Contributing to Trans Visibility as a Magic Judge

Elaine Cao
6 min readMar 30, 2020


Art: Mardu Runemark | Viktor Titov

I’m going to start off by telling everyone who is reading this article from a Magic-related space that I promise you’re not going to be bored by me just blasting a ton of queer theory at you, so please don’t close the page. Likewise, if you’re seeing this from a queer space, I’m not just going to talk about nerdy bullshit for five pages, so please sit tight. You’ll see where I’m going with this. With that being said:

Yes, this is a Magic blog, but today I’m talking about International Transgender Day of Visibility.

Many Magic players and judges ask me why I think it’s important for the Magic community to know that I’m transgender. After all, the people who I interact with in this space are generally pretty accepting and chill, and, as all of them say, “it shouldn’t matter”. But it does. To me, I feel that, as a Magic judge, I’m in a unique position to increase visibility in a way that matters.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that before I got really into Magic, I spent a lot of time buried in queer activism. I gave speeches and was on panels at rallies, university organizations, random meetings and events, etc. Rather than the empty moral platitudes and virtue signaling, I had a very clear message for the people in the audience. (“Trans women are women! That’s it we’re done here! I’ll collect my check now please”) My primary thesis was, and always has been, that the best road to trans acceptance is through visibility: for people to actually know and interact with trans people. Most people, at least in my local area of Nowhere in the heart of Flyover State, only interact with trans people within contexts where you would expect to see trans people- mainly activism and rallies. But if more and more people interacted with us outside that context, then the fear-mongering and scare tactics, that so many people love to use against us, are less effective.

I have a working theory that the majority of people in America have not had close interactions with a trans person. You figure that there’s about 700,000 trans people in America, and there’s 330 million Americans, and the sociologists will tell you that each person can only have close relationships with about 150 people, and queer people tend to only hang out in groups- well, the math just doesn’t work out.

But if more people knew queer and trans people, their politics would definitely change. The issue of bathroom access is now less “a scary dude is invading the womens’ restroom” and more “I had a beer with a trans person the other day and they were pretty cool.”

Trans and queer people tend to congregate. And it makes sense, right? It’s safe to hang out in groups and only go to places that you know will be friendly. My friends keep lists and stats of each trans person murdered in a hate crime. I can’t do it; it makes the world seem unsafe and scary.

That’s why going out of your way to avoid this is brave. Sure I have my trans friends, but I also have my cisgender straight white friends with their pickup trucks and shotguns. And they might surprise you. But we can’t get there as a community unless we put ourselves out there.

-Excerpt from my speech template, circa October 2018

Obviously, there are plenty of trans people in Magic who have more visibility than me- in clout, name recognition, twitter followers, whatever you want to call it. And there are plenty of trans Wizards, since Wizards is a Seattle-based company so of course there are queer people working there. But Autumn Burchett, Emma Handy, Alli Steele (Medwin), Loreley Weisel, and others are celebrities. People interact with celebrities in a very different way, and I strive very hard to not become a celebrity. Having big-name trans folks and Magic cards depicting trans characters, like Alesha, is fundamentally different from seeing trans people around you at events going through the same stuff as everyone else in the room.

To be clear, it’s not their fault; it’s very difficult to approach a Magic celebrity at a paper event and have a lengthy conversation with them. And I’m sure they’d much rather worry about their upcoming match than talk to a random person. After all, playing Magic takes a lot of energy, and it’s psychologically draining.

The point isn’t to have trans people that you can see on TV (or in this case, on Twitch). You open up Autumn’s stream, you’re actively expecting to see a trans person. You may even be tuning into their stream specifically to see a trans person play Magic.

But as a judge, talking to players is your job. I make a point of inviting players to have a chat with me whenever I’m on the floor and not busy. I engage actively in the sub-community of Legacy and Vintage players, and I’d like to think I’m more known as a “Legacy judge” than as a “trans judge”. The goal is to be on the list of “close relationships”, as I mentioned in my speech excerpt, for as many people as possible.

You can most definitely exact meaningful change this way. I know several local players whose opinions of transgender people have changed because of knowing me. I watched someone, who used to share anti-trans rhetoric on facebook constantly, become someone who defends trans people from his conservative friends. I distinctly remember the line “There’s a trans person in my local Magic scene who is one of the strongest people I’ve ever met”, which warms my heart so much. Sure, he might still have a Blue Lives Matter profile picture where he’s holding an AK-47, but one battle at a time, right?

And not only does this help with trans acceptance on a broader scale, it also helps trans people come out the closet. There’s a very common stereotype that a lot of trans women or transfeminine people play Magic. And, according to this totally-scientific Twitter poll, the vast majority of trans women in Magic start playing Magic before they realize they’re trans.

This could be caused by a variety of different factors, but it should be pretty obvious that if there are more people who are like them in this space, and if they’re surrounded by people who they can talk to and who have been through what they’re going through, it helps them figure out who they are and helps them become their true selves.

People passing on the street expect to see trans people [at rallies]. We need to put forth an effort to be more visible in our daily lives. It’s important to not be someone’s token “trans friend” but to be their friend who happens to be trans.

For many of you, I’m just asking you to keep existing. And that’s great. But for the rest of my trans brothers and sisters, this might mean going to that one place that looked cool but you don’t know if they’ll be accepting. And for the allies in the audience, that might mean being somebody’s “plus 1”.

Be the change you want to see.

So yes, it’s very important to me that Magic players know I’m trans. I mostly stopped doing activism because I felt that my message wasn’t coming across, though a lot of people seemed to agree with it on principle. And I felt that it would be unfair for me to ask other people to do things that I wasn’t willing to do myself.

Of course, you don’t have to be a judge to contribute to this, but I’m not obligating anybody to take these steps. If you’re not comfortable going to your local store or to a large Magic event (after the quarantine is lifted, of course) because you’re not comfortable with yourself and you want to just sit and home and jam Arena or play EDH with friends, that’s fine. But for those of us who have the headspace to do these things, I think it’s important to be conscious about the actions we take and try to change hearts and minds in a meaningful way. I think that tournament organizers putting queer judges in leadership positions is a form of allyship. I think think that being a judge who does my best to make a great of an experience as possible has an added benefit if I’m visible and public about my identity. And I think that the work that we do is important, not just for the community that we’re in, but for society at large.



Elaine Cao

I’m a Level 2 Magic judge who plays a lot of blue cards. she/her/hers,