EGC gender policy

The U.S. Grand Lodge E.G.C. Manual (2004) includes the following in section III.B.2.i.(vii), as one of the rules pertaining specifically to public official celebrations of the Gnostic Mass:

The role of Priest shall be filled by a man, and the role of Priestess shall be filled by a woman. For purposes of this document, transgendered and partially transgendered individuals shall be considered to be of the gender with which they most closely identify.

This having been written in 2004, the language regarding transgender individuals is rather archaic. In 2019, as part of a policy document on the office of Deacon-Sacerdote, this policy was restated as:

Eligibility for status as a novice P/Ps, ordination to these offices, and service in these offices in a public celebration of the Gnostic Mass are all constrained as follows:

      1. Priest: Gender assigned as male at birth, or a transgender person identifying primarily as male.
      2. Priestess: Gender assigned as female at birth, or a transgender person identifying primarily as female.

This is the same policy as that in the E.G.C. Manual, but with improved terminology, and with the important clarification that "the role of Priest(ess)" includes all aspects of that office -- the novitiate and ordination, as well as service in the Mass itself.

I have received enough questions and comments on this policy that I am offering this commentary or gloss on it here on my episcopal site. Before beginning, I should note clearly that I have no authority to establish or change policy in this area. However, as a Bishop of E.G.C., I do have the responsibility to both elucidate and enforce the policy as written. This page is an effort toward fulfilling my responsibility to elucidate. But please keep in mind that this is a personal commentary, informed by my own understanding of current policy and its applications.

This material is intended primarily for the clergy whom I supervise, but is offered freely to anyone else who might find it helpful. I plan to keep this document up to date as new common concerns arise, or as policy changes occur.

I will proceed in the style of a FAQ, paraphrasing questions I have heard on this topic.

Why was the gender policy changed?

It wasn't. The policy stated in 2004 remains in effect as written. The 2019 policy statement uses different phrasing, more consistent with current usage regarding transgender people. It also clarifies the ambiguity regarding what the term "role" meant in the original version, making it clear that it includes both service in public Masses and the associated novitiate and ordination.

But hasn't the policy been "pick a team"?

That expression is a deceptive oversimplification of the actual policy concerning transgender people. A fuller version is:

  • Your default eligibility for the Priesthood matches your sex assigned at birth -- Priest for male, Priestess for female.
  • A transgender person may choose to instead be eligible for the other office if it better suits their gender identity. Note that you can't be eligible for both at once, and that such a change is expected to be a once-in-a-lifetime event in nearly all cases.
  • Transgender people are given wide latitude in choosing when to change their eligibility as part of their broader transition process. In other words, a person assigned male at birth who begins transitioning to female may continue to celebrate Masses as a Priest for a time, until they are ready to serve publicly as a Priestess.
  • The provisions for transgender people are intended to be used in good faith by people genuinely undergoing gender transition. A supervising Bishop who suspects insincerity in such a situation will report this to the Primate, who will determine how to respond.
  • Ordination to the Priesthood covers both offices. For example, an ordained Priest who becomes a Priestess is now an ordained Priestess. Those making this change may optionally be ceremonially ordained in the new role.

So I have to "pass" to serve? Is OTO policing gender presentation?

No and no. There is not a word about appearance, presentation, or evaluation of sufficient masculinity or femininity in the policy. We take people at their word unless there is good reason to suspect that they are operating outside the intention of the policy.

What if I'm nonbinary/genderqueer/ungendered/...?

As stated above, you may serve in the office associated with the sex you were assigned at birth. If you do not wish to do so, and your identity is not transgender, then the offices of Priest or Priestess (in public Masses) and their corresponding novitiate and ordination are closed to you. But the office and path of Deacon remain open, and recent changes to that office, most notably the establishment of the Deacon-Sacerdote, elevate the Diaconate to a dignity and authority equal to that of the Priesthood.

What if I don't fit any of those categories?

The Primate reserves the authority to take appropriate action, including determining path eligibility, in unusual or unanticipated cases.

If this has been the policy since 2004, why has <person X> been doing <thing Y> for years without a problem?

The story of O.T.O. in general for the last several decades has been one of tightening standards and more diligently enforcing regulations. Many rule violations have been tolerated out of sentiment, or misunderstanding of the rules by those charged with enforcing them, or even simply because there were bigger fires to fight elsewhere. As we mature, we become more disciplined.

We should not expect the 2019 restatement of the gender policy to lead to an immediate and draconian frenzy of enforcement. Instead, having all been reminded of what the rules have been for more than a decade, it is expected that we will all work to bring our practice into accord with those rules.

But I really want to experiment with gender variance in the Mass!

Then do private Masses, as defined in the E.G.C. Manual. The gender rules, and several other rules, apply only to public Masses. In fact, I very strongly encourage my supervised clergy to use private Masses to experience all roles in the Mass, with as many combinations of gender involved as possible. The more angles from which you have seen the Mass, the more you will know about it. And given that we're Gnostics, that has to be a good thing.