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I'd like to know how my image texture (which possesses an alpha channel) can use said alpha channel to validly affect the transparency node (which primarily works in black and white values).

A more "boiled to the basics" version of this question would probably be the following:

Using the node editor, how can I take the alpha channel of an image and convert that to black-and-white?

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Add an "RGB to BW" node and plug the alpha channel of your image into it. You can then feed that value into whatever other node you desire.

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