Beard Wars

Hello Mr. Magazine - - CONTENTS - Paul Clark

The eight of us are gath­ered around the TV, cap­ti­vated by the string of YouTube clips that we’ve com­piled, our usual com­bi­na­tion of pop clas­sics and com­edy sketches. Two empty pizza boxes lie on the counter next to a quar­ter-bot­tle of gin, a splash of vanilla vodka, a few shriv­eled lime wedges, and sev­eral empty bot­tles of tonic and coke.

When the queue brings up the Google Live ver­sion of “Lights” by the Scis­sors Sis­ters, a sud­den hush falls over the as­sem­bled gag­gle of gays – fol­lowed three min­utes and forty-seven seconds later, by an erup­tion of com­men­tary.

“Jake Shears is the sex­i­est man alive,” John de­clares.

“No way!” in­sists his boyfriend. “I’d much rather have the bearded one on the right.”

“Yes–men who shave are a trav­esty, not wor­thy of their man­hood,” says Aaron.

“Oh, just google ‘Jake Shears shirt­less’ and you’ll change your mind,” replies John with a con­fi­dent smile. And on the con­ver­sa­tion goes… Such lively ex­changes are noth­ing out of the or­di­nary, at least in my world. It’s what I like to call… (cue heroic mu­sic) The Beard Wars. In a liv­ing room, bar, or Face­book chat not so far from you, this epic bat­tle is rag­ing be­tween the Fa­cial Hair Fa­nat­ics and the Clean-Shaven Cru­saders.

Per­haps in the company of good friends, bel­lies full of greasy pizza and booze, such con­ver­sa­tions are just harm­less jest. But we all know that

jest of­ten springs from seeds of deeply guarded truth. And this bat­tle def­i­nitely ex­tends beyond the scope of a few friends watch­ing YouTube clips on a Satur­day night.

Of course, we each have our pref­er­ences: tall vs. short, skinny vs. mus­cu­lar vs. curvy, hairy vs. smooth, en­gi­neer vs. artist. And I don’t think that there’s any­thing wrong with nam­ing and own­ing your pref­er­ences. Be­ing hon­est about what turns you on saves you and oth­ers a lot of trou­ble.

But as a bearded man with my own def­i­nite pref­er­ences for hair, I tire of men that in­sist on at­tach­ing value and mas­culin­ity to fa­cial and/or body hair. I have heard friends make some cruel state­ments with not even a feigned shred of hu­mor. Like one who used to shave his en­tire body but who now pro­claims that even to trim one’s body hair is to part with one’s mas­culin­ity. Another friend goes off on riffs about how men with­out beards are not men. And all of us in my cir­cle have made our fair share of de­mean­ing re­marks about twinks. The gen­er­al­iza­tions that we draw con­cern­ing beards and body hair deny a sim­ple truth: There are hairy men with full beards who don makeup, big hats, and corsets. And small, smooth-skinned men who guz­zle Miller Light and play rugby with their “bros.” Hairy or smooth, aes­thetic la­bels and their con­no­ta­tions fail to prop­erly cap­ture re­al­ity.

My friends and I have had many con­ver­sa­tions about the pos­si­ble causes of this cat­e­go­riza­tion. We imag­ine its gen­e­sis to be with scruffy men, not un­like our­selves, who didn’t care about Cher or Au­drey Hep­burn, had only seen The Wizard of Oz once, as a kid, and who never iden­ti­fied with the Wills or Rick­ies of TV land. This group of men who didn’t fit into the cul­tur­ally pre­scribed, clean and primped im­age of gay­ness, sought to cre­ate an al­ter­na­tive. But some of them over­shot the goal of earn­ing a place at the ta­ble, in­stead cre­at­ing a gay caste sys­tem in which hy­per-mas­cu­line at­tributes like body and fa­cial hair (the beards) are deemed su­pe­rior to ef­fem­i­nate fea­tures (the beard-nots).

My strug­gle is not with the tem­po­rary glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of lum­ber­jack beards, com­bable mus­taches and stub­ble, nor with the in­her­ent va­ri­ety of per­sonal ro­man­tic and sex­ual pref­er­ences that we carry. It’s with how quickly and com­pletely we sep­a­rate our­selves based on th­ese su­per­fi­cial char­ac­ter­is­tics, as though they have the power to con­vey one’s worth.

My in­tro­duc­tion to this dis­tinc­tion be­tween the beards and the beard-nots came long be­fore Satur­day evening cri­tiques of YouTube videos. I was newly out of the closet and in need of a cheap place to live. Pe­rus­ing Craigslist, a woman named Mar­cie’s post caught my eye. “ISO a su­per­hero to join us at the Pur­ple Bay. Must love cats and dogs and be able to keep Su­per­man’s and Bat­man’s iden­ti­ties safe. It wouldn’t hurt to be a hippy at heart ei­ther.” Be­fore meet­ing, I was asked to an­swer a num­ber of ques­tions that seemed com­pletely ran­dom but which I later learned were very cal­cu­lated. One of the ques­tions was, “What do you think about twinks?” I had to google the word. Mar­cie had asked me that ques­tion to see if I would get along with one of her other house­mates: Jake. Ex­pe­ri­ence had taught her that gay men have a va­ri­ety of alarm­ingly strong opin­ions about small, young, hair­less men like him.

I’ve since moved across the coun­try. But I know that in spite of our dif­fer­ences, Jake would def­i­nitely be wel­come in my group of friends. I can pic­ture him sit­ting with us in front of the TV, droopy pizza slice in hand, join­ing in the con­ver­sa­tion about The Scis­sor Sis­ters. Yet, I won­der: with­out the con­nec­tion of hav­ing lived with me, would Jake or some­one like him ever find his way into our cir­cle? It seems doubt­ful that he or we would ven­ture across the bat­tle lines as we’re all too busy siz­ing up strangers by frivolous things such as how much hair clings to their faces.

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