If you knew me and had to point me out in a crowd, you would probably say, “He’s the guy with the beard.” If there was any confusion, you would probably clarify with, “No, the guy with the beard. The big one,” and everyone would know who you were talking about. That’s because over the last two years my beard has become my calling card, the thing that most people associate with me.
It didn’t start out that way. I had maintained a relatively neat and professional-looking beard for years because of dress codes and such. Then my barber went out of business and I realized that I was also in a unique time in my life, a time with looser rules. It very well may have been the last time in my life that I could grow it out, at least until retirement. So, I decided to seize the moment and put down my trimmers.
Weeks turned into months and suddenly I realized I had a big, red, glorious Viking beard. As I became involved with Hagerstown Hopes and began working in community outreach, I also became aware that my beard was the feature that everyone remembered about me. This was new for me, a fairly average looking guy with no distinctive traits apart from my glasses. I liked it, so I let my beard keep growing.
Not everyone loved it, though. Comparisons were made to ZZ Top and the cast of Duck Dynasty, and not always in a friendly way. Still, I kept it because it was mine and it made me special. I had also learned that my beard quickly separated people who care about character from those who care about appearances. Why give up such a handy tool?
By this time, I was deeply attached to my beard (pun intended). It had helped give me a new identity, and I liked that I had a built-in visual aid when I talked to others about gender issues. I also liked that it signaled to others that I wasn’t like everybody else and, therefore, I might be able to help.
Then I saw a picture of myself at a lecture and my opinion changed. I saw all the long, scraggly hairs from a different angle and realized that the thing that had perhaps been my biggest asset was becoming my biggest liability. I knew I needed to make a change, and I was also afraid that making the wrong change would undo all the progress I’d made and send me back to square one.
I quietly thought about it for weeks and eventually reached a conclusion: my beard needed to be tamed. Deciding you need a trim isn’t usually a major life decision, but for me, it was. Was I ready to waste two years’ growth on a whim? Was the risk of losing or changing my identity worth it? Was I ready to end the Big Beard chapter of my life?
I scheduled my appointment without knowing what I wanted. While I deliberated the decision, I attended to my beard bucket list. I braided it, decorated it – all the things people said I should try that I never got around to doing. And I took a lot of pictures, knowing it would likely be years before the next Big Beard chapter begins. Now I write as a man with a significantly smaller but still substantial beard. I realized I had so loved the Big Beard chapter of my life that staying in it was preventing me from moving forward. The only thing I really lost was a few inches of beard, but the lessons I learned along the way will stay with me forever. And, even though my beard isn’t quite as remarkable now as it once was, I know that in a way it’s still there, just waiting for its next chapter to begin.
- Brian George Hose has been an advocate for LGBTQ persons and issues all his adult life. He holds a Bachelor of Social Work from Shepherd University and looks forward to pursuing a Master's of Social Work with a focus in mental health. A former musician, Brian served as minister of music for New Light MCC for several years and incorporates music into social work practice. He lives in rural Western Maryland where he has amassed a sinful number of books, yarn, and books about yarn. He has been writing for Baltimore Out Loud since February 2016.