Straight Queer

This article was originally posted in 2008. I'm bringing it forward because, though the ideas and language come from a younger me, the meat of the post is still valid.

What do you think of when you hear the word "Queer?" What comes to mind when a person identifies with the word, stating "I’m a queer"?

Well, when I was in High School, a Queer was someone who was Gay, no questions asked. There were no female "queers", only men whose sexual orientation was thrown into question. Even today the word "Queer" is heavily associated with homosexuality for a lot of people, but what all this sadly overlooks is the fact that, in truth, the word has its own history, and this history alludes to a definition that is so much wider and more inclusive than that of the vulgar slang it has been devolved to in the minds of many people today.

So what exactly is queer? Consider the older, more traditional definition of the word– "deviating from the expected or normal; strange" says the American Heritage Dictionary. If you were Scottish in 1508 when the word was first catalogued and defined, it was synonymous with "strange" and it wasn’t until the late 1930’s, over four centuries later, that the term became associated with homosexuality.

So what does it really mean to be "Queer?" It means you’re different. You’re not "normal" in regards to the mold society has cast for you, you don’t fit into the traditional carousing bread-winner beer-swilling football-obsessed male role as a man or the simpering make-up covered housewifey role as a woman. You’re that man who’s more skilled with children than with a hammer, or that woman who holds a full time job at a construction site and knocks down whiskey in the bar after work. Still sound too distant from who you are? Still can’t identify with the term "queer"? Well, maybe you are that perfect "Man’s man" or one of those docile doe-eyed women that would rather clean the house and cook dinner to make your hubby happy than go out and get an education, but I doubt it. Few people are nowadays, and more and more people (I’m thankful to announce) perfectly fit the definition of Queer. I know I do, and I have no interest in other men whatsoever!

So in order to provide an example of what a Queer is, it’s only fitting that I present myself and what makes me different. Take a moment to consider all the things that are "Manly" in mainstream society, what is considered to be a "masculine" trait, and then read on to see how I measure up.

Well, for one, I think education is the most important thing we as a nation and as a species should spend our money on. Not bombs, not tanks, not bullets or oil pipelines that destroy thousands of acres of virgin wilderness in the name of "human progress", but real, honest to goodness, proliferation of knowledge. What else could label me as queer? Well, how about the fact that I’m not afraid to hug complete strangers, even if they are men? Or the fact that I get all worked up about domestic abuse and think breast cancer awareness and rape crisis centers are causes everyone should get behind and donate to? How about the fact that I, as a man, get totally passionate about women’s rights and issues like abortion (I’m pro-choice, by the way) or the fact that, of all the Physical Ed classes I could have taken in college, I chose to take Modern Dance?

Unlike the budweiser-swilling cowboys of the mountain town I grew up in, I don’t drink at all, or hardly so, and on the rare occasion when I do, I like sweeter things like berry cordials or cosmopolitans, drinks traditionally associated with women. I can’t stand beer– I think it’s disgusting, and after a hard day at work, alcohol is always the furthest thing from my mind. I like it when women make the first move– there’s nothing quite so satisfying as a woman who actually chases back instead of always playing "catch me if you can!" and then laying down to play the totally compliant lover when you "win" her. Actively pursuing a man says something important about a woman– it says she’s genuinely interested, that she’s secure in who she is and what she wants and that she’s willing to take risks because she thinks you’re worth it, and that’s, for lack of a better word, sexy.

What else? Well, have any skulls or knives or naked buxom women tattooed on your body? Yeah, me neither, but it’s manly, isn’t it? Manly like the marines. If I went into any branch of the military, it would be the air force, regardless of how pansy the jarheads seem to think those brave men and women are.

But in reality, what do I do for a living? Well, I think the job that takes up most of my time is babysitting, and I actually enjoy it, because it means I get to make a positive difference in my little sister’s life. Sure, I sell swords too, which is kind of "manly" but I think that’s probably offset by the fact that my greatest dream is to be a bestselling author as well as an English teacher that can help change the system from within and help kids appreciate English again.

What else makes me queer? Well, how about the fact that I’ve never had any interest in sports? There’s a running joke among my friends back home in the mountains about the fact that I know so little about Basketball that at one point in my life, I actually thought Soda Popinski, Donnie "The Toast" Yost, and a host of other equally unlikely characters/people, were the names of prominent Basketball players. So I couldn’t tell you what events they do for the Olympics or tell you who’s on such-and-such a team, or even what sport they play without googling it– I just don’t care. I’ve always felt like I have more important things to do than sit around and watch grown men chase a ball (that’s just personal opinion– no offense to the sports fans out there!)

What else? How about the fact that I face and accept my emotions. That’s not very "manly". Or how about the fact that I enjoy romantic comedies, or actually give a damn about my spiritual life? How about the fact that I read, or have exceptional language skills, or have long hair, or think floral print, button-up shirts rock, or think rainbows are awesome? I don’t give a diddly squat about the specs of cars or motorcycles, my favorite author is Storm Constantine (you’d understand how that’s "unmanly" if you’ve read her) my favorite characters in movies are "Rosie the Riveter" types, and I think chicks with short haircuts are absolutely and unequivocably the paramount of hotness.

Perhaps also not so "manly" is the fact that I don’t get embarrassed when I’m holding a purse or a box of tampons for someone, and when I go to the mall, I’m immune to that invisible barrier that keeps all the men out of the girly accessories stores that women pass through without shame or incident. That’s right, while the line of uneasy men stirs outside waiting uncomfortably for their "womenfolk" to come rescue them, I’m in there with my little sister, pointing things out and having a blast watching her try on the pinkest, most sparkly and frilliest things in there.

Sure, I lift weights, I do a lot of my own maintenance on my car, I make grunting jokes about fire and "guy movies" around the barbecue with "The guys" on gaming weekends, and I stand up for what I believe in. I get out there and beat on the walls and show the world in a very progressive (and unfortunately associated with "manly") way that the system is broken and oppressive and needs to change so the people who are victimized by it and can’t fight back don’t have to suffer quite so much. The first words out of my mouth are "need me to kick his ass?" when a woman tells me she’s been abused, and I actually have the "balls" to drive a bumpersticker-plastered cop-magnet art car and smile at the looks I get, knowing I’ve just added a random element to someone’s life that might shake up their stagnant reality a little. I think Terminator 2 is a masterpiece, and I all but drool over the sleek designs of fighter jets like the ME-262 Schwalbe or the F-14 Tomcat. I think shooting cans at the gun range is fabulous, and I’m a hell of a shot too. I think impact wrenches are absolutely "the shit" (power tools-wise) and I love my car, even though I couldn’t have told you (until someone pointed it out to me about six months ago) how many cylinders it had. I open doors for people, and I bend over backwards to pay for the meal when I go somewhere with a woman I’m interested in. I listen to metal, I air-guitar to sweet electric riffs, and I make my own way in the world like the maverick Wynn I am.

So yeah, I’m queer. I’m straight as up and down, but I’m not mainstream, I’m not "normal". I’m a person, and I set my own rules for myself, live by my own code, and do what I want and what I feel is right regardless of what other people think. I live outside the box and transcend the stereotype of male, and I know lots of other people who do too.

So now that you’ve read this, I challenge you to look at yourself, look at the role our society has cast for you as male or female, and see how you measure up. Are you "normal?" or are you queer?

Spread knowledge, spread awareness, and spread acceptance. Have the ovaries to get up there and tell the world how it is and help instigate change for the better. If you’re queer like me, tell the world, and tell them how wonderful it is to be different, because if you don’t do it, then who will? Wouldn’t the world be a boring place if everyone was exactly the same?

Transgender Freemasonry

This article was originally posted in the FEB / MAR 2016 newsletter for the lodge of which I am a member. In it, I speak my truth, and I think it is still valid today.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. . .

As Americans, we all know these words. We all know that they come from the Declaration of Independence. We have all heard them used as a sound-bite, as a rallying cry and reminder regularly offered up from society’s oppressed to their oppressors. Heroes of our great nation have delivered these words in their speeches with such passion and drive that the words themselves can, at times, seem almost sacred, like scripture brought forth from the book that we write with our actions during the course of each passing day.

But when we hear these words, when we hear the word “men”, should we interpret the language to mean that only white males of a certain age and with certain social characteristics are created equally? Some do, and throughout history, many have, but in today's more socially progressive world, we have come to understand and accept that these words refer to something else. They refer to the whole of mankind. Men, white and black, gay and straight, male and female. Men. All men are created equal.

Masonry has similar language, and the more rigid interpretations of the word "man" in our own ritual and Masonic Code have caused all manner of consternation and incivility amongst brothers in lodges all over the US, indeed across the entire world. At one point, and even still in some places, the language of our ritual has been used to preclude some men from being accepted as brothers based solely on factors that have nothing to do with the quality of their character or their worthiness as men, factors such as skin color and sexual preference. In our own lodge, we are fortunate that the word "man" has come to include a wide variety of uniquely interesting brothers involved with wide and varied interests, heritages and belief systems. We do not turn away men of color, nor do we turn away men who proudly march under a many-colored flag. We celebrate our differences as brothers, and share fellowship with good men who move in social circles we otherwise might never have any insight into.

Given the wider definition of the word “man” as it is taken in lodges like Oak Plains #789, I would venture to ask, what traits then specifically “make a man” according to Freemasonry? Are they overt, physical traits, like the configuration of a brother’s generative organs? And if so, why should that be our standard? Would any lodge deny the hand of brotherhood to a man who has been gravely wounded in combat in ways that remove his ability to procreate? No. Do we preclude brothers who were born female and who later, through hormone therapy (and sometimes varying degrees of surgery) become men? Not generally. We do not turn away old men or men who, due to birth or accident, must have certain physical accommodations made for them. One might say that Freemasonry has a very American definition of the word “man,” but as always, it could be argued that our definition falls short in at least one very specific area.

Dig around a little, and you’ll find stories of brothers who were abandoned by their lodges, by their friends and by the fraternity itself when they chose to cross a very specific line. These brothers did not share the least letter of our secrets with the world, nor did they commit any recognized crime, yet all (or nearly all) were forced to demit from their lodges when something external, something not rooted in or indicative of the quality of their character, was changed. These brothers , these men, were American Freemasons who were brave enough to stand up and change their lives in a way that better fit the way they saw themselves as individuals. These men, all of them, decided, and each for their own personal reasons, to merely change the way they present themselves to the world. To put it simply, these men became women.

A rigid and conservative interpretation of the word “man” as it appears in the CMC and in our rituals as Freemasons (an interpretation inconsistent with interpretations of the same word as it is used in the American Declaration of Independence) has closed the doors of our craft to any and all who gender identify as anything other than male. Those who were regularly initiated as males and only later chose to identify as female are almost universally tossed out in the cold by the very men who once called them “brother.” Some of the first-hand accounts I have read of transitioning and transitioned brothers within our fraternity are terrifying. The violence, disgust and disdain often visited upon these men in addition to their being forced to demit from their lodges is shameful, and the only fitting response, I believe, should be to raise a flag or a hand and call attention to such issues within the fraternity so that we might address them levelly and with civility. Certainly California, (unlike Georgia, which actually has a Grand Lodge stance against allowing transgender individuals to join our fraternity,) is open enough, indeed progressive enough, to lead the way in re-interpreting the ritual and the CMC so as to promote fellowship among the membership instead of fostering more dissention and cruelty between brothers when our world is already full to the brim with the same.

Consider, my brothers: under what grounds should we force a brother to demit? Under no grounds, I would argue. A man who has been properly investigated and regularly initiated into one of our lodges is a brother, as completely as any flesh and blood relative, and should be treated as such, always. Denying him (or her) fellowship will not "cure" their skin color, their sexual preference or rid them of a non-standard (or rather, non-male) gender identity. The world can be cruel enough to transgender individuals, and the process of undergoing the journey of transition can be challenging and lonely. What such individuals need most is support, fellowship and civility. We men, all men, in the human sense, in the sense that we’ve come to interpret those sacred lines of our own Declaration of Independence, both need and desire fellowship, especially when we are undergoing any form of major life change, whether it be divorce, the loss of a parent or child, or the transition from one gender to another. I ask, as Freemasons, as upright and ethical men, why would we ever deny the hand of kindness to our fellow man? Why would we ever deny it to those we do, or have in the past, called brother?

"Freemasonry embraces the highest moral laws and will bear the test of any system of ethics or philosophy ever promulgated for the uplift of man."
-- Brother Douglas MacArthur

- - -

Blog Archive