I am a Ginger.
Every winter I enjoy walking to class in the cold because my thermally insulating headgear covers my hair completely. I often pass good friends that completely fail to recognize me. I can even wave at them and be met with puzzled looks: "Who is this creepy guy waving at me on the street?"
It cracks me up because I wonder how different my life would be if I weren't born with these locks that I like to imagine make me resemble Christian Grey. My copper follicles are an intrinsic part of my identity that I did not choose to have but have chosen to embrace anyway.
Why wouldn't I?
I stand 6-foot-3, so my friends never have a hard time finding me in the hordes leaving Neyland or in the crowded dance floor of Tin Roof. They call me "The Beacon." – Editors note: No they don't. Nate just pretends they do.
I believe my hair makes me stand out and be a little more memorable to people. When my editor, RJ, tried to explain who "Nate" was to a friend, the only clarification needed was, "He's the ginger columnist."
Growing up, I hated this immediate identification. Little old ladies would ask me where I got my hair from, and friends of my parents loved to crack jokes about the milkman. I idolized a co-worker of my father who seemed to be the only one who knew what color my hair really was. He defended me to anyone who dared refer to my hair as "red," challenging them as colorblind and pronouncing my hair, correctly, as orange.
As I grew up, I learned to embrace this abnormality as a blessing. I remember when that South Park episode about the Ginger Revolution first aired – the era of "Ginger" had begun. I became the butt of more jokes, but instead of getting angry (like everyone expected of me) I learned to laugh.
As a 15-year-old, all the other kids told me I lacked a soul. But what some would call "traumatizing" I found to be hilarious.
One time in a philosophy lecture on the nature of the soul, I asked my professor if I lacked the soul described by St. Thomas Aquinas, Avicenna or Aristotle. He was baffled, especially as the rest of the class burst into laughter. A classmate promptly explained the Cartmenian theory: some men are born without a soul, and the lack thereof often manifests itself in certain unusual physical characteristics (read: carrot-tops).
Because I identify with the jokes, I've found the benefits of this Ginger identity.
For instance, I've heard of mythical women who claim to "love Gingers." Though I'm not sure I have ever met one, my email is listed below. If you're out there.
St. Patrick's Day is always a great day because I wear my green blazer, green top hat and carry a box of Lucky Charms to class. Though promises have been made, I still haven't had a friend try to chase me while I run away throwing cereal and chanting Lucky's mantra – "They're after me Lucky Charms!"
I also develop an immediate friendship with anyone else who has red hair because I have no qualms about drumming up conversation with a casual "What's up Ginge?"
The friendship comes even faster when I meet little Ginger minions because I tell them that their hair is awesome and that they rule. Their parents tend to laugh at my obnoxiousness, and the miniature me is on top of the world.
It does get old having to go to a special section of Walmart to shop for my sunscreen – they store all the Coppertone with over 200 SPF in a secret room that only we Ginjas (ninja Gingers) have access to. I stick to a modest 450 on the sunniest of summer days.
Someday, I'll lose this identification. Under the auspice that I had never seen a bald Ginger man, I grew up always expecting my hair to be here forever. Unfortunately for my future wife, my hairline is in fact racing away from my equally-ginger eyebrows.
But the beauty of being a Ginger isn't the hair itself, or the accompanying secret sunscreen, easy friendships and constant comparisons to Christian Grey. The beauty is in learning how to laugh at yourself – every red-headed part of you.
P.S. I got highlights once. They were not visible.
Nate Talbot is a sixth-year Ginger in mechanical engineering. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.