By Sally Calpo, Secretary, Mountain View Lodge #244
Until a year and a half ago, I had no idea who or what the Independent Order of Odd Fellows were. I would never have thought to ask an Odd Fellows lodge for aid when I needed an event venue for Oddizens, the Meetup group I organize for female, transgender, nonbinary and intersex geeks, gamers and crafters in the South Bay Area. That all changed when Jessica Dickinson Goodman contacted me as part of a concentrated effort to bring more community events to her home lodge, Mountain View #244. By some fortuitous circumstance—or perhaps because of the “Odd” in our name—she came across Oddizens Meetup while looking for organizations serving disadvantaged communities that lacked the resources to secure quality event space on their own.
I arranged to meet up with Jessica on a summer day in July 2018 so she could show me around the lodge. I was honestly stunned that such a prime location in downtown Mountain View was so underused. Though the lodge building obviously needed renovation, it had plenty of space for my purposes, and amenities I was used to paying hundreds of dollars to have access to for a few hours. It was truly a hidden gem, and I couldn’t help but feel both humbled and excited that Oddizens was one of the few groups extended the opportunity to make use of it. This was the first time I encountered an organization that not only considered Oddizens Meetup a valid and necessary cause to support, but also offered to support us without any prompting or expectations of payment.
Before I could start hosting events at the lodge, I needed to present my event proposal to the Mountain View Odd Fellows to vote on. Despite Jessica’s reassurance that I had allies on my side, years of experience advocating for a gender-inclusive demographic had me anxiously anticipating an unpleasant, uphill battle. Simply by daring to exist, Oddizens members defy gender norms that much of society considers sacrosanct. We insist on visibility and equity for ourselves and our peers instead of quietly conforming to maintain a status quo that excludes us. We steel ourselves to be ignored, rejected, ridiculed or endangered outside our close-knit community, not because we think badly of others by default, but because we are so accustomed to opposition that we expect it.
I was visibly nervous when I delivered my brief presentation on the evening of Thursday, September 6, 2018. My greatest concern was in relation to Oddizens’ core principle, which states that gender identity is self-determined, independent of sex characteristics, and needs not be static or binary. This is not a statement intended for debate, but an axiom that represents for us an undeniable truth. Inviting debate of this axiom meant considering the possibility that transgender people are impostors, nonbinary people are imaginary, and intersex people are abominations whose bodies conform to no real gender. I was keen to avoid entertaining such harmful assertions, even unintentionally, so I focused on describing the event I would be hosting at the lodge.
My plan was to run an Oddizens tabletop roleplaying game that, at the time, was hosted at a local game store a couple Sundays a month. I was paying $40 twice a month to use their private room, but I had to contend with other patrons who might beat me to the dates I wanted to request for the month, and the store was packed on the weekends with people who weren’t always respectful of our privacy. Furthermore, game stores are frequented by stereotypical masculine gamers whose ultra-competitiveness, condescension toward non-males, and disregard for personal boundaries breed an environment unwelcoming to newbies and unconducive to gender diversity. Moving our tabletop gaming to the lodge would put an end to those concerns, allowing us to play and socialize in a comfortable and accessible space free of judgment and uncertainty.
That same night, I learned that the Mountain View lodge members approved my event proposal for the dates I requested. Relieved that my initial worries were unfounded, I eagerly conveyed my thanks and passed the good news onto my Meetup members. We’ve used the lodge space for our Sunday roleplaying games ever since, as well as our annual holiday parties and donation drives for local charities. Many Oddizens deal with chronic illness, gender discrimination, and lack of family support, all of which make transportation and job searching difficult, so it helps us immensely that the Mountain View lodge is both conveniently located and considerate of financial hardship. We are truly and deeply grateful for the generosity of the Odd Fellows in taking a chance with a little-known group like ours, which might otherwise have struggled to thrive alone.
Inspired to give back to the lodge that helped me and my members, I applied for Odd Fellows membership through Mountain View #244 and was initiated on Monday, April 29, 2019. Since then, I’ve steadily participated in meetings, fulfilled my degree requirements, and started helping with events hosted by other lodge members. As of this writing, I’m about to be initiated into the 3rd degree so I can be installed as Secretary of Mountain View lodge for the 2020 term. It’s been something of a whirlwind doing so much so quickly—but I am not one to leave kindness unrepaid, and I’m excited to discover what the future holds for me as an Oddizen and Odd Fellow!