Taking Blue for Granted

The Green Mosque. Bursa, Turkey

The Green Mosque – Bursa, Turkey

There are hues of blue that speak to me. Cobalt blue glass. Iznik tiles. Lapis lazuli and ultramarine. I have a small collection of blue trinkets from around the world.

Before I started nursery school I knew I preferred blue. It is as if part of my brain stopped developing at four years old, stuck in the binary at blue. I wanted navy blue sneakers, blue and white striped shirts, blue overalls, and a blue tricycle. I told everyone my favorite color was blue. I refused to wear pink.

Blue doesn’t have a gender. We assign gender to concepts and objects almost as much as we assign gender to people. I assign a gender to everything; some things get thrown on the girl’s pile. Discarded. It is a hard habit to stop. I wear a lot of blue. I still have a hard time with pink.

I imagine myself coming out of the womb clad in denim diapers, but I didn’t get my first pair of blue jeans until I was twelve. They were a compromise; bell bottoms from the Junior’s department. My next pair was Levi’s 505’s. The exact same style of jeans that my brother wore.

I wear blue jeans almost every day. I also have black jeans, corduroy jeans, and khaki jeans. All from the men’s aisle. I assign jeans a gender, male, and I want to be gendered male by association.

Neither of my parents wore jeans. My mother rarely wore slacks, and my father wore “golf pants” and “polo shirts” although he did not play any sports at all. My parents were hopelessly square; mortified by what the kids were wearing. They made concessions reluctantly. We were allowed to wear jeans as long as they were ironed.

My mother's nightmare.

My mother’s nightmare. Marlon Brando in The Wild One.

Jeans were invented by Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis. The early prototypes were made for miners during the California Gold Rush. The miners needed rugged clothing. Originally, Strauss cut the pants from canvas (which chaffed), and then from denim (which softened up). The rivets were added by Davis, in 1873, making the pants much more durable. Jeans didn’t go casual for men until the 1930’s, and they didn’t get popular until the 1950’s. Thank The WIld One and Rebel WIthout a Cause. Marlon Brando and James Dean.

We gender people continuously, unconsciously. Every time I see a new person I gender them. My brain races forward, sorting by haircut, facial hair, glasses, make-up, jewelry, clothes. I tried to stop doing it, for just one day. To see a person instead of a gender. To stop looking for blue.

Blue rarely occurs in nature. It is difficult to create blue dye from raw materials. In ancient times there was not even a word for blue. Poets did not describe the sea or the sky as blue. When a language acquires words for color, black is first, then white, red, green, and yellow. Blue comes in late in the game. Its attachment to gender is arbitrary.

Today I am wearing a navy blue T-shirt over a pair of faded blue jeans. I take blue for granted, but I’m trying to look at it differently.

Notes: This twenty minute podcast from Radio Lab explains the history of blue, including why the word blue doesn’t appear in the original texts of the Bible, The Iliad, or The Odyssey. A shorter written explanation on the same topic from The Guardian can be found here.

 

24 thoughts on “Taking Blue for Granted

  1. Lesboi

    Blue is the bomb. I’m drawn to all shades of blue and green and any combo of the two. Funny thing, my brother loved red and I wanted to be different so my first bikes were blue too.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      My early bikes were all hand-me downs from my brother, so they were all “suitable” until my parents decided I should have a “girls” bike. Instead I ended up with a blue banana seat bike with the U shaped handlebars. It was very cool. Next bike was another hand-me down, an “English Racer” that I used until I got out of grad school. Riding a bike in NYC is no fun (although there are more lanes now than there used to be).

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I agree, but even though I am trying to wiggle my way out of the binary, I am sucked back into it all the time (mostly by my own overactive brain). The day I tried to look at people and stop gendering them was really weird (it is just a short haircut, it is just make-up, it is just a necklace…) but in reality it is what I want people to do for me instead of short circuiting on girl?boy?girl?boy????

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  2. Mrs Fever

    I am a fan of blue. Next to red, it is my favorite color. And unlike red – which I only like as its “true” version of itself – I am drawn to blue of every hue. As evidenced by my clothing, my artwork, my collectibles, and even my furniture. 🙂

    I just got new chairs – finally, after a ten week (!) wait for delivery – and my new memory foam recliners are…

    …wait for it…

    BLUE. 😀

    Blue, however, was not a color I wore much as a child. Not until I was in preschool at least. My mother was anti-pink and anti-blue, and she dressed me and my brother in greens and yellows when we were babies. Part of it was practicality — the doctors could be wrong, after all, and she wanted clothes that would “work” regardless of whether she birthed a girl or a boy. But part of it was also a way of not pegging us, of not constructing a box for us to cram ourselves into. There were a lot of quiet statements she made with her actions when it came to raising us. It’s taken me a lifetime to figure that out, but I’ve come to appreciate in new ways the choices she made.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Your mother was far ahead of her time (at least in that regard). I often wonder how I would have turned out if my mother had given up and just accepted that I was just going to be this way. My mother was definitely in the “what will the neighbors say” frame of mind – fortunately she had no interest in my inner life only in what I looked like, so I developed a very rich fantasy life.
      The memory foam blue recliners sound very nice and cushy.

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      1. Mrs Fever

        She’s a feisty one, that’s for sure. 🙂

        I can’t say “I understand” exactly, because we all must walk in our own shoes, but I had my own experiences growing up in terms of keeping up appearances. It was driven, in my family, by my (biological) father, and it was scarring. So while I may not ‘understand’, I can definitely relate. ❤

        And the blue recliners are sooooo cushy! They make me feel like a grown-up. 😀

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  3. Bull Dyker

    I had a phase where I wore nothing but blue shirts and I didn’t notice I was doing it until my friend suggested the handle “plainblueT” for my dating site and even then I had to ask why and then I suddenly had a very Bruce Willis Sixth Sense “they only see what they want to see” flashback montage. My parents were not overtly against my wearing boys clothes but my mother had a way of commenting on it “you always choose unisex, interesting” that made me feel really embarrassed for letting my preferences show.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I like “Plain Blue T” as a handle.
      I’m just lucky I had an older brother and thrifty parents so I got some hand-me downs. I also had some summer camp uniform stuff, but other than that it was all girls stuff until I turned 12.
      My mother knew exactly which teachers (female) I had crushes on because I didn’t talk about any other teachers. I was embarrassed that I was so transparent too.

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  4. Kris

    Not so much specifically blue, but jeans, jeans, jeans. Lately I have switched to black, as they look more … corporate. But the blue ones are still… well, classic.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      When I first started to back out of wearing “dress pants” to work, I tried dark chino’s, then black jeans, then blue jeans. My boss wasn’t happy, but he was afraid to tell me not to wear them. Also for years I used blue jeans as a way of paying no attention to what I wore because “everything goes with blue jeans” although most everything (except navy blue and brown) looks good with black jeans.

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  5. Ellen Hawley

    I suspect a lot of the way we gender things is learned. Our culture takes whatever gender differences are natural (and I haven’t a clue how much of them really are natural) and exaggerates them wildly–and arbitrarily. I’ve read that pink was once considered a male color. The whole pink/blue thing is as random as it is ridiculous. But having said that, I fuckin’ hate pink.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      There is an interesting book called “Pink and Blue” by Jo Paoletti – she also has a blog and has another book out about “unisex” clothing.
      I actually wish that pink was considered the male color because I actually look better in it than blue (although I do really like the color blue).

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  6. anexactinglife

    When I was a kid, blue was everyone’s favourite colour and I felt like the odd one out! When you asked them why, they associated blue with tranquility. Impressively, I had a male friend whose favourite colour (publicly, even) was pink, and I am finding it not uncommon for boys to cite pink now.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I wish I hadn’t gone in for the reverse brainwashing (I’m supposed to like pink so I’ll like the opposite instead) – there is no way to know whether I really liked blue or not. I hope your male friend looks good in pink!
      The story about Gladstone and thinking the Greeks were color blind because they did not call the sea or the sky blue (what most people think of as tranquil) – interested me because they did not consider the sea or sky tranquil – their boats were small and tossed about by storms. I also like the explanation that they didn’t need the word for blue – not that they didn’t “see” the blue but they thought of the sky as either light or dark – not in terms of hues.

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  7. Kit

    Growing up as a boy, I feel like I was discouraged from caring about color in general. Opening up about my gender, it was like I suddenly had permission to enjoy colors – which is obviously silly and stupid. The Straight Dope has an article detailing the history of gendering colors in babies clothes – it’s a good read. http://goo.gl/bkukIA

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for the link. Jo Paoletti has done some great research, and her books are very readable for an academic.
      I know I dressed drabber (dowdier colors and style) when I was suppressing my transness than I do now (although I am not a riot of color). I pay more attention and enjoy it more – and I can look in the mirror.

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  8. Tea With Ess

    I have the same relationship with the color red. Whenever I get to choose something, I usually choose red stuff. Growing up I wore a lot of navy blue and moss green along with white if I can remember the pictures accurately. But no jeans though. I bought my first pair of jeans when I was 16 although it was never looked down at in my family, my parents frequently had jeans.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I’ve always been afraid to wear really bright colors (like red) and I liked the muted colors that associated with menswear.
      However, I am interested in rugs, and the ones that I like the best (from Turkey, Iran, and Morocco) are predominantly red.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I never understood why depression was called “the blues” – I would call it more of a grey-out or static distortion (like when old TVs went on the fritz).

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