The Original Blue Man (and Woman) Group Over six generations ago, Martin Fugate and his bride settled on the banks of eastern Kentucky’s Troublesome Creek. They had children, who had children, who had children. Most of them were healthy and lived well into old age. When Martin Fugate’s great-great-great-great-grandson was born, he was as healthy as a newborn could be.

He did, however, have one curious trait: dark blue skin, the color of a ripe plum or dark denim blue jeans. The attending physicians were concerned. Did the child have a blood disorder? The child’s grandmother told them not to worry. Many of the Fugates had blue skin (Trost, 1982).

A young hematologist from the University of Kentucky was curious about the unusual skin color. With the help of a nurse and a blue couple, the physician eventually uncovered the reason for the blue tint. It was caused by a hereditary condition that allowed too much methemoglobin (a form of hemoglobin that is blue) to accumulate in the blood. The blue people, it seemed, lacked an enzyme that is necessary for the regulation of methemo-globin. Due either to a quirk of fate or an affair of the heart, Martin Fugate had married a woman who carried the same recessive gene for blueness that he did. Because members of the Fugate line were content to remain where they were born, people with the recessive gene that caused the blueness often married and had children with others who had the same hereditary trait. As a result, the number of blue people around eastern Kentucky’s Troublesome Creek increased.

The physician and the nurse had more than an academic interest in the blue skin color. As befitted their medical training, they were really hoping to find a “cure” for it. Once they knew the reason for the skin color, it was easy enough for them to find an “antidote.” Methylene blue is a chemical that changes the color of methemoglobin. When it was injected into the blue people, it had the desired effect: Their skin turned pink. However, because the effects of methylene blue are short-lived, the former blue people of Kentucky would have to take a pill every day for the transformation to last. (Physicians no longer see this blood condition very much because mountain people are more inclined than they once were to leave the mountains, so the gene pool is more diverse.) What could show the relative nature of deviance better than the fact that people can be stigmatized for characteristics over which they have little or no control? If being blue among a bunch of other blue people can be labeled as deviant and in need of correction, then anything can be.

Being and Doing An individual’s identity contains two separable parts (Goffman, 1971). One part is social identity, which consists of general social statuses, such as gender, race, class, and nativity. The other part is personal identity,which is more idiosyncratic and requires familiarity with an individual for it to be known. It includes an individual’s name and appearance, as well as distinctive attributes, traits, or marks. These two identities, of course, complement one another, and social identity is always “fleshed out” by personal identity. Although being a “mother” is part of social identity, each mother has unique characteristics that make up her personal identity (e.g., this mom likes to mow the lawn and jog 5 miles a day). Some relationships are pegged or anchored, and interactants know one another personally and know that they are known in both their social and personal identities. Other relationships, however, are anonymous, and interactants know one another only in terms of social identity (p. 189). We each have access to many identities, both social and personal, that we can present to others (Shanahan, Bauldry, Roberts, Macmillan, & Russo, 2014).

An individual may do all he or she can to keep a deeply discrediting act or attribute hidden entirely or restricted to personal identity alone so that only a few others will be aware of it (Ridolfo & Ward, 2013). It may be a central part of one’s life to keep discrediting parts of personal identity from contaminating social identity (and vice versa) (Schroeder & Mowen, 2014). Social and personal identities are in many ways a negotiated reality, being flexible, contingent, and relative to time and place (Burke & Stets, 2009; MacKinnon & Heise, 2010; Richardson, 2010; Thompson & Thompson, 2014). Some of what we are we embrace willingly and fully, while other parts we take on reluctantly, as something imposed on us against our wills. The human body is both a possession and a prison (Kosut & Moore, 2010; Lizardo & Collett, 2013).