Magic: The Gathering Smiles at Trans Representation with Alesha, Who Smiles at Death
Wizards of the Coast has revealed one of the characters in the new Magic: the Gathering – Fate Reforged set is a trans woman. Alesha, Who Smiles at Death is the very first trans woman in the game’s lore. In a story titled, “The Truth of Names,” Alesha leads her warriors into battle. Weaved into the tale between gory descriptions of death and combat is a subtle story about identity and finding who you are.
Alesha’s clan, the Mardu, believe that a name is something earned by battle and glory. If you amass enough tales of personal glory, then you earn the right to name yourself. Since the Mardu are principally made up of Orcs and Goblins, there are plenty of Backbreakers, Headsmashers, and Skullcleavers. When it came time for Alesha to choose her name, she went in a drastically different direction.
Some of them, mostly orcs, boasted of their ancestors’ deeds and spoke of their pride in adopting those ancestors’ names. She had been so different—only sixteen, a boy in everyone’s eyes but her own, about to choose and declare her name before the khan and all the Mardu.
The khan had walked among the warriors, hearing the tales of their glorious deeds. One by one, they declared their new war names, and each time, the khan shouted the names for all to hear. Each time, the horde shouted the name as one, shaking the earth.
Then the khan came to Alesha. She stood before him, snakes coiling in the pit of her stomach, and told how she had slain her first dragon. The khan nodded and asked her name.
“Alesha,” she said, as loudly as she could. Just Alesha, her grandmother’s name.
“Alesha!” the khan shouted, without a moment’s pause.
And the whole gathered horde shouted “Alesha!” in reply. The warriors of the Mardu shouted her name.
The way in which her name choice is presented in the story is understated, and refreshingly so. Alesha’s trans identity isn’t the focal point of the story. It isn’t made out to be a big deal. To her khan, and to the Mardu, they accept her for who she says she is, simply because she believes in her identity so much that she’d risk her life to demonstrate it.
Characters like Alesha are a welcome change to a genre of games which have a reputation for being problematic. While strong, empowered women have long been a staple of the Magic: the Gathering lore, it is definitely incredibly encouraging to see Wizards of the Coast trying to tackle diversity so matter-of-factly, which I believe suits a lot of the target demographic. As someone who adopted her chosen name from a Magic: the Gathering character, I am excited to see where Alesha, Who Smiles at Death goes from here.
Jessica “Who Smiles at Cats” Lachenal doesn’t like talking in the third person, so she hopes this has been as awkward for you as it has been for her. But, if you happen to like the words that she writes, check out her website at hipsterchick.net, or any of her writing on The Bold Italic, Autostraddle, Model View Culture, and here at The Mary Sue. She can also be found on Twitter: @jeslach.