I have a confession to make.
I have been pretending to be something I am not.
I am not a Ginger.
I have been passing as a Ginger for 20 years; I have identified as a Ginger for 30 years. But I have learned over the past week that we must all confess publicly to the passing that we do. And so, here I am, a dishwater-brown-slightly-greying-haired woman, confessing that I have dyed my hair various colors of red over the past 20 years. Right now, my hair is l’Oréal Féria R57. But my roots, which I have learned must be made public at all times, are the color of "meh."
In fact, I was born blonde. Well, no, that’s not true. I was born bald. But when I was two years old, I had wispy blonde hair and green eyes. And then, when I hit puberty, my hair darkened and actually was red for a while. Or maybe there was just a lot of rust in our well during those years. In high school, I passed as having long spiraled curly hair, but I must confess now, in the spirit of public confessions, that I had a perm.
But I never felt like a blonde. I didn’t feel like a blonde when I was 6, when blonde meant Brady Bunch, and I didn’t feel like a blonde when I was 13 and my hair turned temporarily reddish. I most definitely didn’t feel like a blonde when I was 19, and blonde meant “girl next door” sorority pretty. I had very pale, freckled skin, that didn’t really tan as much as it burned; in the winter, I could get so pale I looked perpetually tired and sick; I definitely didn’t fit the definition of "blonde" in the blonde jokes. I felt like a Ginger. I identified as a Ginger. And so, I became one.
Now, I know that this was unfair of me, to take on the culture of the Ginger without having been relentlessly teased and kicked as a child. I could have lived my entire life as a "Meh"formerlyblonde, and I could have done just as much good in the world as my true self instead of pretending to be something I was not. And, once I decided to live as a Ginger, I should have revealed my true identity to everyone I met, instead of allowing them to assume that I was a real Ginger. I should have revealed my roots, instead of hiding behind the façade of Gingerhood. Although any true Ginger could take one look at me and know I’m not a real Ginger, many people have complimented my “beautiful, unique hair color” over the years; they’ve tagged me in Ginger-themed memes; they’ve asked me how many souls I’ve eaten.
If, hypothetically, there was an organization in my city that worked to advance the fair treatment of Gingers, and I applied for a job there, should I have to reveal that I am not a “real” Ginger? If I get kicked on Kick a Ginger Day, is the kicking less real because I am not a real Ginger? (Now, of course, if I kicked myself on Kick a Ginger Day but then pretended that someone else kicked me, that would be pretty sad. I should be reprimanded for falsifying said Ginger-kicking reports. I should also maybe find a therapist. But should I be dragged onto a national stage at this point?) Is the work that I’ve done for the Ginger Rights Advocacy Group any less valid because I have roots of a different color? If GRAG didn’t straight out ask me if I was a REAL Ginger, do I have a responsibility to reveal my ungingerness? If I am hired by GRAG as a Ginger, is it blonde privilege if I’ve presented as a Ginger the entire time and earned my GRAG position as a Ginger? If I am not required by law to check the “used to be a blonde girl” box, should I still check the box, just in case? Am I lying if I don’t check the box?
Which brings me to another confession that I have to make. There is another lie I’ve told by omission. To my boyfriend’s high school friends at the wedding last summer: I should have confessed while we were shaking hands that I was wearing Spanks. I am not, in fact, the slightly more toned slightly thinner person you met. My real ass jiggles all over the place when I walk. But I didn’t feel like an ass-jiggly mom-tummy woman that night; I felt like all my parts were just a bit more toned. However, it was wrong of me to allow my desire to be perceived as thin to trump my DNA. In fact, as I have recently been informed, denying my DNA and trying to be something I’m not is giving in to original sin. I was naive and vain and did not realize that my wearing of Spanks and my non-reveal of my Spanks wearing was in the original sin category; I guess I should confess to trying to present myself as someone I was not at that wedding.
Which, sadly, brings me to another confession I must make. To the lady at the golf clinic yesterday who said that she was much closer to retirement than I was, I must reveal that I am actually over the hill. I didn’t correct her belief that I was younger; it seemed a bit weird, honestly, to say that to a stranger. “No, I’m just as old as you are.” I felt like that could be taken so many different ways, and we had only just met. But I clearly should have said, on introduction, “Hi, my name is Sharon, and I am 42. I color my hair and wear sunscreen a lot.”
Which brings me full circle back to my 30-year identification as a Ginger. You see, I just feel more accepted by the Gingers; their liberal use of sunscreen makes sense to my worldview; their transparent skin in January speaks to my soul. With the Gingers, I feel like I belong, like I have a place in the world, like I can truly make a difference.
I know that many of you are arguing that race and Gingerhood are not in the same category. Believe me, I do not mean to imply that the atrocities committed towards those of various races by those in power are in anyway comparable to Ginger-kicking. And I am not implying that a person's DNA is irrelevant to their identity. But race is a social construct. It’s a made-up thing. Race is something that was created and defined by those in power so that they could separate out those whom they wanted to control. And so, arguing about a person’s race or their need to reveal their race upon entering a room is as ridiculous as arguing about whether or not Gingers really do eat people’s souls.
Our need to publicly crucify a woman because we do not agree with or understand her life choices seems cruel and inhumane. We don’t have to agree with everything that Rachel Dolezal has done in her life; luckily, that is her life and not ours. We’ve been busy making our own mistakes. (I had very short, straight, highlighted hair for about 6 unfortunate months.) If she chose not to reveal her parentage or embrace her race, what business is that of ours? If she broke the law, then the law can and should act. If she took a job that she did not rightfully earn, then she should be fired. But no matter what she has done, or not done, or revealed, or not revealed in her life, she is still a woman: a mother with two children, a sister with four siblings, a teacher, a public servant, a human being. We don’t have to choose to understand her choices, and we don't have to accept them. But we can choose to understand what it is like to want to find a place where we belong, and to want to feel confident and comfortable in our own skin. We don't have to condone her actions. But we can be kind.
We can choose how to treat people. We can choose how to conduct ourselves in this world.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go color my hair. My roots are beginning to show.