Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
Words matter. Words can lift up. Words can put down. The words we use can convey empathy, kindness, support, comfort, praise. The words we use can also criticize, bully, ostracize, marginalize, demean. Following is an article written by a young Odd Fellow, Jessica Dickinson Goodman, the Noble Grand of Mountain View Lodge #244. She reminds us of the old Odd Fellows’ adage: Think. Before you speak.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
When I got married in 2011 at 22, I carried a bundle of wheat mixed into my bouquet, bound tightly and as large as my torso. I did this because the fasces is my favorite symbol of what we can achieve with collective action and what is marriage if not the basic unit of many of the world’s best collective actions?
The Latin term for this symbol is “fasces” (pron. fah-ches). That is the word I have always used for this symbol. That is the word that the labor movement uses for it. That is the term the US government uses for it when they describe that symbol as it appears on the dime. It is a metaphor which is central to many western political traditions from the Roman Senate to the United States. In the Odd Fellows, all of us should be familiar with it, but as a reminder, the fasces represents that a single stick alone can be snapped, but many sticks bound together cannot be broken.
We are all used to using Latin in a variety of places in our everyday lives, from habeas corpus petitions to the US Supreme Court to using “e.g.” in an email. So, when as Noble Grand of Mountain View Odd Fellows Lodge #244 I describe the symbols used in the embroideries and posters around our lodge to our new members, I use that Latin word, “fasces.” I show new members a dime and a photo of the Lincoln Memorial in our nation’s capital, explain the metaphor, and help them connect it to their own experience.
My experience as a queer woman is that when the archaic English translation of the word fasces — “faggot” — is used in my presence, nine times out of ten it is a preamble to either attempted or referenced violence. Before I was captain of the wrestling team in high school, boys would call each other “fag” before knocking each other to the ground. After I became Captain, I used my authority to ban that word from the room. That word — for me and for millions of other queer people, our families and allies, including queer and ally Odd Fellows — is intrinsically associated with gay bashing, with “smear the queer,” with “tag the fag”; forms of violence we either experienced, feared, or watched people we love die from. I have friends who carry scars on their faces from attacks that began with the word “faggot.”
“Faggot” is not a casual word to me or my family. It is a word that implies violence, much as any other sexist, racist, anti-Semitic or Islamophobic epithet does.
That is why I was shocked and concerned to hear the word “faggot” used casually during the 2019 Cave Degree. The 2019 Cave Degree was my second year performing as part of the cast and my third attending; it is a beautiful event, one which I drove for five hours alone to, from midnight to 5am, to ensure I could attend the entire day. But during the event, dozens of members of a dozen lodges from across California, plus their initiates, were forced to listen to this word used not once, but twice. It chilled and stole joy from the experience for me and for other queer allies attending.
I know I am new to the Odd Fellows, having joined in early 2017. But I have seen and participated in each of the degrees to reach the role of Noble Grand. I have helped run both the Initiatory and the First Degree for my own members. I know our stories and our words. I have asked members with decades of experience conducting these degrees in California and elsewhere. I have consulted with the Grand Master of California. None of our degrees require the word “faggot.”
Regarding our lodge members as our family, everyone who is my family knows the word “faggot” is intended to imply violence. We are all part of our own different kinds of families when we join our lodges. We all learn and grow with each other.
We can take the example given to us in the Second Degree of how we can bridge boundaries between us. It starts with listening. With understanding. With changing some of our comfortable behaviors. And with creating a space for people to grow and thrive in fellowship together.
The short take-away from this article is that if your lodge is in the habit of using the archaic English translation of the proper Latin to describe the bundle of sticks that is one of the central images of our Odd Fellowship, I encourage you to go back to tradition. Use the Latin and forgo a word which for many of your members, whether they have felt comfortable telling you or not, implies the kind of violence, ostracization, and humiliation which no Odd Fellow should feel within the safety of a lodge.
Thank you for your time and you can reach me with any questions, concerns, or commentary at firstname.lastname@example.org or 650-804-9044. I also invite you to visit our lodge meetings if you are ever in Mountain View, at 8pm on first and third Thursdays at 823 Villa St, Mountain View, CA 94041.