Focus on the Good and Push Forward

The past month has seen me run such a roller-coaster gamut of emotions that I’m honestly surprised I survived it.

Being a woman in the Magic: The Gathering scene has often felt like tip-toeing towards fair treatment through a mine field.  Any progress felt glacial because one misstep had the potential to blow up in your face, stopping you in your tracks and leaving you to lick your wounds.  You could speak up, but not too loudly; you could move forward, but moving too quickly would get you noticed; you could attempt to disarm the dangers, all the while knowing that your odds of being successful were slim to none.

Fun fact: the mines have now made me too angry to care about how loud their explosions are.  I’m walking through this mine field and nothing is going to stop me.  However, anger can only keep you going for so long, and staying angry is exhausting, so I’ve decided that instead of flaring with rage it’s time to turn away from what makes me angry and focus on the positive things I’ve experienced recently.

It all started with Grand Prix Atlanta.

I went into the weekend so excited.  I was staying with dear friends and I was going to meet both my Collected Company mentee in person for the first time as well as other female judges that I had befriended via online interactions but hadn’t met in person yet.  I was on sides all weekend, a place I feel supremely comfortable because my good cheer shines there so well.

I left Atlanta feeling something I had never felt before.

It took me a few days to process the event, and while happily anticipating SCG Baltimore, I realized why I had left Atlanta with such good cheer.

Everywhere I looked on the floor at GP Atlanta, there was a woman in either a black judge shirt or a blue Star City Games shirt. There were several women in the judge area; women were judging both sides and the main event; there women leading teams on each part of the event.  It helped me subconsciously relax, because I knew that if any number of things happened that women deal with regularly at events I would have my concerns heard and the support I needed to recover.  When you’re only one or two or three women on an event, judging can be a very isolating experience.

I also got to see a female judge pass her panel and join the ranks as a level 3.  Being there for the announcement of Meg Baum making level three is now one of my most cherished memories.  Not only is she a friend of mine, someone who has helped push me and strengthen me, but it means that I can do it too, if I work as hard as she does.  It’s not a throw away dream anymore.

I had amazing after shift dinners as well.  I’m not always someone who wants to go to big judge gathering as I introvert hard, but these were just big enough to be fun and small enough that I never felt overwhelmed.  Judge dinners with other female judges also meant a safe space to air our frustrations in a zone of no judgement.  When you don’t face the same barriers, frustrations can be seen in the lens of complaints and whining, so we tend to be careful around whom we talk about them.

I left Georgia energized and looking forward to the next event: the SCG Baltimore Team Open.

Several months back, it had been hinted to me to keep this particular weekend open and when the head judges of both the Open and the Classics were announced, I knew why.

All four of them were women.

As far as my own knowledge of judging history is concerned, this was a big first.  As soon as it was announced I applied, and kept all manner of appendages crossed that I would be accepted to judge, even vowing to at least play in the event if I was declined.  I whooped with joy when I was accepted and it was that pure joy that kept me energized and excited in the weeks that led up to the event.  Atlanta just infused me with even more hype.

However, there was a level of frustration as well.  While several of my fellow judges were excited, others didn’t quite seem to grasp how groundbreaking this was.  Even when I would explain why, a lot of times I was replied with the online equivalent of a shrug.   I know the judges whom I talked to didn’t mean for it to come across in this way but it felt like because it didn’t really affect them, they were brushing it off as unimportant.  Even now, some of you reading this may not understand the significance, which isn’t necessarily your fault, so let me quantify it for you so that you can better understand the excitement and happiness.

I’ve been doing this judging thing for about a year and a half or so, give or take a few months.  I’ve been blessed that a significant chunk of my judging adventure has involved large event judging.  GP Atlanta was the GP where I hit double digits.  I’ve judged slightly less SCG Opens but I’d still call myself a pretty active judge on that circuit as well.  I have only had two women as my head judges, ever.  Martha Lufkin on a Classic in DC, and Maria Zuyeva as my Open head judge in Charlotte.

I have never had a woman head judge for a Grand Prix.

Martha (mentioned above) has been judging a significant of time longer than I have been (she was around for the infamous striped shirts).  I look to her as a personal hero, because she was part of the Program when it was often just her as the only woman on a large event.  She has also only ever had two women as head judges of large events, only one of which was a Grand Prix.

While neither of us should be held up as the standard, it’s still pretty glaring that we share similar experiences when it comes to female judges in very visible leadership positions.  I like to think that our equal numbers in a largely different amount of time is a positive sign, even if it is a slow one.

That’s why SCG Baltimore was so important to me; important for the program as a whole.  Going into the weekend, I knew it was gonna be great.

It was everything I could’ve hoped for and then some.

Watching Nicolette Apraez give her opening announcements for the Open on day one was empowering.  Watching her and the other judges on staff function like a well oiled machine filled me with happiness; there was going to be no complaints that this Open would be run with any less skill level than any other one.  It was just like every other Open I worked (with the difference in that I was Team Leading for only the second time), except that it was a woman with the microphone making the announcements.  It was a woman the players were having their appeals taken to.

There was a particularly poignant moment when I was discussing the event with the Northeast’s new RC, Joe Hughto (who had drive down to support Megan Linscott who was head judging her first Classic).

I had decided that I wanted a picture of all the non-male identifying judges on staff the following day, as more of us would be judging then.  As I started doing the calculations out loud, I stopped because I got choked up for just a moment when I realized we had hit ten.  I had never worked an open with so many and it struck such a happy chord in my heart.  I remember telling Joe something like, “That is so cool.  This is why this event is so important.”

Rolling into Sunday, I felt energized.  This was the big one, the day I had been hyped about since getting accepted to the event.  I wasn’t planning on working any harder than I would’ve normally (as it’s my personal goal to push myself as hard as I can in every event I work, no matter how small or large) but I wanted to be more present, almost more ready to enjoy every part of the day for what it was and what it meant.

It didn’t disappoint.

And it was the little things that made it powerful.

At one point while Brogan King was launching the Legacy Classic, all four of the women head judges were either finishing their opening announcements, starting day two of their event, or launching the next round (both the Modern Classic, head judged by Meg Baum, and the Standard Classic, Megan Linscott’s, had started before the Legacy Classic and Open day two).  All of those things are normal on day two of SCG Opens and that’s why it mattered.  It was handled so nonchalantly.  They belonged on the stage at the helm of their events just the same as every male judge that had stood there.  This wasn’t a case of special treatment, this was a showcase of the skill and competency of strong female judges, letting both players and judges know that this should be normalized.  They weren’t put here because they were women, they were put here because they were good and also happen to be women.

Secondly, it gave other women something to push forward for.  In the time I’ve been judging, I’ve had fantastic female team leads.  I knew that was something I could achieve and team leading at a Grand Prix I have on my radar.  But while I talked a big game about wanting to be a Classic head judge, or beyond, one day, there was always this nagging doubt about being able to attain it because there were so few who weren’t like me.  It can be very hard to visualize yourself pushing forward when the norm is different than you are.

Finally, it’s illuminating to the players as well.  Normalizing the fact that women judge and play Magic is just as important for the health of the game and the safety level in our community as battling against harassment.

I got to experience this importance first hand on Sunday.  I was sitting in the judge area on a half round break when I was approached by a player who came to thank me for issuing a slow play warning in his match the previous day.  I had issued it during turns when a storm player had been taking far too long to choose a target for one of his tutor spells.  It got appealed, as they tend to do, and Nicolette after listening to my recounting of things and the player’s account, upheld my slow play warning.

After thanking me he said the following, “I just wanted to say it was really cool to watch a female judge give a slow play warning, and when it got appealed, to see it taken to a female head judge who upheld it.  I know that even a few years ago something like that wouldn’t have happened.”

That, as much as everything else, illustrates how important this weekend was, and not just for me or for the other judges involved.  This is how we make the program better; this is how we make our communities more welcoming; this is how we push forward and take the people who want to make things better with us.

If we focus on the positives and push forward together, not even landmines can get in our way.

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