There’s a girl at this celebration. Slight and dainty, she’s the niece of a fancy lord. She hides her jawline beneath a fan, smiles with glittering energy as she is invited to the cardboard desk. Her fingers are at all times dangerous and her grasp of the principles appears tenuous. Forgetting her knife-sharp grin, you agree right into a wine-fuelled haze. Solely when the evening is over do you rely your cash, notice how a lot you have misplaced, and suppose once more of that shining smile.
In its broad survey of French aristocracy, Card Shark permits gamers to discover crossdressing and queerness. The sport’s tangible relationship to historical past is playful, broad, and explicit (as I’ve written about before). Card Shark freely borrows tricksters and cheats from all through historical past but additionally exhibits off the distinctive class-bridging perform of card taking part in within the particular time interval. Card Shark’s France is broiling with class friction, as a rising bourgeoisie has growing energy however can also be remoted from the immense wealth of the ruling aristocracy. Beneath all of it, Romani caravans keep away from persecution and the revolution brews. Participant character Eugene and his mentor, the Comte de Saint Germain, will discover all this by way of dishonest on the aforementioned card video games, amassing wealth, and discovering a thriller on the coronary heart of the French monarchy. Whereas the story informed is essentially fiction, a mixture of The Three Musketeers and a satirical comedy of manners, the social circumstances of the characters are grounded in a fabric historical past. That extends to Card Shark’s depiction of crossdressing, gender nonconformity, and transness.
Earlier than we dig into Card Shark’s relationship to gender, I wish to begin on a short notice on pronouns and the best way to talk about the potential tranness of historic figures. I’m going to make use of he/him pronouns and the title Eugene for Card Shark’s protagonist. That is, under no circumstances, meant to undermine the potential to grasp him as queer. It’s tempting and never at all times incorrect to label historic figures as homosexual or lesbian or trans. Nevertheless, it must be emphasised that these are comparatively fashionable labels which can be erratically and generally unfairly layered over an infinite number of people and identities. These labels aren’t untarnished truths that we are able to now use to interpret historical past purely. Reasonably they broadly determine experiences and social norms, in opposition to which individuals of all types choose and perceive themselves. I significantly just like the phrasing of Equipment Heyam’s latest historical past of gender’s title: “Earlier than We Had been Trans.” The implication is that previous gender-non-confirming folks share a typical heritage, and lots of identities, with present trans folks, however that the actual label of “trans” is comparatively new.
Crucially, this doesn’t imply we can not resonate with or take that means from the historial queer figures. Reasonably we should always perceive that they have been, simply as we’re, present within the constraints and language of their surrounding tradition. Eugene might be trans, or actually, the sport leaves sufficient room for him to be so perceived. However labeling him as such makes use of a language which he couldn’t have had entry to, even in Card Shark’s exaggerated historic fiction. I each wish to respect the truth he would have lived in, had he been actual, and respect the identities he might have held.
What makes Card Shark’s relationship with gender so sharp and insightful is that it understands its materials and historic context at each flip. Card Shark has a basic curiosity in exploring the margins of 18th century France. Notorious cross-dressing and womanizing opera singer Julie d’Aubigny and the sensible Afro-French composer and fencer Chevalier de Saint-Georges each have intensive cameos. The non-existent S.W. Erdnase, named after the pseudonym author of The Expert and The Card, defies a definite gender at each flip, in ways in which allow them to enter into varied realms and cultures. A Romani camp is featured because the Comte and Eugene’s base of operations and, in one of many sport’s extra fashionable twists, each can donate to their mutual help fund.
The first means the sport explores the marginalized is thru the protagonist. Eugene exists at a number of factors of marginalization. He’s disabled (he can not communicate), an impoverished orphan, and illiterate (he learns to learn and write over the course of the sport). Early on within the sport, Eugene takes on one thing of a servant’s function, studying to help Comte in varied schemes that revolve round dishonest at playing cards. Most of the methods contain him getting wine for the Comte or getting a peek at different gamers’ fingers as he wipes the desk. However as he and Comte advance in society, Eugene’s presence as a servant on the desk turns into much less believable. Enter: crossdressing.
The efficiency of gender permits Eugene and the Comte to get the soar on misogynistic wealth and to cross Eugene off as a member of excessive society. Eugene makes use of gendered markers, like a fan or a make-up field, to drag off playing methods. For instance, he makes use of a make-up field to view another person’s hand after which strikes the fan in a selected technique to sign playing cards to the Comte. As a result of Eugene is presenting as a girl, the boys on the desk imagine him incapable of wrongdoing or deviousness. He passes, when his efficiency of gender is nice sufficient, at the same time as he subverts their expectations. In an actual sense, Card Shark simulates the expertise of social gender, asking gamers to play at becoming into a task, with dire penalties ought to they fail. Dishonest is a social sport, as a lot as it’s a dexterous one.
This doesn’t imply Eugene’s efficiency of gender is insincere. Within the sport’s transient, however expressive, moments of alternative, Eugene can specific enthusiasm or weariness, readiness or forgetfulness to the act of crossdressing. Equally, Eugene is a reputation given by the Comte, one which Eugene can in the end settle for or reject. These are scant moments of expressivity, however they’re sufficient to go away tantalizing gaps in what might sound a mere male protagonist. The participant can embrace Eugene’s femininity or depart it as a instrument.
In the intervening time, although, Eugene can not reside merely “as a girl.” Nonetheless caught up, as he’s, within the drama of the plot. The sport focuses on this slim interval of his life. Although we see him as an elder after the French Revolution within the sport’s denouement, a lot of Eugene’s future life is left to creativeness. Eugene is the precise sort of determine who would have been forgotten by history–whose queerness is perhaps left within the reminiscence of scant events the place a forgotten girl briefly lived.
However that is the factor: Most of us may also be forgotten. Many trans persons are misrepresented upon their loss of life or died earlier than they may uncover themselves. Card Shark understands gender as fluid, culturally and socially dependent, but nonetheless chosen or embraced. It raises up and highlights a marginalized previous, nevertheless it additionally lets gamers take part in it and in small methods outline it for themselves. Due to its sharp and playful relationship with the previous, it opens the door for gamers to grasp themselves as a part of an unlimited expanse of queer historical past.
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