The Truth of the Truth of Names – On Wizards and Alesha Being Transgender

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The internet has been buzzing about a recent Vorthos article on the Mothership. This one, specifically. In it, James Wyatt reveals something that no one knew until now.

"That kill could have been yours."

She watched him carefully as her words sank in. He bristled, drawing himself up even taller. "Gedruk stole it."

"Did he?"

"I saw you hold back. I saw you cut the beast's claw instead of its neck. Why?"

The orc snarled. "I don't know."

"You could have earned your war name," she said. "Know who you are, and claim it."

Anger twisted the orc's face and he took another step toward her. "You tell me this? A human boy who thinks he's a woman?"

Huh. Apparently Alesha was allowed to choose her own name after winning glory in battle, and chose her grandmother's name.

Is this a big deal? The internet, in typical "being terrible" fashion, seems to take umbrage with it. There are a lot of different opinions and I was mostly proud of the Magic community.

To me (and I may just have a good Twitter feed devoid of terrible people), all I saw was people applauding the decision to have a major character be transgender, and the worst I saw was people who were annoyed.

"Great, it happened. Why make a big deal out of it?"



Why, indeed, make a big deal out of it? Here's why.

  • Alesha is a positive role model. Instead of portraying a male to female transgender character as some sort of weak and effeminate character, Alesha is a certified badass. Alesha was able to choose her name by winning glory on the battlefield and is not only a powerful, well designed card, she's also a compelling storyline character. I don't get super deep into Vorthos, but for people who do, having Alesha be a badass was a good choice transgender people see a character not at all held back or looked down upon, just a warrior respected by her clan. Not just anyone becomes a Khan.
  • It cost nothing. This was an easy thing for Wizards to do. They engendered good will and showed their commitment to diversity and inclusion and all they had to do was write a story they were going to write anyway. This was a great PR move and a very easy way to demonstrate their values as a brand in an unobtrusive way that literally didn't cost them an extra dime.
  • Who cares? The LGBTA community cares, for one. This is a bit of a token gesture, but it's one that Wizards didn't have to make and it's a positive step toward progress. People who feel marginalized in this community may feel less so or at least see that Wizards is making an effort. The other people who really care about it are transphobes and I don't mind when those people make themselves known to the community by freaking out over something that literally has no effect on the game. Sure, Wizards didn't have to court controversy because it added nothing to the set beyond flavor and could potentially anger some people, but Wizards is showing they don't care what intolerant people think. They shouldn't. Get upset over an imaginary transgender character in a children's card game. Good luck with that.
  • It feels shoehorned in as if they thought of it at the last second, possible after watching the movie Mulan. However, on his blog, Doug Beyer confirms that the character is canonically transgender and it was always this way. This wasn't an afterthought, it was a commitment Wizards made as they were designing the khans. They handled the character respectfully and showed that transgender people don't necessarily fit in some preconceived stereotype.

This isn't the most courageous thing a company has ever done, but that's the point. They didn't announce it with a lot of fanfare or make a huge announcement--they quietly slipped it into a story they had written for the mothership.

Is that because they're scared and hoped people wouldn't notice? No way.

They announced it in this manner because they aren't actually the ones who made a big deal out of it. Because, you know what? It's not a big deal that some people are transgender.

The transgender community doesn't need to be put on a pedestal and lauded on principal any more than they should be derided or mocked. Wizards didn't make a huge deal out of Alesha's gender because it isn't that big a deal. They created a transgender character because there is no reason not to, and they didn't make her different from other characters because she really isn't.

Alesha is just another member of the pantheon of characters created by Wizards. She's tough, strong, a natural born leader, and she's not afraid of judgment from her enemies or the warriors in her clan.

Let's not make a big deal out of Alesha being transgender, but let's make a big deal out of Wizards not making a big deal out of it. It was a good move on their part and it's a big step into the 21st century, especially when you look at their 20th century track record.




Good for Wizards of the Coast.

Edit: This article originally included the word "transgendered", which was quickly changed after a Redditor pointed out that "transgender" is the preferred term.

Although it's a subtle difference, the latter is preferred because it clarifies that the term  is describing an aspect of that person, rather than using a past tense and implying that it is an event or a thing that occurred to that person.

Using preferred terms to describe minority groups is a clear way to help marginalized groups feel included, showing a willingness to change a behavior or term that makes others uncomfortable or distressed.

- /u/Salmon_

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Jason Alt

Jason Alt is a value trader and writer. He is Quiet Speculation's self-appointed web content archivist and co-captain of the interdepartmental dodgeball team. He enjoys craft microbrews and doing things ironically. You may have seen him at magic events; he wears black t-shirts and has a beard and a backpack so he's pretty easy to spot. You can hear him as co-host on the Brainstorm Brewery podcast or catch his articles on He is also the Community Manager at and writes the odd article there, too. Follow him on Twitter @JasonEAlt unless you don't like having your mind blown.

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29 thoughts on “The Truth of the Truth of Names – On Wizards and Alesha Being Transgender

    1. Well for starters, her ranger uniform isn’t very functional. It’s actually pretty much the worst possible outfit for rangering. Also, do elvish women get bikini waxes? Is that a thing? Seems like a major stretch lore-wise.

  1. I actually hated the move because i hate it when people inject real world politics into my fantasy hobbies. I play magic largely because its fun as hell, but also because it helps me forget the real world for a few minutes, so when they start injecting real world bullshit like LGBT support, it urks me to no end. Same thing that happened with the Triumph of Ferocity controversy.
    I really hope this doesn’t become the norm for Wizards. Im in favor of wizards staying fantasy.
    I still think Alesha is a cool character tho. He’s a pretty cool card but he doesn’t replace Zurgo for me.

    1. why should wizards only cater to straight male fantasies? Women and LGBT people have them too. I’m pretty sure my wife doesn’t wander around wishing she was Elvish Ranger, but Elspeth or Yasova Dragonclaw? Sure.

    2. There’s nothing “political” about it. Some people are trans – not because they want to make a political statement, but just because that’s who they are. This character is one of those people, and they wrote a story about her. That’s not any more “political” than writing about war, or food, or dogs, or anything else that exists in the world. It only becomes political if you think that certain types of people are less deserving of having their stories told in a fantasy setting than others.

    3. You’re the one injecting politics into this by saying “he”. Canonically, this character is a “she”. This is what WotC’s stance on the matter is, and refusing to acknowledge that because of your own political opinions is exactly what you said you didn’t want – injecting politics into a fantasy hobby.

      Regardless, how can this be interpreted as political on WotC’s part? They didn’t take any kind of stance on anything. They simply gave a nod to the existence of a group of people within society. So you’re saying that merely acknowledging that groups outside of the norm existing is inherently political in nature. Is Koth of the Hammer also “inserting politics” because he’s black?

      In Tarkir, the Mardu are apparently a society where the existence of trans people is widely accepted due to their culture of how you make your own identity. From a certain point of view, Wizards were simply showing how that could lead to a different society from the one we have – they were building the world by showing a way in which Mardu society differed from the one we live in.

    4. To elaborate: when you tell a story or series of stories that NEVER includes a certain subgroup that it would be natural to expect exists, that too is a political act. It just hasn’t bothered you so far because you neither are that subgroup nor identify with that subgroup.

    5. Frank,

      The real world “bullshit like LGBT support” isn’t bullshit at all to those of us that are LGBT. If you had any idea the struggles faced every day by people like Alesha you might take a different stance. Of course, you might be one of the challenges trans people face considering you refer to Alesha as “he” even though the presented gender is female. Was that intentional or were you being ignorantly bigoted?

      Jason, thank you for the article. This one hits closer to home for me and others in my community than most. Your thoughtful response to the “controversy” gives me hope for our community.

  2. Let me play devil’s advocate for a moment, and give an argument as to why this might not be a good thing, in a more, not less progressive way (although in the end I think this argument is wrong).

    If you look at the story as a whole, I don’t believe that it portrays the Mardu clan (and by extension Alesha) in the best possible light…at least when looked at from a certain perspective. From that perspective, it’s actually a pretty bad light. That it’s a clan that values personal glory over the good of the whole. As such, not only is there a bit of “feel-bad” in the story that the unnamed Orc didn’t get a name for being quite frankly an amazing hero and an extremely important part of that group, but it could be seen if one was to put it in social context as to promoting what we would see as more masculine values at the cost of the feminine.

    Yes, I’m saying from a political perspective it would be better if it was Anafenza who was transgender. (And no, I’m not a reactionary Mardu fan who is unhappy with this. I’m actually an Abzan fan.)

    However, saying all of that, that goes in to what the piece said, and it makes me give WotC more credit for how they handled it. Very casually and matter of fact. This is the sort of stuff that creates the conditions for social and cultural change. When it’s presented as No Big Deal, it invites people to come on board.

    1. Well, the whole point of Alesha’s speech to him was to show him that he did a bunch of things from which he could take a name, that he had more than earned it. But the orc himself didn’t think so. He felt like he had to do something big and flashy, yet he refused to actually do so. Alesha was trying to say that if being someone who saves others is his thing, why not take a name relating to it?

  3. Okay, so Alesha is really a he. That’s a surprise.

    By the way, I’ve always liked Elvish Ranger and that’s the card that made me a Terese Nielsen fan (which I still am today). Fantasy art has frequently depicted characters in non-utilitarian outfits and I’m okay with that.

    1. No, Alesha is a she, thats the point of the story, that she was considered a boy by all but herself, until she told everyone who she was and claimed her name. A woman’s name. For a woman. Commonly denoted by the use of she. Everywhere in the story. and everywhere else.

      In case I was too subtle, Alesha is a woman.

      1. Alesha is a dude who wants to be a woman. If he has male parts then he is male. He may want to be female but he is not.
        It’s actually pretty simple really. Except for liberals. They have a hard time wrapping their head around “male parts = male.” Not sure why they have that problem. A course in animal husbandry would clear that up for them.

        1. Seems more like you have a hard time wrapping your head around things that don’t conform to your pre-existing worldview. And I mean, it makes sense. After all, it’s not like it’s been proven that there are differences in male and female brains, and… Wait, there is? And transsexual people correspond with the gender they identify as? And it’s a matter of the brain receiving the wrong hormones in utero and not developing alongside the body? And transitioning is the only thing that’s known to alleviate it, all attempts at therapy have resulted in nothing at best and suicide at worst? Oh well.

          What you’re basically saying is the equivalent of going “Vets just need to get over themselves with that PTSD stuff, they aren’t actually back in war”. Guess what, the world and the human brain aren’t that simple.

          1. You didn’t understand my comment. It’s not your brain that determines which sex you are, it’s your sex organs. That’s been known since the dawn of man. No amount of liberal thinking will change that.
            Remember my comment about a course in animal husbandry? You need it.

            1. So let me throw this out there, Fred. If you were involved in an accident….or had medical condition such as cancer and they had to remove your testes or penis, would you take a female name? Or should we just call you “it”, since you technically wouldn’t be either gender at that point. Because according to you your entire definition of yourself as a man depends upon a dangly bit of flesh between your legs.

  4. Her father is her foundation and she says it will be very hard being out of touch with him for so long while in the house.
    Even though her father does not agree with her body art,
    he loves and supports her in everything she does.
    He is obsessed with video games and is a collector of all things Sci-Fi, especially Star Wars.

  5. thusDespite the shortsightedness of the body parts argument some make, in the end genes are genes and unless you have some rare genetic disease if you’re human, you’re born either male or female and that is what you are regardless of what you think or how you feel. Perceived or portrayed gender are not necessarily the same as actual sex…they’re three different things. All

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