Thursday, August 2, 2018

Genderbending Freemasonry

These are strange times, indeed. The United Grand Lodge of England has taken what for Male Craft Freemasonry is a dramatic move. Without wishing to be cynical about it, I suspect they realized that failure to address the issue as they did most likely would result in a devasting legal decision against them. Certainly, the wording of their directive was written by a team of lawyers.

The UGLE, announced that Freemasons in good standing who choose to undergo gender reassignment must still be received as Masons with full rights to attend lodge and should further be treated with kindness and respect. From the perspective of simple humanitarian behavior, this might not seem an unreasonable expectation. It however must have been a decision that caused endless debate and not a few sleepless nights, at least for the Grand Master. For most people under 50, the variety of gender identities people claim today seem no big issue. Such is not the case for many older people, and the conservative character that all too often dominates the Masonic community, especially in North America, where it often is reactionary, has not made adjusting to modernity pleasant or smooth sailing for the fraternity. Male Craft Masonry might uncharitably be called "the Brotherhood of the Ostrich" for so often burying its head in the sand.

While I have no sympathy for the more backward leaning attitudes of the Craft, I do understand that the discomfort and confusion is real. I may not personally be completely at ease with the myriad new gender identities, and especially surgical sexual changes, but then, the idea of cosmetic surgery disturbs me nearly as much. In anycase, if it's not my choice, who am I to judge? The point is that Male Craft Freemasons have regularly worked themselves up into frenzies over the idea that biologicaliy females might be made Freemasons, much less more modern gendered people. So, I find it to be the height of irony that in the paragon of Male Freemasonry, the UGLE, the gender barrier is now broken, not by accepting naturally born biological women, but by a much more controversial issue, at least for most Masons, gender reassigned individuals.

I suspect and this is speculative, that there are several reasons for this. The first, already hinted at is that it was initiated in response to a real and no doubt specific legal threat. Another probability is that it was easier to detach this decision from the traditional male-only stance of UGLE Freemasonry. There are no rules in the constitutions of Freemasonry that specifically address sex changes. However much chagrin this may cause, oddly enough, it is likely not as hard a pill for most Male Craft Freemasons to swallow as acceptig biologically born women. Further, the numbers are likely to be far fewer.

Of course, as a brief browse through online forums has confirmed, there is a predictable measure of distressed reaction among Masons. In one or two places, I actually noted some supportive commentary, but the opposite was more common. What surprised me most is that the entire matter was much more low key than I expected. That may change momentarily of course. However, it felt to me like people were waiting to exhale.

It's a seismic change. We will know in time how cataclismic a change it will be. It presents problems for leadership. Will they force, even if gradually, the membership in various states down the same route? Will they dig in their heels? Will some take the fateful move of denouncing the UGLE and rescinding recognition? That latter is not likely, but still possible. More likely, the ostrich will win the day as people try to pretend nothing happened.

Of course, the writing is on the wall. It is necessary for the Craft to move into the 21st century. Regardless of how many of the old guard fall on their own swords, women will inevitably follow.

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