An Orange and an Allegory Walk into a Bar…

30 06 2010

I’ve never had a favorite color, but it isn’t for lack of wanting one. Actually, I’ve long envied those who do have one. People who have a fraction of the stress I have about choosing a new toothbrush because they can narrow the choices down to one color. People whose childhood birthdays aren’t largely characterized by waffling in the party aisle of Target, unable to select streamers.

This color thing has been a source of mystery for years. For some, a favorite color comes as intuitively as their gait, whereas for me, the language of favorite colors has always seemed impenetrable. Somehow, people can just look and know which color is theirs? I marveled as a child. How? What’s it like to feel such a distinct sense toward a single color? I imagined it might feel like excitement, like a little tickle of pleasure every time you see that particular color. Or maybe seeing that color is comforting, like slipping into your spouse’s softest t-shirt. Maybe it feels familiar, like every time you see that color you’re hugging an old friend.

I figured I must belong to some lower order than those naturally color-inclined people, unable to stand before an array of paint samples and feel tugged toward one end or the other. How could you commit to blue but ignore purple, which is as calming as blue but with a splash more excitement? But then how could you commit to purple, which has so many iterations in Barbie clothes that it’s never far from its princess connotations? And how could you choose purple anyway when there’s green out there, all cool and exciting? But then how could I choose green—what if I’m neither cool enough nor exciting enough? To choose a favorite color seemed both to assume ownership of that color and to let it assume ownership of me, a commitment I never felt I was equipped to make. And anyway, no one else seemed to think of it as choosing. Other kids just know.

Other kids don’t even flinch when get-to-know-you games demand you share your name, grade, favorite color, and an interesting fact. “Blue,” they say. “Maroon.” “Turquoise.” My turn comes and I toy with my shoelaces. “Blue,” I offer, glancing toward the self-affirmed blue lovers, who nod in blue solidarity. One might even pump a fist.

I glance around the circle for people who might already know me, because I honestly can’t remember what I said the last time someone asked for my favorite color. I fear someone will out me with flippant comment. “I thought your favorite color was green,” they’ll venture. I’ll feel like a trespasser. I could just tell them I changed my mind from green to blue, but it would be another false step into their world of intuitive, uncomplicated color choices. Instead, I’ll fumble and break down. “I don’t have a favorite color,” I’ll have to admit. I’ll have to confess everything. I can’t tell you which color clothes to buy me for my birthday—Last year on the last art day, I didn’t know what to do—I just chose the nearest color of paint—My handprint on our class mural is a LIE…

Lately, though, as I totter past the halfway mark between twenty-two and twenty-three, I’ve found some wisps of confidence surfacing in myself. This sensation is completely new. Orange, this voice inside me ventures. I look around at my orange backpack, my orange Netherlands t-shirt, my orange pens.

Dare I? I find myself asking. Can I become one of those people who has a favorite color? The answer is yes. Does it matter that I chose mine, that it didn’t come hardwired into me like everyone else’s? Nope.  I can throw my lot in with orange if it makes me happy, late to the game or not. I don’t have to understand all the reasons why I didn’t have a color before. I am as legitimate an orange-lover as any other person with a color affiliation.


Le Musée des Égouts

8 06 2010

I once ran into Loren Cameron in the Paris Sewers Museum. Underground, staring through a grate at my feet at actual, literal sewage, I picked a voice out of the crowd behind me, and I thought, That person sounds just like Loren Cameron. I turned around just in time to see him round the corner, just in time to recognize him.

Stricken, I took a step back. Resolved, I then took a step forward. Frightened, I glanced to see whether my two friends were still reading the plaque about Victor Hugo and the sewer system. Resolved anew, I set off at a jog, which felt particularly daring given the nearness of this raised walkway to rivers of Parisian sewage.

“Excuse me,” I sang timorously. I remembered to drop the sleeve of my sweatshirt, which I’d been clasping to my nose and mouth to filter out the smell of museum. He turned and raised his eyebrows expectantly. “Are you Loren Cameron?” I cringed at how starstruck it sounded. I think I met you a few weeks ago, I could have said. Cool shoes, I could have begun. What did you think of the Victor Hugo bit back there? A thousand better openers flashed through my mind. Boy howdy, smells like poo in here, doesn’t it?

He politely helped me out, affirming that he was in fact Loren Cameron. I explained, very quickly, that I’d met him at a talk in the States a few weeks ago, to which he responded with fitting surprise:  “Wow! And now we’re meeting in Paris. Standing in the sewer.”

I thanked him for his visit to my campus, my eyes as wide as they could go. I told him that his stories and photographs had been really Meaningful To Me. My eyebrows were trembling with the exertion of trying to communicate. I’m saving up to buy a suit, a real men’s suit, they were trying to say. My name’s Jamie, they yelled. This is the last summer I’m going to wear this push-up bra and this camisole.

My friends rounded the corner then. Introductions, an invitation to come see him speak in Paris the next day, and we were leaving, my flats unbearably slippery on the metal grating.

I have no idea whether he got it or not. I’m inclined to think not, since there’s only so much an eyebrow can communicate to a complete stranger. It doesn’t really matter. During those latter college years, I spent a lot of time with my eyes wide open, hoping for some sort of advice from people who seemed to know how to be out or queer better than I did.

The most liberating moment of identity-formation for me came a couple years later. I’m even still feeling the aftershocks, like from an orgasm that boomerangs back through you a few times before it’s done. I was queer the whole time I thought I still had to learn how to be queer. I was a gay man the whole time I spent watching that YouTube clip of John Barrowman yelling, “LET’S HAVE A GAY-OFF!” After which I spent an hour in my empty apartment alternately laughing riotously  and  then trying to lisp it the same way he did. If you had asked me then, well, first I would have been very embarrassed, but then I would’ve said I was an aspiring gay trans man. I suppose there are far worse things to do, now that I think about it, than to aspire to being yourself.