More Palettes than Many

No two people can inhabit the same world. Beliefs, opinions and prejudices distort reality the way mass warps the path of light. Circumstance can mean that, though we might agree that chair is red; it’s green to someone with a specific form of colour blindness. They may concede that an absence or dysfunction of long wavelength cones in the eye causes deuteranopia; but ultimately to them, the chair is green.

I’m no philosopher and I’m certainly no scientist. I simply cannot escape the significance of an analogy like this. The chair is green in the subjective. It is only red by consensus. Let’s find an alternate dimension where deutans are in the majority – now what are you sitting on?

Colour Blind Awareness states that, globally, 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women live with some form of this condition. 8% of my gender live their lives with dissonant chroma. My cousin ranks amongst them, as did my maternal grandfather. That we’re not inundated with stories of cars piling through traffic lights because of misread signals is deeply encouraging. A mutation which could dramatically impact upon the day-to-day of a great many people has become well managed and almost completely anonymous.

In 2005 researchers from the University of Cambridge and the University of Newcastle upon Tyne used multidimensional scaling (MDS) to explore ‘the colour dimension that is private to the deuteranomalous observer.’  The study emphasised an important correlation between “colour normal” and deuteranomalous observers – that they are both formally trichromatic (requiring three primary lights to ‘match all possible spectral power distributions.’) Despite the differences in colour perception, there is no inherent deficit or dysfunction:

 

MDS studies of anomalous trichromats have, however, always had a phenotypic bias: stimuli have been selected to be discriminable for the normal observer and the anomalous space has typically been found to be contracted compared to the normal. Such results reinforce the categorization of anomalous trichromats as ‘color deficient’, but this represents the viewpoint of the majority phenotype.

Interestingly the study refers to a potential evolutionary advantage gifted to anomalous/alternative trichromats. Research suggests that the efficacy of camouflage is threatened by ATs, particularly when it resembles natural foliage or terrain. Food sources and predators may become easier to clock; practical applications expressed in some primate species. Genetic drift may have allowed such individuals to make an advantageous contribution to our earliest, socialised ancestors. Hunter/gatherer parties including, though not wholly comprising ATs may have been ahead of the curve.

As expressions of the worth and wonder of re-thinking how we determine what is and isn’t a disability – as well as opening eyes to the potential benefits of any “anomaly” – discussions of colour blindness offer a delightful elegance and simplicity. Clearly, on the spectrum of what we consider disabilities, disorders, diseases…et cetera, not all animals are going to be equal. Issues will never be (ahem) black and white.

All I would say is consider the alternatives whenever you consider or encounter anyone with anomalous expressions or characteristics. Maybe you’ll find yourself ahead of the curve too.

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Read All About It

Apologies for the radio silence. To say things are hectic is lowballing it. From August 1st I will not be working for 3 months. Put simply, I’m exhausted. Emotionally, psychologically, spiritually even. Some days I dread walking into the building, to a job I once loved.

My inspiration is gone. I am very good at what I do, but now I do it mechanically. I’ve become obsessed with making sure my guys can waltz into any position they want. I want my brother and mother and sister and now nephew to be proud of me. I feel responsible for all those I know who cannot work, who can’t defy the demons and limitations forced upon them. I don’t want to die the way my father did; but everything I’m doing holds a mirror up to him.

He cared about his guys but couldn’t bridge the divide when it came to his family. I didn’t really know him at the end, but my impression was always that we withdrew to the point of implosion. Pushing with some vision of an ideal that couldn’t help but crumble.

The consensus is my stepping away is a good decision. One of my guys is taking over from me, and my faith in her is unbound. I have faith in so many people, but deny it to myself. She tells me that its time for me to start thinking about myself.

Part of me is afraid I’m putting a bullet in my career. At least I know that I’ve been judged on my performance, rather than any machinations or schmoozing, and I haven’t been found wanting. Yet again, I’m not engaged in any way I’d describe as healthy. Given the panic attacks, manic freakouts, paranoia, forgetfulness, suicidality, and seizures; I could easily be signed off on medical. I want to take a sabbatical because I don’t want to be a victim. I don’t want the company to pay for me while I’m not working. Sitting at home playing video games would consume most of my time, because I would assume the role of a patient.

‘The self is not something one finds, it is something one creates’. A great many debates can coalescence around words like that. Thomas Szasz said many things, but this stuck with me. Remaining passive, a victim of bastard luck and circumstance, rather than asserting your moral right to exist on your own terms. I can’t always get my head around the principles of the Mad Pride movement; but I engage with the notion that “We” have the right to our own cultural identity. That we’re bound by similar threads and so have a right to highlight and explore the potential therein. I’m kooky enough to think like a Mutant, to want what the X-Men have, because their stories help me quantify my experience of my life and the world we all share.

The immortal Christopher Hitchens described how his father claimed his service during the Second World War constituted ‘the only time he knew what he was doing”. I’ve always felt that about the Clinic. 13 years ago; a teen who nearly sheared his spine leaping from a bridge. Once I could limp from the orthopaedic ward I was transported to a place where I was surrounded by people who understood, one way or another. We talked and we ate together. We played music and made art together. No topic was off limits, because if you can’t share in your darkest hours then all you’ll ever know are shadows.

While we’re dropping names and paraphrasing, I’ll recall something Brody Dalle said in an interview with The Face about 4000 years ago. Her interviewer lightheartedly called her insane. Dalle retorted: ‘sometimes I feel like the most sane person in the world.’ If you’ve ever been in any positions like mine, you’ll get where she was coming from. I don’t want to pontificate or stake a claim to some hidden truth or grand narrative. I’ll say that when you’ve cut down to the bone, the meat and the seed and the rot of it all gives you some perspective.

I have a little time to assess and recreate. I’m going to travel a little, often on a whim I hope, because spontaneity is something I’ve defied. I want to see things, I want to attempt adventures and meet new people. And reconnect with those I’ve missed, for one reason or another. I want to write and I hope you’ll find something worth reading. Because I want an audience; ego does come into it of course, but also because I’ve been told I might have something to say. And, I hope, it’ll prompt people to say something back.

I want to leave y’all with something for now. It says a lot. Some art bleeds from the edge between inspiration, emotion, power and truth. Art like this:

 

Transitions

Today’s Daily Mirror features a two page story on a British transgender couple who are waiting to receive confirmation of their respective transitions before getting married. The Huffington Post also carried this story back in July, as part of a thoughtful and insightful feature published on Gay Voices.

My friend “A” recently completed her transition. We first met nearly two years ago when she was still a he, and had come into the store looking for books on gender identity and sexuality. Previously I’d only ever met one other transgender person: the recently reassigned husband of a man I was in hospital with. Given the strife this had put on the latter’s marriage I was (and remain) impressed with the confidence and candour with which A is able to discuss her experiences.

It would be idiotic of me to claim any expertise on this subject. For any true insights into the lives of transgender people and their loved ones, I heartily recommend gendermom – a mother’s blog about life with a trans daughter. For my part I have to wonder about my comfort with this issue. I come from a working class background lacking what you’d call progressive ideas around status, race, identity and sexuality. I’m confident that my family members who denounced blacks and faggots would struggle to even grasp the concept of someone born into the wrong body, even struggle to devise suitably offensive epithets.

Unfamiliarity breeds contempt. Contempt, suspicion, fear…a whole litany of negative responses. As kids we’d belittle and tease one another by calling each other gay. Its a cultural thing, and as with prejudicial attitudes towards the mentally ill, its likely to stem from a lack of contact with, and questions raised by, people of certain dispositions.

The Brothers Hitchens queried the validity of the term ‘homophobia’ on several occasions – stressing that a more literal reading of the word’s etymology is “fear of the same” as opposed to fear of homosexuals and homosexuality. Dear departed Christopher would run with this theme, noting how often homophobia rises from a doubt and disgust within the homophobe. Spectrally such doubt and disgust is common in transphobia and psychophobia – if their gender identity could be misaligned, what about mine? Could I hear voices too?

I often come back to a long ago conversation with my aunt. Mass immigration is a hot potato in these parts, and she was bemoaning the number of african families moving into the area. ‘I want ’em out’ she told me, ignoring one particular irony – one of my families’ best friends since my uncle’s 70s childhood is “Black Tony.” I pointed this out to my aunt. ‘Oh that’s different. That’s Tony.’

How would things be if we had  “Gay Tony” or “Trans Tony” or indeed “Schizophrenic Tony” in our lives? Everyone in my family knows  my story and diagnosis, and yet its all wary eyes and awkward shuffles when the topic comes up. Even as a simple statement; a matter of fact in a conversation, with all the emphasis and drama of someone announcing their transition from full fat to semi-skimmed milk.

Perhaps some would argument that because mental illness can have fewer, conspicuous traits (for example mincing or removing your dress and becoming a bricklayer), its harder to get a handle on, and know how you’re “supposed” to respond. Everyone gets depressed, but not everyone dresses like Freddie Mercury, so demarcation is complicated.

An obvious solution to this is to treat us like people. Easier said than done, but once the step is made positives aren’t hard to find. Young couples like Jamie Eagle and Louis Davies, Arin Andrews and Katie Hill are cases in point. These news stories don’t invoke the spirit of the freak show – sure they’re curiosities, but the emphasis is on people finding themselves and young love.

‘In May 2010, Jamie was diagnosed as transgender.’ This was the only part of the Mirror story which made me wince. The ‘D’ word. I’ll admit I have developed a particular sensitivity to clinical terms used in certain contexts – maybe Miss Eagle’s eyelids wouldn’t bat at all. Language assails us in different ways, and I immediately recalled how the Blessed APA no longer consider being transgender a mental disorder.

Curiously another part of this story drew my attention – the couple are from Bridgend County in South Wales; a part of the country regrettably known for its high suicide rates. I’m not drawing any connection here. I mention it because, as part of my own particular disposition, I see patterns and peculiar associations everywhere. Bridgend was a place I used to pay special attention to.

That this was the only negative I could find in the piece – one drawn from the quagmire of I – is a source of something approaching optimism and reassurance for me. Some kind of signal that our culture isn’t collapsing in on itself; folding into something rancid and inherently dismissive of the rights, needs and simple truths of the individual and those important to them.