I have an overly-complicated method of picking out new paint that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone. But I will share it with you anyway.
At the paint store, I pick out at least 15-20 strips of paint colors and other samples that seem interesting to me. Sometimes I have some idea what color I’d like the room to be, other times I’m looking for something I’ve seen somewhere else, other times it’s just “Oh, a yellow might be nice.” I take all the strips home, and in the room I’m going to paint I start cutting off those hues and shades that definitely won’t work, usually those that are too light or too dark. Some strips get thrown away entirely.
Everything left over gets held up next to light switches and woodwork against the old color, over and over. Generally through doing this I can narrow it down to five or six choices. These get separated into individual chips (if they haven’t been already) and neatly arranged on the floor.
They stay on the floor a couple days while I kick them around, walk over them, and begin to decide what I don’t like.
The last two chips remaining are then slid under a light switch plate and left until I figure out which one draws my eyes the most and feels right. At last WE HAVE OUR WINNER.
I just went through this process to pick out a new color for my studio-art-space-room, a neutral grey, no less, which is always a trial. Warm grey or cool? A bit lighter? A bit darker? How warm? Too warm? Too cool?
The point is, I needed to go through a lot of colors to find “smoke embers” (Benjamin Moore 1466).
I needed to see and experiment with a lot of colors in order to figure out which one was right for my eyes and my living space.
While doing all this cleaning I found myself on my computer, reading my LiveJournal entries from 2007 telling the story of coming out as gay. That’s not a story for this blog (though that blog is coming soon) but what struck me was how it came about in part because I was roleplaying, and finally identifying with, an unquestionably female character. A very feminine character, in many ways. I wrote that playing her made me feel like an actual woman for the first time in my life, instead of the “genderless blob I’ve felt like since I was fifteen.” I don’t know what stars aligned to make that happen but it shifted my perspective immensely: not that I wanted to, personally, put on nail polish or wear dresses, but somehow through that experience I was able to embody a woman and feel comfortable expressing myself – so comfortable, in fact, I was finally able to face the feelings I had for other women and realize I fit the definition of a word for that.
It was almost as if I had to recognize myself as a woman in order to acknowledge myself as a lesbian.
What does that have to do with picking out paint chips? Like bringing those samples home, like scattering them on the floor or wedging them behind the woodwork, playing with characters gave me options, and they were all safe options. I’m not putting paint all over the wall in a dozen colors. I’m not going through the trouble of getting out the rollers and brushes. But I’m trying to see what works, for myself and for the environment I live in, out of many, many choices.
If I had come home with two colors, a pinkish grey and a bluish grey, I would have been frustrated – as frustrated as I had been as that genderless blob, unable to figure out who or what I loved because I was unable to figure out myself with only “feminine girl” and “masculine boy” as my choices. I had to create a woman I could relate to in all her complexity and depth, even if she did wear makeup, to somehow prove to me I could be a woman, too. I know I talk a lot about how representation matters, but it’s more than representation because it’s not like I had never seen a lesbian before in the 30 years I’d already walked this earth. It’s more about having options, and feeling free to bring those options into my life and see how they fit with no strings attached. But how often, oh, how often, are there so many strings attached.
I find myself bringing back into my life things I had abandoned over a decade ago. Today in the attic I found a little terra-cotta essential oil warmer and bottles of lavender and sage oil. I brought it into my room and lit a tea candle beneath, put a few drops of lavender above and let it burn while I cleaned out my desk. The scent surprised me at first – somehow not what I expected – but then settled in with a deep sense of nostalgia. I used to have this scent in my room often, before my mom took an inheritance to Ethan Allen and the designers came and told me that if I wanted a nice new room I had to get rid of a lot of stuff. The oils ended up in the attic. My Buddha ended up high on top of a bookcase where I could barely see him – just those little sacrifices we make to have what we’re assured we want to have.
I think of all I packed away – in the attic and inside myself – trying to be friends with people who were not fully accepting of me. I wanted friends, I did, and I set aside so many options, so many colors, so many facets of myself to try to be like them, to be understandable, to be familiar and not jar against their own colors. Just the little sacrifices we make to have what we’re assured we want to have.
It all comes back now as I rediscover myself away from them all, a flood of colors across the floor, almost too many to choose from. This scent of warmed lavender oil means something to me. This one I’ll keep.
What would we choose if all options were safe for now, if we could gather what we loved like a dozen paint chips and give ourselves time to see what each means to us? What would we learn, truly learn with that deep knowing of encountering a truth (I am woman) if given both the option and the opportunity, free from judgement, no strings attached?
Last night I thought of one of my favorite movies from when I was young, a TV version of the Phantom of the Opera with Charles Dance as the Phantom. Oh, I had just loved that Phantom when I was thirteen. I began thinking of how no wonder I had related so closely to the character – he and Edward Scissorhands both, the same year – these outsiders, these “freaks” who so loved the girl but couldn’t dare touch her. No wonder! That was my adolescence, more or less. No wonder! But then I thought – oh, I thought, stepping back with a gasp – what if the Phantom had been a woman, a lesbian? Oh! OH.
And suddenly I’m rewriting the book, suddenly I’m rewriting the ending after Christine has left with the Count, because oh, if the Phantom is a lesbian she can’t just be left in the catacombs to die alone.
What a wonderful little train of thought, but I had never seen it before. I had never even seen that color before, no less held it up against my woodwork. How beautiful it was. Oh.
Thank goodness, I say to myself now, that the kids these days, the twelve and thirteen-year-old girls who are just beginning to look at all this with wide eyes, thank goodness there’s such a thing as gender-bending characters. Thank goodness there are gay and lesbian characters, here and there (some even surviving) or at very least fan fiction, fan art, to stumble upon. But how twisted would it be to take a young girl’s suddenly lesbian Phantom of the Opera and say, “Oh no, you can’t just take a male character and make him a she. Not unless she’s trans. Maybe a trans woman lesbian or maybe a trans man but not just a woman who loves another woman. That’s exclusionary.” But that’s what they are being told. Even my character, feminine as she was, maybe should have been born a man. All the makeup and nail polish must have been to prove she was a woman. She was so “queer” after all.
We struggle so hard and so long just to find our own colors, only to have them torn off our walls. No, I can hear Ethan Allen tell me already, I should really choose a blue for my bathroom. Blue is a very popular color for bathrooms. Blue is approved by the mainstream and everyone loves a blue bathroom. Don’t you want everyone to love your bathroom?
The bathroom is being painted a faded greenish yellow called “sweet spring” (Benjamin Moore 1500.) It took me six days to pick out. This is my color, and no other. You can keep your blues to yourself.