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

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