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A colleague just asked me if a sermon I gave to our chapter two years ago is online. It wasn’t, until now. I sent the text to chapter members right after the retreat at which I gave the sermon, but it felt too tender at the time to put on this blog. Now I’ve added it to the sermons page.

What can’t be conveyed is the joy of singing “Rocky Ground” with a band of colleagues on that occasion. I gave another, very different sermon in my congregation two months later, using the same song, which several members of my congregation, and guest musicians Be’eri Moalem and Yuri Liberzon, performed beautifully.

Well, this was an ironic little nugget to find in my news feed this morning, of all mornings: Gender-Neutral Alternatives to “Boyfriend” and “Girlfriend”

The words Maddie McClouskey suggests are fine (though I’m not referring to anyone over ten as my Boo outside the walls of my own home, thank you). Gender-neutral language is great. But her aim, as she says ad nauseam, is to help people stay in the closet about being gay, trans or bi–not to avoid getting fired or arrested or beaten up, but just to keep from rocking the boat with relatives. Oh, she doesn’t say it in so many words. She says,

“some of your family may not feel comfortable referring to your boyfriend or girlfriend as your ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend.’”

“if you’re a queer person who doesn’t feel the need to go into details at the moment”

“gender-neutral dating words might be easier for everyone to stomach”

The possibility that gender-neutral terms are useful if one’s partner doesn’t identify as male or female gets a brief mention, then it’s back to McClouskey’s main concern.

Hi, I’m Amy, it’s Coming Out Day, and I cry an end to euphemisms for “hide who you are so others won’t have to deal with their discomfort.”

It may take some practice to get comfortable with the questions that do arise. So why not practice, instead of disguising your loved one in hopes that the questions won’t come up? By the way, they will, anyway. Say “My sweetie’s coming to visit,” and the person is likely to ask, “Oh, where does he live?” What are you going to do then, if your sweetie’s a woman? Play along? How would that work, exactly? Rather than get into a tired sitcom situation where you invent elaborate lies to keep from deflating a simple misunderstanding, why not be ready to say, “She, actually–and she lives in Chicago”?

If you’re a bi man, you mention your boyfriend, and someone asks you, “Wait, weren’t you straight before?” there are some good responses. “Nope, bi then, bi now,” if you want to give the facts and educate them a bit about the existence of bisexuality. “I thought I was, but then I fell in love with Mike,” if they’re a good friend and you’re willing to share some intimate history. “That’s a rather personal question,” if they’re an acquaintance and really have no business knowing any more about your personal life than what you volunteer. “Oh, I’m sure there are more interesting things for us to talk about than my sexual orientation. How about those Giants?” if you want a more polite way to say MYOB. See? The question isn’t so scary if you have a response ready.

If you’re a lesbian and that relative or devout person (by which the author means a particular brand of religion) responds to your referring to your girlfriend by saying, “I hope you’re not one of those gay-marriage people, because I just think that’s wrong,” and you “really don’t want to start a debate on same-sex marriage,” you can answer, “I really don’t want to start a debate on same-sex marriage. You wanted to know what I’m doing this weekend. As I said, I’m going to the coast with my girlfriend. How about you? Do you and Aunt Helen have some plans?”

This is what it means to be out of the closet. It’s uncomfortable for others sometimes. It’s uncomfortable for you, the LGBTQIA person, sometimes. But the solution is not to go quietly back inside. A closet by any other name still stinks.

Outside my office in Palo Alto, California, is a pleasant green area where squirrels chase each other up and down a tree, run along the walkways outside the office, search for food in the gutters of the walkway roofs, and scamper on the lawn. Some are gray, and some are black; I’m told they’re all one species that simply comes in a range of colors, the way humans do. I have reason to doubt this.

You see, I have seen black squirrels before, in two and only two other cities: Hanover, New Hampshire, and Princeton, New Jersey.

If the previous sentence does not cause ominous music to begin to play in your interior soundtrack, I hope the paragraph break will. Let me repeat.

I have seen black squirrels before, in two and only two other cities: Hanover, New Hampshire, and Princeton, New Jersey.

Paragraph break. Ominous pause. Music rises.

photo: Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK

photo: Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK

Do you see the pattern here? Hanover, home of Dartmouth College; Princeton, home of Princeton University; and now Palo Alto, home of Stanford University. Top-flight research institutions all, with biological research underway. Yes, I will say it, and you may scoff but I know the truth: someone in a white lab coat is messing with our squirrels. And once in a while, a black squirrel escapes from the lab that created it and mixes with the local population of boring old gray squirrels, or as a neighbor of mine in Connecticut used to call them, “rats with bushy tails.” They vandalized her lilies, so her resentment was understandable. And I do mean “vandalized,” not “ate”; they would bite off the buds and leave them there, a vicious reminder that they and they alone controlled the fate of her garden. I have not caught the black squirrels or the gray squirrels in an act of vandalism, although I came in one morning to find the pot where I planted new agave shoots turned on its side and emptied of plants. At least that thief did something with them.

But I digress. My point is, black squirrels do not show up in East Podunk, Illinois, or Nowhere Center, Mississippi (until ten people add comments telling me the places they’ve seen them). They appear, mysteriously, in the hometowns of Ivy League and only-outside-Ivy-League-because-they’re-too-new-and-Western universities. They are the squirrel equivalent of the rats of NIMH, the hyperintelligent counterparts to the not-so-bright grays.

I shared this theory with Dan, our minister of religious education, and he has added a terrifying wrinkle. According to one report, black squirrels have been known to attack dogs. You read that right. Fatally, if the rumor’s true, so don’t click if you’re a dog lover.

It’s been warm this week and I’d normally prop my door open and let in the summer breeze. But the squirrels keep pausing outside my office door, having a peek through the glass. Once, I caught two of them looking at me at the same time. What happens if the black squirrels’ intelligence marshals the power of the gray army? If they organize, I and the peanut butter in my desk don’t stand a chance.

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