After nervously laughing when asked his pronouns by a non-binary judge, 17-year-old player Makani Tran was disqualified in a regional Pokémon TCG tournament.
Despite Tran beating five prior opponents in the Pokémon TCG Charlotte Regional Championships, he would only play and win one match out of three against his opponent, Alex Schemanske. Both players and a judge seem to be distracted by something off camera at the end of the match. Tran stops shuffling his deck for a brief time, nervously glancing around before he smiles and the mood seems to settle.
After the match, the commentators note they “have to take a short break,” despite it being mid-set. When they returned five minutes later, commentator Shelbie Bou explained, “Unfortunately we were not able to continue streaming that last match that we just casted with you all, of course we got through one of those rounds.”
Tran would go on to disclose that he had been disqualified by a head judge and escorted out of the venue, and provided more details. He opens explaining going up against Schemanske, “a very well known player as well as a very skilled player,” made him nervous, along with being on stream and in front of such a large crowd for only the third time.
On their way to the streaming stage, the competitors were asked by a judge for their preferred pronouns. Though he eventually remembered, Tran had forgotten the word for the third pronoun. “I said ‘Um he or him or uh’ and I paused trying to think of the third pronoun (the third pronoun being his).”
“Due to the nerves and me being embarrassed I let out a little laugh just a normal nervous laugh. My response together ended up being ‘Um he or him or uhhhh haha his’. That’s it. That’s all I said.”
The pair then continued to walk to the stream area, and the judge once more for the preferred pronouns. “Alex says ‘He and him’ and I then say ‘Uh yeah he and him haha’. The little laugh at the end was because I was trying not to be awkward and because I was just stating the exact thing Alex had just stated and it was kind of silly to me in that scenario.”
Tran was also reminded that during a tournament in Baltimore earlier that season (where he had made the top 8), no one had asked him his pronouns, and commentators had called him they/them. His friends had teased him about it, but Tran emphasized he had no issues with how people “choose to identify and express themselves.”
Returning to the tournament, after Tran gave his answer a second time “the judge looked at me and said ‘okay just wanted to check to be safe. I go by they/them so don’t be a jerk about it.’ They smiled after this and gave no signs whatsoever of being upset or uncomfortable.”
Tran had assumed the “don’t be a jerk about it” comment meant in general, or for future situations. “I had no clue that I had upset them and I had no intention to do so whatsoever,” Tran explained. “I thought nothing of this because to me it was just a normal conversation that people have before going on stream.” Compared to how a tournament in San Diego, Tran felt nothing was amiss.
As Tran and Schemanske prepared for their second match, Tran saw “a few judges walking over to the stage and they get on stage and one starts talking to alex”- to the confusion of them both.
Tran claims the judges only spoke to only Schemanske, and insisted Tran kept his headphones on, leaving him unable to hear the conversation. “Then one of the judges puts a headset on and asks me. ‘Makani, what was said to the judge when they asked for your pronouns?'”
“This is where I began to get a bit worried and wondered if I had done something wrong,” Tran explained. “I answered the question and said ‘I said he/him’. The judge then asks me if there was anything else I said and they wanted to know what my tone was during the conversation. They said this very important that I answered this truthfully.”
He confessed that his laugh from being nervous might have been taken the wrong way. The judge then told Tran to leave the stage and talk elsewhere. To his confusion, Tran notices other players were taking their spot on the stage.
“I walk behind the curtains by the stage and the head judge (can’t remember his name I think it was Bobby) asks me what exactly was said.” Tran explained himself again, explaining his nerves, what had happened at Baltimore, that he had no issues with pronouns, and that he wouldn’t have an incentive to jeopardize the invite he had earned- all while being “very polite and calm.”
Despite this, and the head judge’s initial reaction, Tran explains “The head judge seemed to understand so I was a bit relieved but then he pulls out the rule book on his phone and says that due to me violating their inclusive policy and due to me making someone feel unsafe and uncomfortable, I was disqualified from the event.”
It would seem the one who felt unsafe and uncomfortable was the judge with they/them pronouns. Tran attempted to appeal, but emphasizing he meant no offense was met with indifference. “The head judge tells me that he was sorry and that it sucked but I was disqualified due to pokemons policy.”
This would be the policy of Play! Pokémon, a subsidiary branch of The Pokémon Company that handles official tournaments.
Tran explains that he’s on the verge of tears, and his multiple requests to appeal and speak to the offended judge were all rejected. The head judge said he had already been disqualified, despite what he had just been told. “Yes, I know this sucks for everyone involved and I’m sorry we have to do this.”
Now openly crying, Tran told the head judge he hadn’t listened to him at all, that he had spent $800 in flights and even missed school to attend the tournament. The head judge “didn’t care at all,” despite admitting “he believed that I had no bad intentions, it didn’t matter because at the end of the day, someone was offended and upset.”
Tran was then told he wasn’t allowed back into the venue, and became inconsolable. He had no service on his phone, nor the key to his hotel room. After explaining he had to walk, the head judge somewhat relented, merely offering to call over one of his friends to help. “Like did he think this made it all better?” Tran states.
Despite crying his eyes out, the judge asked Tran to sign the match slip. “I felt that he wasn’t even acknowledging me and that he was just happy the problem was dealt with,” Tran theorized.
Even as Tran was asking the head judge to “give me a sec” and still bawling, “a minute later he asks me ‘are you refusing to sign the match slip’ making the situation even worse than it was somehow. I sign the match slip and keep crying.” The head judge then left, leaving Tran “for another good 10 minutes crying waiting for one of my friends to come and meet me.”
Tran then reveals in his statement that in prior years he had been “extremely suicidal and depressed and after years of medication and therapy and working through it all I was finally starting to be better.” The event had caused a relapse into suicidal thoughts.
“This is a very personal topic for me but I’m going to go over it anyways because I need people to understand what I was going through,” the 17-year-old prefaced. “In the past years I had been extremely suicidal and depressed and after years of medication and therapy and working through it all I was finally starting to be better.”
He went on, “I was stable and going to school and doing things on my own. Life was good. I hadn’t had suicidal thoughts in a while until this event. As I was sitting down crying my in disbelief I get up and say ‘I’m going to kill myself’ and start walking away from the stage.”
“A staff member who had been watching me (regans dad) followed me outside the venue and had to escort me until I was upstairs and sat down. I just sat there in shock and tears and he said he had to cut my wristband off,” Tran recalled.
“I was out of energy at this point and I raised my arm so he could cut my wristband.” Tran admitted to crying for another 20 minutes — seemingly unattended — until his friend finished his matches. He was briefly consoled by him, before he went back inside the venue for the rest of his tournament. Tran reportedly continued to cry for another 30 to 45 minutes.
“When I say I was close to running outside into the middle of the road I’m not joking,” Tran emphasized. “I do not mess about with this topic it is not something I take lightly WHATSOEVER. What i’m trying to say is that the way I was treated made me feel so upset and treated so unfairly that I was nearly running into the middle of the road and getting ran over.”
“I wanted it all to be over I was just done with everything there was no point of anything for me. My dream of winning a regional with my own deck with my deck I had put so much time and work into, was just taken from me.”
He added, “I missed school I lost hundreds of dollars traveled across the country for what? Nothing, it was all for nothing. Im being completely honest with everyone when I say have never been this upset in my entire life. I never want to feel like this again. I think the judges overall handled the situation terribly and I was treated like garbage.”
Pokémon TCG Regional Champion Jake Gearhart asked, “Was Alex [Schemanske] ever questioned by the head judge? From your account, it seems like you went directly from the stage to the head judge, which means they wouldn’t’ve been able to talk to Alex before issuing a DQ. This seems absurd to me given Alex was a witness to everything.”
“No i wanted to ask alex but i couldn’t,” Tran explained. This would lend further credence that the offended player was the they/them judge, not Tran’s opponent in the match.
Schemanske offered his thoughts on the disqualification. “This is probably a dangerous tweet for me. Should Makani have been DQ’d? I don’t think so. But remember y’all, this isn’t an excuse to attack inclusivity/people’s identity. Also remember that judges are, by the rules, completely unable to share their side of things.”
@LeBronichu asked Schemanske, “When you heard him answer the pronouns questions (twice), did it come off as offensive to you when he forgot his THIRD pronoun & when he nervously laughed after answering? I can only imagine his answers must’ve been egregious in their tone or dismissal to warrant such a reaction.”
Schemanske could only answer, “Honestly? I can see how someone would have been offended from his tone and speech patterns during the whole sequence of events, but I know Makani well enough that I don’t think he meant any harm or had any malicious intent. We were walking for the 1st question, so I barely heard.”
At this time of writing, Schemanske’s tweets are protected.
Play! Pokémon’s questionable judges and policies, co-organizers Overload Events, and the treatment of an emotionally distressed person under the age of 18 have all been met with condemnation.
This has also resulted in support for Tran. A GoFundMe was set up by fellow TCG player Taylor Hall, to help Tran recuperate his travel expenses. As of writing, the campaign that aimed to raise $1,500, has raised over $5,000. Some donations, as noticed by Tran, were up to $500.
Tran was already ecstatic when the GoFundMe reached over $1,600, and despite everything that had happened had retweeted messages condemning any attacks on trans people in light of the incident. After thanking supporters for the donations up to that point, he asked similar of those who did supported him.
“One more thing, do not use what happened at charlotte as an excuse to bully and harass the trans community. That s—t is not okay and I do not condone this behavior at all,” Tran defied. “That’s all I had to say and again thank you for all the support i’m so happy right now.”
Despite everything, Tran is still playing the Pokémon TCG, revealing to his supporters that he would be entering the Fort Wayne Regional Championships. “Going to fort wayne thanks to all of you thank you so much for making this possible means the world to me.”
At this time of writing, it appears neither The Pokémon Company, nor Play! Pokémon have made a statement regarding the incident during the Fort Wayne Regional Championships — only discussing a summary of major matches, the finals, and the ongoing Meta. Their social media accounts have also been quiet on the matter.