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Scarlet fever: "hey Opie, is all your hair red?" What being a redhead taught the author about being gay--and about the pleasure of being unique.

As a kid I was incessantly taunted with nicknames like Opie, Alfred E. Neuman, or Archie Andrews. I was likened to "that little boy from The Partridge Family" and Ronald McDonald. Once I was asked if Little Orphan Annie was my sister. I replied, "Yes, but my parents wanted only me."

That's the joy of having red hair. For some reason, when you're blessed with the whole package--pale skin, freckles, an overbite, and beet-colored tresses--it's only natural that sophomoric blonds and brunets poke fun. Thankfully, the schoolyard pseudonyms have lessened over the years as my friends have matured, but every now and again I'll meet someone who still thinks it's witty to remind me of my "uncanny" resemblance to little Ronnie Howard. I laugh it off, but deep down there's a permanently embedded resentment that I refuse to relinquish.

When I was younger my fire-engine mane was the bane of my being. I hated it. I felt so separate from everyone else--mostly because everyone else made me feel that way. They simply wouldn't let it be. As I entered high school and began puberty, you can bet that the sexual curiosity of "straight" guys urged them to inquire about the hair color of other regions of my body. Blush-faced, I responded the only way I could: "I don't know. Want to see?"

Over the years I've learned that being gay and having red hair are similar. Both are qualities that some people just don't understand--and, in a few cases, just don't want to. Some would rather make jokes than accept a person for who they are.

Now comfortable with myself inside and out, I long for the days when I was truly different. As my hair has darkened and other features have changed, I think back to when my lack of melanin, buck teeth, freckles, and red hair set me apart. If I knew then what I know now--that standing out is actually a blessing--I would have embraced my uniqueness when I had the chance.

Embracing age 25 this year, however, is a different story. That prospect hurts worse than any playground insult I've ever endured.
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Author:Knipp, Michael A.
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 24, 2006
Words:356
Previous Article:Friend or foe.
Next Article:Rants & raves.
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