Gendering Everything

(Posted by Claire Light)

A couple of years ago, the trendy pathology of choice was synesthesia: where some people’s brains cross wires and give them input from two senses at once. For example, a synesthete might hear music and simultaneously see a play of colors across his field of vision that corresponds to the sounds. The most common form of synesthesia is seeing colors in letters. That is, you read a text on a page and the letters don’t appear as black, or whatever color they’ve been given, but rather each has its own intrinsic color, which each letter always has. By the way, each synesthete will have a different set of colors to correspond to the letters. No two are alike.

Reading about the colored letters reminded me of something I had put away as a child, but which still operates for me, at a low level. I gender letters and numbers. That is to say: 1, 4, 6, 7 and 9 are male; 2, 3, 5, and 8 are female. Zero is neuter. Letters all have their genders, too, and the “operative” letters in a word tend to gender the word. “Letter” is male, because every letter in “Letter” is male. “Operative” is also male, although “a” and “v” are female. On the other hand, “gender” is a completely gender neutral word, although every letter in it is male, except for “n”. “N” is a very neutral female, and “e”, and “r” are very feminine males, “e” especially, which is brighter than the other letters.

And it’s not just male and female, as you might have already guessed. There are degrees of gender, usually expressed as a level of masculinity or femininity, although its not exactly that. It’s not so much a Kinsey scale of gendered characters and digits as it is a sort of personality. The alpha males are”d”, “u”, “y”, 9. Girly girls are “a”, “s”, 3, 8. When letters and numbers appear in combinations, the gender of each one is lost a little in the roar — much as a butch guy standing in a corner is butch, but when he’s joined by a girl and another guy, that corner is no longer so butch. Are you edging away from me yet?

Things get weirder. Months are gendered, too, but not gendered as words, if that makes any sense. The months have the gender, not the letters in their words. January, February, April, May, June, and September are female. Which puts us today on the first of a male month, 1 being of average masculinity, but July being the most butch month out of the year. It’s probably not entirely coincidentally the month of American and French independence days. I just counted and the months are equally divided, the digits are 4 female to 5 male, and the letters are 12 female to 14 male. After a quick mental survey of, well, pretty much everything else in life, I don’t think that any other systems are gendered for me in this way. But I’ll be happy to check if you think of something.

I don’t impose genders on numbers, letters and words. They’re just there. They’ve always just been there, since I learned the characters. I’ve never thought about it, and never had to. I remember the first time I told someone about this: when I was six. It was a classmate of mine in first grade, another little girl. I told her that letters and numbers were boys and girls and she agreed. We both got excited. Then we compared notes and found that we thought different letters and numbers were boys and girls and just couldn’t agree.

This was all by way of introducing myself. Hi. What does it all mean? Did I just give away really embarrassing information about myself that only I can’t see? Does anyone else do this? It’s not exactly like synesthesia, applying two senses to one stimulus, but it is applying meaning where mere perception would do. Or is it personifying objects unnecessarily?


Farewell Ben

(Posted by Bill Schafer)

Bill Schafer here.

We lost Ben earlier this week, to some unforseen cardiac difficulties. My business partner, Tim, found him downstairs on Tuesday night, stretched out peacefully. Into the freezer Ben went for the night, a final trip to be cremated the next morning.

Ben came to us seven years ago. (He was only eight when he died.) He was hanging around my brother’s in-law’s barn, one of his hind legs so severely infected and damaged that it hung there, like rotting meat. The in-laws would check on Ben every day to see if he was still alive, but didn’t see fit to feed him or give him any care.

When my brother mentioned the stray, I saw Ben to my vet’s, credit card in tow, with the words “fix him.”

He gave us seven great years, of purring and playing, soft fur and an even softer miaow. He killed regularly when he was allowed outdoors, a privilege he demanded every few days. I imagine there are squirrels and chipmunks breathing sighs of relief right now.

Be kind to our furry brethren. Sometimes they’re not with us as long as we’d like.

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