A lot happened in 2018, but for me it was the year of the beard. I’ve had a beard of varying length for years, but dress codes and social norms generally kept it in check. Every few weeks (or months) I’d go to a barber and tidy up so I would look like a respectable young man. Then my barber closed towards the end of 2017 and because I was working in a more relaxed environment, I decided to conduct my own social experiment and not trim my hair or beard for a year. Here’s what happened.
At first I thought all I had to do to grow my beard was to continue to not shave. This worked for a while, but after achieving a certain length I learned that beards demand special attention. Beards have a different texture than the hair on your head and therefore require specialized products and care. I could have a beard that looks like mental illness on my face, or I could have a nice, healthy beard. I chose the latter and educated myself on the proper care of my ever-growing beard.
Cold water is preferred for washing and though beards should always be rinsed in the shower, shampooing should occur on an as-needed basis to help retain the natural oils that give beards color and a softer, more manageable texture. Beard shampoo and conditioner are essential, and a little aloe vera and conditioner can work miracles for even the most damaged beard.
Once I had figured out the proper care and maintenance of my beard, I realized that it doubled as an icebreaker. Men started talking to me – all men. Straight guys began stopping me on the street to compliment my beard and ask for tips. They wanted to know how they could have a beard like mine, which I attribute to good genes and the aforementioned research in beard care. A beard is one of the most obvious and outward expressions of masculinity, which means that what these guys were really asking was, How do I look like an alpha male?
It wasn’t just straight guys, though. Our community tends to prize masculinity, and the longer and shinier my beard became, the more attention I received from potential suitors. The attention often came with assumptions about my personality, temperament, and preferences. Some were correct; others weren’t. As an introverted wallflower, I generally liked the attention because with attention came power.
By summer, I had been dubbed The Viking by a new group of friends. Suddenly I was getting respect and admiration, not because I was a different person but because I had acquired a decent amount of face fuzz. I began to realize the power of appearances and the way others respond to the way we look. It’s something I still struggle with because I think appearances are superficial and trivial, but in reality they can (and do) matter. What’s a Viking to do?
Now that my year of the beard is drawing to a close, I’m wondering what’s in store for me and my beard. My social experiment taught me a lot about myself and helped me to love myself in new ways. You see, beards are also divisive and not everyone was a fan (and they weren’t afraid to say so).
But what I love about my beard is that it’s me. I love that somehow I was blessed with genes that result in a full, red beard that reminds me that I have the spirit of a Viking even when I feel like a lost lamb. And, in learning to care for my beard, I began to learn how to care for myself. I learned that others’ opinions of me don’t matter, but my own opinion does. That’s a lesson from me to you. Happy New Year!
- 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.