When I was in fourth grade, I'd just moved to a new school. I felt very unbalanced in this new world. I was lonely and lost, so in order to get attention, I told some lies. One of those lies was prompted by another student. I told everyone that I was gay. I even remember a few teachers asking if the rumors I was gay were true. Here I am, in southern West Virginia, telling all of my fellow students I was gay in order to get attention. I got it alright. I was teased for two years and my nicknames became "Gay-braham" and "Gaybe." To be fair, the teasing never went beyond name-calling; no one ever threatened me or punched me or told my father or spit on the ground when I walked by or anything. But it was still a very uncomfortable time for someone who was ten years old.
As a person who lives with Huntington's disease, I regularly have to deal with people making assumptions about my life. They assume I want children, they assume I'll get married, they assume I want a career path that goes up the ladder, they assume that I'll hit retirement age, and so forth. I'm constantly reminded of my own condition because of our society.
These two experiences help me to identify with people who don't have the assumed heterosexual orientation. While I don't know everything that a bisexual, gay, lesbian, or transgender person experiences, I think I have a good idea of what it's like because I have two major personal experiences to relate it to. I know what it's like when people tease you relentlessly about it, and I know what it's like when society assumes that you're something when you were born differently.
Because of that, I've always had an affinity with people who are not what is often unfortunately thought of as "the norm." I've really tried to work hard with students of various orientations. During my time in housing, I was the only person to hire a transgendered student to work for him, and I regularly had more bisexual, gay, and lesbian staff working for me than all of my peers combined. It's a community I'm quite fond of because they often have had to deal with so much, and, like most of our struggles in life, they tend to emerge stronger for it.
This has also honed my radar. I'm offended by jokes and slurs towards gay people. Every time I hear one, I remember fourth grade again. It may not be directed at me and may be intended innocently, but I remember. And if I remember, having only experienced a couple years of teasing, how much more will a person who identifies with this community recall? With a lifetime of memories, how much nastier will those memories be?
That is why I'm writing this article today. For a decade, I've stated occasionally that I feel one of the biggest issues with the Magic community are these rampant slurs against people due to their sexual orientation. I've never done anything about it. It's time for that to change. Today, I'm writing a full article about it to discuss the issues I see. We are too smart to continue to allow this to divide us.
Just because these issues are rampant doesn't mean that there are not a large number of great people playing Magic who are loved and welcomed while also being open about their sexuality. I want that across the board for us. I want every place where people play Magic to be a sanctuary for you no matter who you are. It should be true for people no matter their ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender. I'm tired of groups that act when they encounter a gay, woman, or black person playing the game like it's something highly unusual and crazy.
That's the first of the issues I see. As someone who has HD, I don't mind people asking me questions about it if they want to. But although it's an important aspect of who Abe is, it does not define me. It's a problem with English that we use the verb of being to describe a state. I am tired. I am hungry. Some languages use other verbiage. Take French. In French, you say, "I have hunger." It's not a form of your being, just something you possess. I wish English had that nuance because then I could parse things out more clearly.
So although I have HD, I am not HD, if that makes sense. I don't want to be seen as the "HD Magic Player" in capital letters. I also don't want to be the Ordained Magic Player, the West Virginia Magic Player, or the 35-Year-Old Magic Player. My age, place of birth, and ordination status are important things I possess, but they are not me.
In order to be more welcoming to people who are different, we have to stop seeing them as that thing first. That is not to say that we have to ignore their gender, race, or whatever; that would be equally silly. Our differences are beautiful things to embrace and welcome. But we should just let another person be that person without defining them.
Another issue is that of name-calling. Flat out, this has to end. Frankly, I'm appalled at how I often I hear people calling a game, a player, or anything else "gay" or a "f****t" at tournaments. I'm shocked at how rarely judges who overhear such things do anything about it. When I'm hearing it ten or fifteen times an hour, I shouldn't be expected to jump up every time and call a judge on that person. The judges should do a lot more to make sure that tournaments are a welcoming arena for all players. Period.
This is an area that has no wiggle room in my mind. I don't care if you're at a card store, a tournament, or a large multiplayer group. Slurs such as these have no place in our community. They hurt more than help, they cut more than laugh, and they scar others far longer than they're remembered by the speaker.
I understand that even if someone wants to stop tomorrow, there will be relapses. And I understand that not all slurs are said in hatred and intolerance. I even understand that some people who identify as gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgender, or other orientations participate in these slurs. But this is something that doesn't help our Magic community, and it has been known to hinder it.
I've been told by friends who are gay that they have felt uncomfortable at some Magic stores and tournaments because of what others said, but they were afraid to say something because they didn't want to hurt their ability to return. At local tournaments, many are trying to focus on winning, not on complaining. We all have to take care of each other.
Every community tries to keep dissent down, and we often promote bigotry by not speaking out and allowing these environments to continue. This must end. And it must end now because we need to move beyond these issues. We are so much better than this. We are an amazing group of people that rally around and support each other. Let's prove it once more by working to end this sort of hostility to people who happen to find different groups of people more or less attractive than you do. We should not allow this issue to hamper our ability to grow and welcome everyone.
In Magic, we should defy division.
P.S. The term "homophobia" is a very poor term to use. First of all, the homo- prefix refers to homosexuals and thus does not include many different sexualities such as transsexual or transgendered people. Secondly, the -phobia suffix means fear of, when countless people who are discriminatory towards these groups are not doing it out of fear but out of ignorance, cultural indoctrination, and so forth. Therefore, the term is very inexact. It's only used in the title to bring you into the article and does not accurately reflect the discussion therein.