save their students and my heart bled again.  These too were my people and they were taken from me too soon.  Children, who are the future of the world, snatched away by a man wielding semi-automatic weapons he should have had no access to.

This time, I thought.  These were children!  Young children, who no one could blame from existing.  Young teachers had lost their lives in a career where that should never be a threat.  Now, we’ll see those thoughts and prayers turned into actions.

I remember the anger, the sadness, the shouts for change.  I remember them fading away as time went on and nothing changing.

Today, June 14th, is the 166th day of the year.  We have had more mass shootings than days in the year, the number sitting at 179 as of 11am. No other first world country has this problem.  Period.  You can do the research yourself and discover this fact easily.  Why is it here of all countries that changes never happen?  I know why, but I am one voice who can’t compete with the pockets being lined by the NRA.

I don’t want your fucking prayers.  I don’t want your fucking thoughts.  I don’t want any one-shot statuses on Facebook only to forget next week.  I don’t want one more moment of silence.  I don’t want to see another vigil.  I don’t want to watch another president give a speech about this kind of tragedy.

I don’t want to be murdered for my job, where I go to school, who I love.

Keep your thoughts and prayers and moments of silence and give me a world where I don’t have to live in fear of being part of the next mass shooting headline.

Flabbergasted

Was yesterday even real?

I have been in a constant state of shock and awe over how events unfolded.

The day I wrote it, I had a lot of my judge friends share it and congratulate me on a job well done.  It warmed my heart and helped stoke the fire to keep writing.  I even had a friend explain in no uncertain terms that I am not allowed to quit.

I woke up yesterday and was excited that my post had been shared about 200 times on Facebook from the site.  I mean, how cool was that?  People enjoyed what I wrote enough for it to part of their personal lives.  At its core, that is the point of this blog; to take my words and have them affect lives in positive way.

Then at around 11 or so I logged into my blog to check my stats and had my first (of many) shocks that day.  I had almost three thousand views on my blog now.  That was crazy!  A GP sized number of people had found their way onto my site and read my stuff.  I even had some comments, most of which were super supportive.  I checked where the views coming from and the number one list was Reddit.

I don’t know who put my post out there, but if you’re reading this, thank you so much.

I started reading through the comments when my phone started blowing up.  Some players in my local area had seen the article and tagged me in our Facebook group.  It was getting enough attention that it was the top post in the MTG Reddit and was even trending to the front page.  I was floored; the comments and views started rolling in and I felt a little off put from the attention.

At 3pm I got a message from my good friend Roger. “You made the Magic the Gathering Website!!” and he sent a screenshot of my post being featured on the Daily Magic Update for June 8th.  It was featured with heavy hitters like Seth Manfield, Marshall Sutcliffe, and Eric Froehlich.

Y’all, I actually fell out of my chair.

This is why your teachers tell you to not lean back too far.

It was an indescribable feeling.  I posted my freak out on Facebook, along with the screenshot of the page, and the support from my friends was amazing.  (My favorite comment was the request to sign a baby.  I’m pretty sure he was kidding, but with Magic folk you never really know for sure.)

Even this morning as I’m writing about the whirlwind that was yesterday, I still can’t believe it happened.

But this post isn’t just so I can gush.

I’ve read the comments, both good and bad, on my blog, on Reddit, on the posts that I can see on Facebook and I want to address some of the responses.

But it doesn’t happen at my store

I feel like a lot of what I posted on Tuesday was the negative and I also feel like, after a friend reinforced this feeling through his constructive criticism (Thanks Zach!), I could’ve ended my point better.

One of the most common comments I have seen boils down to this:  I’ve never seen this.  I doubt it’s as bad as she is portraying it to be.

If you have the privilege to go to store where they make sure to combat this behavior, that’s wonderful and I am happy for you.  These are the kinds of places that we should be building in our community!  And if you’re doing your part to make your local game store a welcoming place I salute you for that because that’s the way it should be.

However that is not everyone’s reality, especially in the competitive Magic scene.  There has been at least two times that I have been to SCG States in Richmond that I have been the only woman playing, in a field of at least 70 other players.  As a woman, or any other minority for that matter, being the only one is incredibly intimidating.  It didn’t matter that at this particular event the TOs were fantastic (seriously the Richmond, VA stores are amazing; if you have time you should read this about how they schedule events each season) and welcoming there was still that air of not exactly belonging.

‘But how do I fix a problem I don’t see?’ you might say.  Change your language, even in casual conversations with friends.  You could be using words and phrases that are sexist, racist, homophobic, without realizing it.  Or maybe you have friends that say some questionable things sometimes but you shrug it off because they’re a friend and you don’t want to shake things up.  Confront them even if it makes you uncomfortable.  A person who says certain things in private is more likely to say these things in public too.

Let your friends, family, colleagues know that you don’t stand for the comments and the attitudes.  I know that this can be so hard; it’s a problem I personally have.  I have a group of friends that use the verb ‘rape’ like you would use any other verb, especially when describing a victory (‘Man, this card just raped your face!’ etc., etc.).  It makes me cringe every time; as a rape and sexual assault survivor, the casual use of the word upsets me but these are very close friends and I worry about upsetting them.

It’s time to get over that so I can make things better for the next person.

You should be flattered that someone is asking you to coffee

Women don’t go to big Magic events or game stores to find a date.  That’s not the expectation or the reality.  They’re there to play Magic, or board games, or storming the castle in a roleplaying game.  They have a set agenda in mind for their time; you hitting on them is not part of the plan.

The coffee question was my experiences rolled into one blanket statement.  It covers the several times I’ve been hit on or asked to dinner or coffee while participating in a hobby I love.  This is not the scenario where it’s thirty minutes after our match and we’re still sitting at our match table exchanging battle stories and getting to know each other better.  This being asked to coffee while declaring my attackers; it’s the fear of retribution that can come from refusing to accept or give a number (and we live in a world where refusing male advances can have deadly repercussions). It’s the awkward exchanges which make you feel so uncomfortable you’d rather scoop up your cards and leave than stick around.

If you really like someone, take the time to actually get to know them before pushing them for date.  And realize that they still may refuse you; it doesn’t make them uptight, or rude, or a ‘bitch.’ No person is obligated for any action involving someone else.

Why are you complaining in a blog post when you could just speak up when it happens

So speaking up is hard.  When these things happen, you’re filled with emotions and saying anything is difficult it that situation.  I personally bottle up anger; I don’t like being angry and I respect my local game stores so much that I don’t want to cause a scene.  This may be the wrong way to handle it but it’s what happens.

When you’re in a venue far from home you don’t know what could happen when you speak up as a minority.  The judge program is amazing and it’s full of awesome individuals who do everything in their power to make a player’s experience the best it can be.  But there’s always the threat of ‘he said, she said’ and I’ve experienced the frustration when someone (not a judge in this case) did not believe me about a negative interaction with a male player.  I’ve not been back to that store since.

I made the decision to pen my words in a post rather than speak them out loud.  That doesn’t change their impact.  I’ve seen so many women share stories similar to mine which have both angered me and warmed my heart.  The testimonies alone should be proof that this is a problem that still needs to be addressed in both the casual and competitive Magic scene.  Take the frustration you may be feeling at me for writing this and use to do some good in the world.

I still can’t believe what happened yesterday, but I am so happy that so many players and judges agree with my sentiments.  I can only hope that this will change the minds of others.

Thank you all for giving my words a chance and together let’s make Magic better for everyone.

Why Words Matter

This post is going to have a bit of a different flavor.

It should be pretty obvious at this point that I love Magic.  It’s an escape when things get too stressful at my teaching job.  Mechanics test the logical side of my brain the same way chess did in high school.  The storyline keeps me engaged through the card art and stories posted in Uncharted Realms.  Best of all, it’s let so many amazing people into my life through the playing and judging community (at least half of my friend circle plays or judges Magic on the regular).

Magic has even saved my life, but that’s a story for another time.  This is about the words we use when playing Magic and how they affect the environment around us.

At this point I’ve been playing Magic for close to four years. I jumped in the deep end and started with Commander (which was EDH at the time).  It was fun because everyone’s deck had a theme, and while I often lost games, I died in a different way almost every time.  I enjoyed the variety; coming up with a new theme every week or so and throwing a deck together around it was a blast.

Then I went to my first FNM, was handed a GW humans deck during Phyrexia/Innistrad block and there was no going back.  My EDH play group was fun but not super competitive.  Standard was competitive and that made it even more fun.  I didn’t grow bored waiting for a player’s infinite combo to go off or have to sit through four other players’ turns.  I had to think a lot more about how I played things and when I played things.

I was hooked.

But the overall attitude was very different.  The game store I played Commander at averaged about twenty players each night the league was going on.  The game store I went to for standard averaged 70 people for an FNM.  The number alone was intimidating the first few weeks but as I got to know more people at the store it got easier.  There were a lot of friendly faces and a lot of people helped me learn how to play my deck better (like not playing five creatures on the board when Day of Judgment was a legal card).

The first weeks were frustrating but fun.  I had to completely change how I played Magic but I began to adapt to the quicker round structure and faster games.  I even started winning a few and that only served to increase my drive to get better.

There was another big change:  I was one of two or three girls playing in a field of sixty or more Magic players.  My Commander play group had almost as many lady Magic players as men so the gender disparity being so large struck me as odd.

Then I got smacked in the face with one of the reasons why more women weren’t playing with me.

I sat down across from my opponent and introduced myself.  One of his friends was sitting next to him and he blurted out something like the following:  “Man, you get to play a girl.  I hope you don’t lose.  That would be embarrassing!”

I physically recoiled back from the statement I was so shocked.  What did my gender have to do with my playing ability?  I also felt, not for the first time, that I was suddenly the representative of women Magic players, and that if I lost, it somehow meant that all women were bad at Magic.  It didn’t matter that I was still very new to Standard; it didn’t matter that neither of these guys knew my ability to play Magic.  I had been reduced down to my gender and was somehow made less because of it.  I had been equated to being a less capable player and that a loss to me would somehow be embarrassing.

I really wanted to win that match, but I lost.

I felt awful, like I had somehow let people down.  The gloom was strong enough that I left that FNM early and didn’t play FNM for about a month after that.  The whole experience had left a sour taste in my mouth and I honestly considered not going back, all because someone decided something about me without knowing me.

I did eventually go back.  I was determined to get better and I have.  I don’t have a natural affinity for the game that some players have but I began to find the colors that I could play best and the kind of deck I’m best with.  I put in the work, began to go to bigger events, and playtested in my free time.  I got better and I could be counted in with an average, good Magic player.

But to several male players, especially at large events, my playing ability still didn’t matter.  How did I know?  Here’s a sampling of the comments I heard while playing:

“Did your boyfriend teach you to play?  I’ve never seen a girl play Magic before.  Do you have a boyfriend?  Do you want to grab coffee later?  Man, I get to play against the cutest player in the room, I’m so lucky!  Well, this is going to be easy.  I’m surprised your husband lets you play (I’m not married).  What’s a pretty thing like you playing a complicated game like this?”

I could go on, but you get the idea.

I’ve had players refer to their cards (which usually depict a female character) as bitches, sluts, whores, and hoes. A friend, who is married, had a player write his number in the notebook she keeps score in without asking for it.  I’ve been there while that same friend has been hit on so much that it got to the point I had to step in to dissuade the man from following us to our car.

These experiences all happened while I was player.  I thought they would end when I became a judge.

My very first night judging, I had a player demand that he wanted ‘a real judge’ with the feeling that he didn’t like my call because I was ‘a girl.’

I even had someone question my staffing for a GP because of gender.

I haven’t even touched on the things I’ve heard said about race, sexuality, and mental capability.

Recent decisions not related to Magic prompted me to write this for several reasons but the point I’m most trying to get across is this:  my gender does not make me less of a person.  It does not mean that my inherent capability to play or judge this game is any less.  And it certainly doesn’t affect my ability to judge in the least.

As a player or as a judge, be aware of the power behind your words.  You can either build someone up or tear someone down with what you say.

Be the reason someone wants to play Magic.