nenya_kanadka: commas & apostrophes in sex positions (@ comma sutra)
[personal profile] nenya_kanadka
Or, things people often get wrong when writing people like Nenya. ;-)

1) Red hair: Your red-haired character does NOT need to have ginger parents!

Red hair is a recessive trait. I am not a geneticist, and any of my readers with more learnings on the subject can feel free to correct me where I'm wrong. But red hair is recessive to, for example, brown or black hair. This means that someone without red hair can still pass the genes for it on to their children. Your redhead does not need two red-haired parents. They don't even have to have one red-haired parent. What they do have to have is two parents with a gene for red hair.

Remember those Punnett squares they made you draw in grade school? Where everyone has two genes for whatever trait, and they get one from each parent, like so:

Punnett square for two Rr parents

In this case, R is a gene for brown hair and r is a gene for red. RR means two dominant genes for brown hair (none of their kids will get a red gene!). Rr means one for brown and one for red--they will have brown hair (brown hair is expressed), but they do have a red gene lurking (recessive). Only rr is two recessive red genes: someone who has red hair.

This is my parents: two brunettes. But my mom's mom was a redhead as a child, and passed that ginger gene on to her, and my dad apparently inherited one from his redhaired grandfather. So when they had kids, a bunch of us got mom's red gene and dad's red gene: two genes for red hair, et voila, gingers. This is also the case for every other natural redhead I know (whose parents I also know) in real life, across four or five families.

(Conversely, if both parents are redheads, it's likely their kids will be too. But if only one parent has red hair, the kids will need another red gene from the other parent. Otherwise they'll be Rr again.) Genetics are much more complex than this, but that's a start.

But on television, soooooooo many families are wall-to-wall redheads if there's a ginger in the mix at all. This is pretty uncommon in real life! It throws me out of so many stories. It's much more likely for a couple of redheads to pop up in the middle of some browns and blondes.

So, Blossom family on Riverdale, I'm looking at you. (Though in that specific case, I have to laugh, because they're practically lampshading it at this point. Not only are a pair of fraternal twins and both parents redheads (the dad at least is less fire-engine red), about half the members of their board of directors are also redheads! It's a purely symbolic casting/hair dye choice by now--which, fair enough.)

2) Deaf people & lip reading: Your deaf character WILL NOT be able to understand people 24/7 based ONLY on lip reading.

They just won't.

Lip-reading (aka speachreading) is the skill of understanding speech from watching the movements of a speaker's mouth and face while they're talking. It is an extremely important part of the adaptive skillset of most deaf and hard-of-hearing people. Especially in combination with a clear voice, it adds tremendously to the amount of information a person can understand.

However! Only about a third of English language is visible on the lips at all. Many sounds are spoken further back in the mouth and throat, and you can't see them at all! Other sets of sounds look very similar on the lips but change the meaning dramatically. (B and P, for example, or SH and J.) So, at best, in ideal circumstances, your character will get up to a third of the information needed to discriminate speech just from watching someone's face.

Now, that 1/3 is really important! I, for example, have about a quarter of my hearing left. So being able to watch someone's face more than doubles how much I can understand. Even when I wear a hearing aid, lip-reading helps a lot. That's why "Please face me when you speak" is the first thing I tell people who want to talk to me. (The second one is "Don't try to talk over background noise" and the third is "Don't over-enunciate or exaggerate how you speak, because that distorts your face and actually makes it harder to lip-read.") When I was about ten or twelve, my audiologist discovered that I'd taught myself to lip-read without knowing I had. When her face was covered, I understood about 35% of the words she wanted me to repeat. When I could see her lips, it jumped up to around 85% (in that quiet, sound-proofed room). BIG difference!

But, here's the thing: I do have some residual hearing left. For someone who is completely deaf, and is reading someone's lips, they don't have the sound component at all. Try it sometime: block your ears or watch your favourite show with the sound off and no subtitles. Then try to understand what everyone's saying. Pretty damn hard, right? And more to the point: unless you had this TV episode memorized, you missed a whole lot of what was going on. In the real world, without TV's perfect lighting and clear voices, it's even worse. And what if two people are talking and they're on opposite sides of you? (Your neck gets tired from whipping back and forth...and you missed what one of them was saying while you were still looking at the other.) What if somebody's got an accent you're not familiar with? (Different accents are formed with different lip shapes.) Or a fluffy mustache?

Here's an example from a great article (worth the read in its entirety) on lip-reading/speechreading, about a really common difficulty even experienced lip-readers have:

Let's say I approach a group of hunters in the fall and I see the word "shoot" on one person’s lips. I assume they are talking about hunting or shooting and I chime in with something in like vein.

They look at me surprised/perplexed/bemused. My remarks were totally off the wall to them. Why? They were talking about their footwear, not about hunting! You see, the words "shoot," "shoes," "chews," "juice," "June" and "Jews" look exactly the same on a person’s lips. I thought I knew the context from their garb and the words I saw, but I would have had it completely wrong.

This happens to me all the time. ALL. THE. FREAKING. TIME! It's maddening. Sometimes it's hilarious, too, the way mondegreens are. But in other situations it's annoying and stressful. Argh!

So someone who is deaf (and even someone like me who's just hard of hearing) is going to need--and is going to have developed--other methods of communication besides just reading lips. They will write things down. They may learn or develop sign language (which is a whole other topic--short version, sign languages can be whole languages, not simply hand-signs). If they're in the modern day, they'll likely text and use email and probably want subtitles on their movies. If they have some hearing, they may (or may not) use a hearing aid or other sound-amplification device. What they won't do is rely solely on reading lips, especially if they are 100% deaf.

(Unless, of course, your character comes from a time or place where oralism is the only way deaf people are allowed to be educated. If you want to be horrified, read up on the way deaf kids were treated in environments where they were forbidden to sign. Among deaf people today it's widely regarded as having been a human rights abuse--depriving children of the ability to fully communicate, and punishing them for a disability--driven by gross ableism. So that's another reason to avoid "Character reads lips, it's fine" in fiction.)

A quick reference here has some of these thoughts in bullet-point form--might make a good bookmark or info sheet.

It's a good thing if you have your deaf character's friends and family face them when they speak! That's excellent. (Please do that in real life too!) But it can't be the only thing. And it's simply not plausible that they won't have developed other adaptive behaviours to understand the world around them.
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