A memorable story will often focus on an individual who has triumphed over adversity. With that in mind: welcome, reader, to the story of my life. I have successfully endured a 21-year existence in the hair colour limbo between ginger and blonde; I have managed to spend over two decades living in the purgatory that is strawberry-blonde.
I was born relatively normal. Bright-eyed and bald. The standard infant aesthetic. It was only when my hair began to sprout that my family knew something was wrong. Years of piss-taking followed, thankfully more from friends than my own parents: being ordered to get back in my biscuit tin (an inventive reference to the ginger nut biscuit), claims I didn't possess a soul, comparisons to Ron Weasley (lazy, but frequent).
While most adolescent redheads can find solace in the solidarity of other gingers, this is not the case for strawberry-blondes. An example: summer, 2017. I'm at a festival, standing arm-in-arm with a new friend, who we'll call Dave. Dave is ginger. We strike up conversation with two strangers, who ask how we met. I explain that the initial connection was over our similar hair colour. Content with this explanation, I begin to walk away, but Dave stays behind. He whispers his next words, but they bounce maliciously on the wind and reach my ears.
"He's not even a proper ginger."
Is there no place for strawberry-blondes in this world? Are we, as others tell us, actually ginger? Are we, as we tell ourselves, just on the reddish side of blonde? Or are we, as Dave remarked, kind of neither? Merely interlopers on every stage of the hair hue spectrum?
I got in touch with the Australia-based group The Ginger Net, which bills itself as "the home of everything ginger", and asked them if they accept strawberry-blondes.
"Anyone with a tinge of ginge is welcome," they replied. "Besides, strawberry-blondes are usually just gingers in denial."
The Ginger Net continued: "It's exceptionally rare to have any sort of ginger or redhead gene, only 1 to 2 percent of the population do, so you damn well should claim that rarity that makes you a human unicorn with pride."
This was exactly what I'd wanted to hear. However, one source is never enough for a reliable conclusion, so I turned to an expert: Professor Ian Jackson (PhD FRSE) of The University of Edinburgh, a section head within the UK's Medical Research Council Human Genetics Unit. What, I asked, causes my hair to look the way it does?
"All individuals with red hair – whether auburn, bright red, orange or strawberry-blonde – have variants in a gene called MC1R, which controls whether you make black/brown pigment, or red pigment," he said. "You need variants in both copies of MC1R, from both your mother and your father. In most cases, you also need other genetic variations, but MC1R is the essential red hair gene."
So there you have it, my strawberry-blonde brothers and sisters, we do belong. We are all part of the MC1R family, even if strangers at festivals say we're not (fuck you, Dave). So, next time you're asked what hair colour you identify as, don't deny your genetics: be confident in the fact that you are a fully-fledged redhead.