A crisis of conscience

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners

I was disappointed by a recent decision made by the Grandmaster of Illinois regarding membership in Freemasonry when it comes to transgender individuals, much like I have expressed disappointment here over similar "decisions" made by various other Grandmasters of other jurisdictions.  However, this isn't a plea for Grandmaster Lynch to overturn his decision. While I disagree with the decision, I respect Grandmaster Lynch and his leadership. While I understand why he made the decision, I don't think he considered that his decision might directly have an unintended personal impact on some members.

I feel that for Freemasons, to have their sons become Freemasons at some point in their life, it must be an amazing feeling.  Unfortunately, because of this decision, I won't be able to have that experience with one of my sons.  One of my sons is transgender.   

I thought very hard about writing out a scathing response to the decision, and going point by point to argue why it wasn't really necessary. However, the more I thought about this, the more I disagreed with that approach  I just felt that it wasn't a good way to address the issue, that it would take legitimacy from any point I wanted to make.  In my mind, the only way to change the membership's minds on the subject was to try to educate them.  This is what I am attempting to do in this article. 

I realize that I'm probably going to still face backlash from those who don't want to learn about this subject.  If you're going to get angry by reading further, just stop reading, please. However, if I can get someone to at least maybe open their mind to an alternate viewpoint, the time and effort on the article has not been misspent.           

You see, unlike my other articles, where I try to passionately change your minds, that's not my motivation here.  Instead, I'm asking you to relate to me as a Father and a Brother. I'm asking you to extend your trowel and liberally apply the cement of brotherly love.  Some of you may have to apply it more liberally than others.  

To begin, I want to ask the reader to hold some concepts in their head when it comes to this subject.  The two main concepts are Gender Identity and Birth Sex.  Gender Identity is an internal identity of one's Gender, so for an individual, you know that you identify as male or female, or sometimes neither; while the sex at birth is assigned based upon the appearance of genitals you're born with. For the majority of individuals, their birth sex matches their gender identity.  In transgender parlance, this means that the individual is cisgender or cis for short.  For those who do not have a gender identity match their birth sex, this means that they are transgender.  Another concept is Gender expression, which is how a person presents their gender on the outside, which includes how they dress, behave, style their hair, voice, and body characteristics. 

When a person begins to live according to their gender identity, rather than the birth sex they were thought to be when they were born, this is called gender transition.  Possible steps in a gender transition may or may not include changing clothing, appearance, name, or the pronoun people use to refer to the individual. If they can, some people change their identification documents, like their driver’s license or passport, to better reflect their gender identity. Some undergo hormone therapy or other medical procedures to change their physical characteristics and make their bodies match the gender they know themselves to be. (https://transequality.org/issues/resources/understanding-transgender-people-the-basics)

When my son came out as Transgender in 2017 and asked for my help in getting hormone therapy, everything just made sense to me. From his proclivity to eschew female gender expression from a very young age to his struggles in adolescence into his teenage years, I felt a sense of relief and pride in the courage of my child to come to a point of understanding of himself and his identity.  While there were some bumps along the way during his transition, I can tell you that I rejoice that he is living his best life. He moved out on his own in 2021, and he's been going to University and working.  He's in a good relationship, and he prioritizes his mental health and well-being.  Words cannot describe the transformation he has undergone because he has been able to live his authentic life with love and support from his family. So in my own experience, I understood that I never had a daughter, but I have always had a son.  I love my children, and I want them to live a happy and fulfilling life.  
When this decision was communicated, I spoke with my son.  I told him in no uncertain terms that the decision meant that he would not be able to become a Freemason.  Now, being honest with myself, it's not like he had ever given me any indication that he wanted to become one.  However, the decision forced me to examine if I can still be an ally to my son, and continue to be a Freemason.  I told him, that if he felt that my being a Freemason made me any less of an ally to him, or would cause him to lose respect for me, I would hand in my demit immediately.  

You see, at the end of the day, Freemasonry was something I decided that I could live without; but I could not live without my son's respect for me.  Luckily, my son understands what an important role Freemasonry has played in my life, and he knows that as an ally for him, and for others, I will continue to try to force inclusivity to be not just something that Freemasonry discusses, but something that we practice.

I understand that societally we are divided on this issue. I also understand that the majority of our Illinois membership does not agree with my view on this subject.  Again, I'm not writing this to attempt to change the decision.  However, what is concerning is Freemasonry's inability to read the room when it comes to Freemasonry's perception among our younger generations. It never stops amazing me.  At one point in time, Freemasonry had societal relevancy, but this was a long time ago. I would say the high watermark of this goes back to the October 8, 1956 issue of Life Magazine, when the Grand Masters of each state were featured on the cover. Any societal relevance we might want to reclaim is dependent upon decisions that are made here and now.  

When decisions are made that further separate us from appealing to the younger generations, I fear that we only have ourselves to blame for our continued slide into obscurity, especially in the eyes of Gen-Z and those generations to follow.  This recent article highlights Gen-Z's views on this subject: (https://time.com/6275663/generation-z-gender-identity/).  A recent study done by Ernst and Young, shows that in 2021, 52% of the Gen-Z's polled stated that they were stressed by others being treated badly because of their gender/race/sex/etc. https://www.ey.com/en_us/insights/consulting/is-gen-z-the-spark-we-need-to-see-the-light-report/gen-z-finding-meaning   In this particular study, E&Y LLP surveyed a representative sample of 1509 members of Gen Z from across the United States.  I would not be surprised if a similar study done today showed this percentage to be higher than 52%. So, I ask you to ponder if the men of Gen-Z and future generations will be more or less likely to join Freemasonry in Illinois and elsewhere as these decisions are rolled out.  

Maybe Freemasonry's problems with membership are directly tied to our obsession with the past when we should be trying to look to the future.  I know that as time goes on, Freemasonry will have more members who will have transgender children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren.  When this decision hits closer to home for more and more voting members of the Grand Lodge and/or Grand Line officers, I believe that we will see a policy change in Freemasonry in Illinois, and in other United States Grand Lodges as a whole when it comes to this subject.  It's just a matter of when.  


Darin Lahners is a father and Freemason, in that order. 

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