Gay flags

Today’s mail brought me an ad for some Gay Pride underwear, specifically the FreeMen (or Freemen or Freeman, depending on who you read) brand:

(Click on the image to embiggen.)

Five things caught my eye:

(1) I think the model is really cute (an observation that’s not unconnected to the next one);

(2) in the Pride Jockstrap photo he’s smiling (with his eyes as well as his mouth) — not all that common in the images of Gayland, though I find it incredibly attractive ;

(3) in the Pride Trunk photo, he’s doing a (one-sided) Pits ‘n’ Tits display;

(4) he’s really smooth, with no visible body hair; there’s a hint of fuzz in that exposed airmpit, but when you look at it more closely (as the Undergear site allows you to do), it becomes clear that his body is shaved, and that the bit of axillary hair is starting to grow back, while in another photo in the Undergear catalog his armpits are smooth as silk (the facial scruff serves to give him some masculinity cred, essential for life in Gayland);

and (5) the purported rainbow flag in this underwear is severely truncated, with only three colors — red, yellow, blue — instead of the usual six (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and some shade of purple, covering everything from violet through centrally purple to magenta and lavender, or even pink — all “gay colors”).

Items (1) through (4) I’ll take up in a posting on my X blog, for those of you who might be interested in my tastes in men, the Smiles of Gayland, more on Pits ‘n’ Tits, or the Jacob/Esau (smooth/hairy) split in the gay male world. Here just a few remarks on the gay rainbow and its reduction from six to three stripes by the FreeMen people.

I find the reduction in colors peculiar, especially since it leaves out the most characteristically “gay” hues (in the purple neighborhood). Maybe the designers felt that lavender or pink or magenta in between “female” red and “male” blue would look too faggy, even though (or perhaps) it would embody the folk view that gay people are in between the sexes or a combination of them. Maybe they decided against purple — in a shade as saturated as the red and blue they chose — because it would have been too hard to distinguish visually from red and blue, while yellow is maximally distinct from both.

As for the actual gay flag, shown here in one of its manifestations:

this is nothing more than a standard one-dimensional six-color represention of the visual spectrum (the sort of color-category system that is central in color mixing and matching contexts), usually represented two-dimensionally as the “color wheel”, with purple and red next to one another (opposite yellow and green, respectively) and with red, blue, and yellow as the “primary” hues and purple, green, and orange as the “secondary” ones. (Oh, maybe that’s where the underwear colors come from: the primary colors. But what does that have to do with being gay?)

Well, in defense of this version of the rainbow flag, it does have purple, rather than the bluer violet, as the sixth stripe. Most of the rainbow flags I have — the rainbow throw on my bed, the giant rainbow fish hanging on my front patio, the sweater on Rainbow Bear on my living room table (for my grand-daughter to play with) — look like this, but one (on a rainbow triangle pin) has a fairly saturated lavender point.

I know, you’re going to tell me that the rainbow flag is special, because the real rainbow has seven bands of color in it, with indigo and violet instead of just purple. This is, frankly, silly, although it’s what English-speaking schoolchildren have been taught, and endlessly drilled on, for two hundred years or so.

The real rainbow presents us with an entirely continuous spectrum of colors from red (at the low-frequency, high-wavelength end) to purple-or-violet (at the other end). The division into bands is in our perception of basic color categories (coded in the basic color terms of many languages), not in the physical world. Six basic color terms — listed above — divide up this territory in English. So, insofar as there’s a “right” answer to the question “How many colors are there in the rainbow?”, it’s “Six” (or “Some huge number enumerating the humanly discriminable hues” or “An infinite number”).

Why are schoolchildren taught that “Seven” is the only scientifically correct number?

Apparently, Isaac Newton is to blame. He saw, or claimed to see, seven bands of color in the visible spectrum, distinguishing indigo from violet. It’s likely that he saw seven bands because he believed in the significance of the number 7 (the number of days in a week, the number of planets then known, etc.) and was looking for seven; Newton was certainly a great genius, but he was also a numerological crank.

God Newton said it was so, and then it became so, at least for pedagogical purposes. And children were obliged to learn the answer “Seven” and to memorize the list by means of mnemonics: I was taught VIBRYGO, but the name of that scallywag ROY G. BIV gets the colors in the right order, as do the phrasal mnemonics “Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain” and “Read Out Your Good Bible In Verse”. And they were marked down if they gave the answer that accorded with the evidence of their senses and their feel for their native language.

When I complained about indigo, any number of people have earnestly — sometimes patiently, sometimes witheringly — explained to me, over 65 or so years now, that indigo isn’t an ordinary color, it’s a scientific color. And we all know that Science comes from God.

Well, as far as cognitive science goes, my rainbow flags are right, and Newton is bloody wrong.

I imagine you didn’t see where this was going to go when I started out with a cute guy in nothing but basket-displaying briefs.

5 Responses to “Gay flags”

  1. IrrationalPoint Says:

    “I imagine you didn’t see where this was going to go when I started out with a cute guy in nothing but basket-displaying briefs.”

    For a minute I thought you were going to say that God (who makes Science and Pride) is gay, but this was more interesting.


  2. Chris Ambidge Says:

    I was taught “Richard of York Gained Battles In Vain”, which isn’t quite your version. This was at Littlegrove County Primary School [equivalent to Grades 4-7], East Barnet, Hertfordshire; where the school houses were Gloucester, Richmond, Lancaster and York, suitably wars-of-the-roses.

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