Bearscape Shows That Magic: The Gathering Needs To Respect Fat Characters
Earlier this week, Wizards of the Coast revealed the Pride Across The Multiverse Secret Lair promotion for Magic: The Gathering. Eight cards with new illustrations by LGBTQIA2S+ artists, the limited-time reprints celebrate all aspects of the LGBTQ+ community, while also raising funds for LGBTQ+ youth charity The Trevor Project. Featuring everyone from Alesha, Magic's first trans character, to the marriage of the first gay Planeswalker Ral Zarek and a newfound romance between Saheeli and Huatli, there’s a lot for all members of the community to enjoy.
However, there’s one card the community latched onto, and it quickly became the game's latest meme. The community’s response was almost entirely positive, but the Secret Lair's reprint of the green enchantment Bearscape still highlights a frustrating stance many people have towards fat bodies, especially in both gaming and the LGBTQ+ community.
As a quick crash course of gay parlance, bears are a subset of the community who tend to celebrate the more masculine end of the gender presentation spectrum. Compared to other groups in the gay community, such as twinks, bears tend to be physically larger, whether that be through fat or muscle, and are generally hairier all over. Therein lies the visual pun of Bearscape – an enchantment that makes 2/2 Bear creature tokens being depicted as gay bears rather than actual, ursine bears.
Even though I'm a fat, hairy gay guy, I personally don't identify with the bear label, and feel uncomfortable when other people put me in that box. Regardless, the reveal of Bearscape made me feel seen in a way many other Pride products don't. People with body types not too dissimilar to my own (albeit much more muscular) were considered 'important' enough to get their own card, and it's a fantastic illustration full of affection and diversity, with varying levels of hairiness, size, and stretch marks. One of the focal characters in the scene even has top surgery scars, which is awesome.
And yet, the response from the community left me feeling deflated. Not because of any negativity, as I didn't see any people not adore this card. The problem was all the well-meaning jokes I saw about it – 'Big Bara Daddy Card' this, and 'Where's the tiddy token' that. Within hours, other Magic artists had mocked up their own, burly Gay Bear tokens as jokes. It didn't feel like the card was being celebrated in the same way as other cards in the set were. It was being meme'd about by people who weren't being represented by the card, and it felt almost dehumanising to see.
Part of the problem is that there isn't a named character for the community to latch onto with Bearscape, because the game doesn't have any 'bears' it could include. Heartbeat of Spring highlights the new canonical romance of the Planeswalkers Huatli and Saheeli, with the two in a loving embrace. Savor the Moment has Ral Zarek finally marrying his partner Tomik. Collective Voyage has Nissa and Chandra taking part in a Kaladesh Pride parade. There is lots of queer representation in Magic, but they're all more or less the same body shape.
The fact that it had to resort to nameless, throwaway characters for the one card to include fat queer people shows how much further it needs to go. I really hope we see Wizards introduce more Planeswalkers in future sets with more varied body types. We have hulking barbarians, nightmare demons with only half a head, a minotaur, and even an insect, but there isn't anyone who looks like me or the people on the Bearscape card just yet.
The other contributing fact is how media tends to view fat, queer people, especially men. Bears and bear-adjacent people have been the butt of many jokes, whether it be a subplot in an episode of Ashes to Ashes that had a cop go undercover in a bear club, or Glee literally putting an actual bear on its stocky, gay character's bed. Even within the gay community, bears are sometimes seen as a niche group nestled just at the corners of 'acceptable' gaydom. Any sort of intimacy that other sides of the community get tends to be drowned out by a flood of bear puns or weirdly fetishising 'daddy-rhetoric'.
I love the Pride Across the Multiverse Secret Lair, and can't wait to own the cards. It's exciting to see people with my kind of body type celebrated in a pride product, where we're often left out of the picture entirely for more conventionally attractive bodies. I just wish the Bearscape card had been preceded by the work of including us in the story before making the most basic of bear puns possible.
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