I am six foot four and I will never fit inside a biscuit tin. It’s also mildly ironic that Ginger Nuts are my biscuit of choice, and a chant reminiscent of my childhood was never enough to spoil them for me.
That said, being Ginger does restrict you in other aspects of life. For starters, I cannot, under any circumstance whatsoever, wear orange. Thankfully, I’m not a Dutch sports fan. Similarly, colours such as red and yellow are to be avoided. Green is also off the list of wearable colours─ unless I want to become a human embodiment of the Irish flag. Thankfully, I’m an Irish sports fan.
The week of Oxygen was always the worst to be Ginger. I distinctly remember whenever it was on. It wasn’t the faint sound of Chris Martin drifting into my back garden I remember most. It was the motorists. Every year, at least once, and without fail, I’d walk home from primary school, only to be hit in the chest with the feeling of a premature heart attack.
Because some jackass would shout “GINGER” at that little boy, my younger self, from their car window. The scare wouldn’t last much more than a second but the sense of embarrassment lasted far longer. All in the name of good light-hearted laugh, of course. To this day, I still look back on those times and wish I hadn’t jumped, if only for the sole purpose of not giving those in the car the sadistic sense of self-satisfaction at scaring an innocent schoolboy of less than ten years on his way home from school.
I only started using the term “Ginger” a few years back, and there was a point in my life when I entirely despised the term and would grimace at the use of the word. I associated it with all the time’s someone had used it to cause offense, something which every Ginger knows all too well. Hair, that’s all it is. It took me a long time to realise that. As I got older, and the motorists died down with the dissolvement of Oxygen or natural causes (they were often dangerous drivers), I could finally see Ginger as a term to describe used to hair and not inflict hate, just like “brunette” or “blonde”.
As people get older, and humour develops past the sophistication level of fart jokes, people tend to resort less to using “Gingerness” as a comedic device. I don’t have statistics, but over the years I’ve come to learn that those who drop out of school to pursue a passion in Dutch Gold and childbearing are far more likely to use Gingers as the butt of their jokes. A perfect example of such is this: a group of greyly clad young men stand together in a park. One man, upon witnessing a redheaded human approach their way, decides to use his quick wit to dastardly formulate a cunning joke of the highest stature: “Gingerrr, Gingerrr, Gingerrr!” The man would shout. Laughs all round. A guaranteed success. Sadly, much like my experiences with most skits on “Ms. Browns Boys”, I’ve never really gotten the joke.
Of course, being Ginger isn’t ALL bad. Sure, what other race gets free entry into The Zoo to celebrate World Orangutan Day? Do black-skinned people get free admission on World Black Panther Day? I think not. That would be racist. What about sperm banks? Do Ginger’s ever have the inconvenience of frequenting a pesky sperm bank? Nope, us Gingers are banned from the leading sperm bank- because who in their right mind would want a Ginger baby? Idiots! Idiots I tell you! As you can see, Ginger’s are excluded from pretty much all forms of racial discrimination. You sure as hell can’t shout n****** at a black man (for good reason), but please, go ahead and shout “GINGER” at a young child all you want. It’s morally permissible and no one will stop you.
Being Ginger outside Ireland, the U.K., and perhaps America, can have its positives. People might want to take your picture or even touch it, as my friend experienced during his time in the lesser travelled parts of Asia. In Korea, people often dye their hair ginger. They WANT to be Ginger. Could you believe that? Up until a few years ago, I couldn’t. In fact, I used to hate my Ginger hair and curse the Gods for bestowing it upon me for most my life whilst my mother went her whole life without it and my father spent only a couple of his early years with the affliction.
In first year, I followed the path laid down by my two older sisters before me and dyed my hair. Black. To be more precise, I got my Mam to dye my hair black. Even if it’s embarrassing to look back on it now, I’m glad I did it. For a brief while, I could see what I looked like without the great mass of orange peaked on the top of my head like an African sunset overcoming a hill. After I got my hair dyed, I decided to go out into the big scary world and accompany my mother on her trip to the shops. It was here, in the glass door in the frozen foods section of Tesco Extra, that I saw my reflection look back at me like a stranger. It was the first time I truly saw my new hair, my new persona.
Despite my ghostly white skin (which made me look quite emo with my new jet black hair), I felt normal. I felt as though I’d finally dug myself into the inner reaches of societal acceptance, be it artificially. It was in this moment, that a breakthrough in self-acceptance occurred. Looking in the mirror, I may have felt normal in society, but in no way, did I feel normal in myself. I felt like a fraud. I wasn’t me anymore, I had lost a pivotal part of my very being. It was in that moment, that I wanted it back with all the negatives that came with it. I wanted to be Ginger again. I got my mother to drive me to the barbers and I got the barber to give me the shortest cut I could get away with, serving to make the whole operation hardly noticeable. Despite the odd few look I got in school at the time, I got away with it. Even if by stating all this, the cat is well and truly out of the bag. A Ginger cat, I hope.
From reading this extract you probably think I hate being Ginger. I don’t. Being Ginger is, in my eyes, a reflection of my personality. If I hated being Ginger, I’d be hating a large part of myself, even if it is only the hair on my head, it’s something I’ve had all my life (99.999% of it) and has become an integral part of my identity. I write this hoping that at least one of the few Gingers in this world will read this and take something from it. Don’t think I wrote this piece for pity. I wrote it so you, the reader, if not Ginger, won’t ever find yourself shouting at a kid on their way home from school because of their hair colour, or any other of the many benign thing a child can’t, or shouldn’t have to change. Clairol makes enough money as it is.
(A piece written as part of my “Creative Non-Fiction” class in college.)