My synesthesia

You may be familiar with synesthesia, the cross-wiring of certain sensory modalities. People who experience synesthesia (a minority of the human population) “hear” colors, or “taste” sounds, among other abilities.

For years I read about synesthesia and thought it was weird but unrelated to me. But at some point, I read about a certain type of synesthesia and realized that I had synesthesia as a child (and to some degree still do.) In the book “Incognito”, author David Eagleman describes my brand of synesthesia as “letters and numerals experienced as having gender and personalities.”

When I was a kid, numbers and letters had easily defined genders. I’ll list some numbers here paired with my sense of their gender.

1: Male
2: Female
3: Male
4: Female
5: Female
6: Female
7: Male
8: Male
9: Male
10: Male
11: Male
12: Female
13: Male
14: Female
15: Female
16: Female
17: Male
18: Male
19: Male

From there, a number’s gender was determined by the first numeral. So 26 was female because the first character, 2, was female. Same for 2,459.

But there was more to it than that. There were familial and social relationships between the numbers. 1 and 2 were married and their children were (I believe) 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. 4 was kind of a best friend to 5. 7, 8 and 9 were the older brothers of the family; they sort of bossed around their younger siblings. 10 was married to 12 and 11 was 10’s good friend.

I’m not absolutely certain about these statements but that’s my sense of my younger self’s interpretation of things.

Letters also had gender. I’ll run through the first part of the alphabet.

A: Female
B: Female
C: Male
D: Male
E: Male
F: Male
G: Male
H: Male
I: Male
J: Male
K: Female

There were also relationships at play here. A and B were good friends. A was kind of bossy, like a mom. C and D were pals. J and K were married.

It strikes me that all this makes an interesting point about gender. There’s a bit of debate these days about how fixed the binary properties of gender are—are we either essentially male or female, or do we exist on some sort of gender gradient? The fact that I saw these characters as having defined gender implies that a strong notion of gender was “built into” my brain, e.g. innate.

Except that I do recall that various numerals and letters had different balances of masculinity and femininity. T, for example was a very masculine letter (perhaps because it sort of looks like a broad shouldered man?) C was more of a passive man. Most of my female letters were “mom types”; they weren’t real sexpots. (My mind did not have the notion of MILFs at that point.) Interestingly, Q was a letter I have a hard time recalling the gender of.

Anyway, that was my take on it as a kid, and I still maintain a sense of it. I just think about a character and “know” its gender.

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