New parents paint the walls of their son’s nursery blue. Or they’ll dress their infant daughter in pink.
Unless you’re interested in sparking a discussion on gender norms, it doesn’t seem worth second-guessing that society identifies baby boys and baby girls by assigning a pastel colour to each sex.
But to me, it’s a no-brainer that blue is a boy’s colour and pink is a girl’s colour. That’s because my mind works different than most people’s.
I have a neurological condition known as synesthesia. More specifically, I have the ordinal-linguistic personification form of the condition.
Without an ounce of mental effort or requirement of thought, my brain assigns genders to colours, letters and numbers. It’s second nature to me. My brain has done this since as far back as I can remember.
The genders never change – C is always female, 7 is always male – and some letters and numbers have personalities (G, for example, is a burly, angsty female). Blue has always been male, and pink is always female.
It wasn’t until I was 20 that I realized the way my mind treated numbers, letters and colours was unusual.
I figured everyone else did the same thing – but after quizzing my friends, family and co-workers, nope, apparently not.
It’s actually quite comical how people respond when you rattle off the sexes of all 26 characters of the alphabet. Most people will sit silently, thinking, and then defensively say, “No, M should be a guy!”
No, to me they’re wrong. M is a gal.
And so are A, C, D, G, L, N, O, Q, V and Y.
B, E, F, H, I, J, K, P, R, S, T, U, W, X and Z are male.
As are 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, and the colours blue, green, brown, beige, black and grey. 3, 4, 8, 9 and 0 are female, along with red, yellow, orange, purple, pink, white … you get the idea.
What’s my justification for these gender assignments? I’m not sure, and I’ve tried to analyze it all.
Most people I chat with about my synesthesia disagree with me on green, orange and purple.
They think I should think green’s a girly colour, and orange and purple are manly.
I can’t reverse or switch the genders my brain doled out decades ago, so they’re really wasting their breath attempting to change my mind.
Ordinal-linguistic personification is a very mild form of synesthesia. The condition, as it’s defined, is a “union of senses.”
Some synesthetes taste words, while others see sounds.
“The male singer’s voice (is) gray and the female’s (is) white, both fading in and out of the darkness while the percussion makes the background ebb and flow. It’s like watching a birds-eye view of a black ocean during the nighttime with strobe lights flickering on and off coming from underwater.”
That’s how a sound-colour synesthete, who posted about his experience online, described listening to one indie British pop band’s songs. That seems pretty sensational.
It would be problematic to have a gustatory banquet stimulate your taste buds with every conversation you have or book you read. But I think tasting words would be a really neat form of synesthesia to have.
I’m not sure if the strength of one’s synesthesia is ever so powerful that it’s handicapping, but when I think back on my childhood and formative years, I realize my synesthesia did impact my day-to-day life.
I wore, almost exclusively, blues, blacks, greens and greys, and shied away from purchasing anything purple, pink, orange or red. I wasn’t consciously trying to dress one particular way, I just didn’t want to wear the colours that I thought everyone else, like me, perceived to be female.
Having been a synesthete since childhood, I can’t imagine living a life where I don’t harmlessly and naturally segregate colours, numbers and letters by gender.
I just wish everyone else could experience what we synesthetes experience – your senses don’t know what they’re missing.
Kyle Slavin is a reporter for the Saanich News.