Forget about glasses, watches, ties, shoes or hats — the beard is the greatest male accessory of all time, spanning generations and cultures. From the days of Greek philosophers Plato and Socrates to the most recent phenomenon, the post-Movember “Decembeard,” the beard has withstood the test of time. So what is with its universal appeal?
Commonly thought of as blatant declarations of masculinity and male sexuality, beards are often associated with some of the most manly jobs out there: lumberjack, fisherman, construction worker. We’ve seen countless photos of leaders and explorers conquering new horizons while asserting their unshaven alpha male-ness. Who could ever forget the ginger-faced Yukon Cornelius, the lovable prospector who was able to weather the North Pole, tame the Abominable Snowman, and save Rudolph and Christmas all at the same time? Whatta man, whatta man, whatta mighty good man! Full facial hair is the follicle equivalent of “I am man, hear me roar!” (Or “woof,” in certain circles.)
While not everyone who grows one is necessarily motivated to assert his manhood so aggressively, one thing is certain: a beard is a bold statement and makes a powerful first impression.
The beauty of a face full of fuzz is that it can mean whatever you want it to mean. It can be the mark of male sexual virility, an ironic throwback to old-timey gentlemanhood, a fashion-forward unkempt Rip Van Winkle look, or simply a middle finger to the shaving process.
A colourful forest of hair covering your face offers tremendous versatility. There are hundreds of variations: the chinstrap, the goatee, muttonchops, the soul patch and sideburns are some of the most common variations (let’s not even talk about the monkey strap). The hair on your face can take on whatever form you choose. X-Men’s Mystique doesn’t come close to matching the beard’s transformative power.
Beard culture is a truly fascinating phenomenon in the queer community. There are Smartphone apps that exist solely for scruff-loving men and their admirers. There are social media sites dedicated to connecting gays of the hirsute persuasion. Forget about a best-chest or -ass contest; there are parties, akin to Easter bonnet competitions, to crown the best beard. Pitbull and Cub Camp, two of Toronto’s popular queer monthlies, are frequently a who’s who of Toronto’s most bewhiskered gay men; instead of greeting each other with handshakes or hugs, they’ll often rub each other’s one-o’clock (in the morning) shadows. “Queer parties always do well because people are out to get laid. So when you have a room of handsome slutty beards dancing to good music, boys come back for more,” says Cub Camp head honcho Scooter McCreight. “A beard is a trait that was stereotypically associated with heterosexual men. But we are men, we have beards, and we like to rub those beards on one another. What’s wonderful is that gays with pronounced stubble are no longer associated with bear or cub culture exclusively. Gays of all shapes, sizes and subcultures are owning their facial hair. From fashion gays, to punks, to circuit queens, to jocks, to art homos and, yes, even drag queens (Faye Slift, anyone?), beards have no borders.
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