Monthly Archives: August 2012

Beard Stories: The moment of determination

At the Castro farmer’s market today:

The man selling hummus and other spreads held out a piece of spinach-stuffed bread with yogurt, artichoke hummus, and jalapeno sauce on it. “Free sample, sir?”

I dropped my voice half an octave. Not faking anything, just the lower end of my normal range. “Sure,” I said, taking the bread. Part of what fascinates me in my experience with my beard is what gender they guess me to be. Some days, I feel like I’m presenting a very masculine appearance – button down shirt, tits smooshed flat in a sports bra, shoulders squared, taking large steps. Sometimes I default feminine, raising my voice a few tones and turning up my sentence-ends, to appear friendly to store clerks and taxi drivers. Most days, I feel kind of neutral. I have my beard. I have my tits. I wear tshirts sometimes, button-downs sometimes, jeans most times. And in these neutral times, it seems like a toss-up what gender I’ll get read as. Not that people will necessarily be confused; that comes a few seconds later. It’s the first read that puzzles me. “Free sample, sir?” “Can I help you, ma’am?” These phrases, said with casual confidence – and often quickly corrected – give me hints at what people notice first. Sometimes it’s obvious why. When I’m slouched in the window seat, with a blanket over my chest, no wonder the stewardess calls me “sir.”
These moments are often fleeting. As soon as I ask the stewardess for a coke, my voice tips her off to her “mistake.” So, sometimes I try to extent the moment. I drop my voice a little, square my slouchy shoulders, let the ends of my sentences fall, clip my words a little bit, substitute “yeah” for a precise “yes.” I’m curious what they’ll see next. If the tits don’t tip them off, and the voice doesn’t tip them off, will they wise up to my gentle jawline, my delicate hands, my shallow brow ridge, or some subtle social cue of feminine behavior that I’m not even conscious of performing?
So much of the reading of gender is below consciousness – mine as well as theirs. So I try to slow these moments down, pay more attention, see what I can pull out.

Of course, the answer is that most of the time I can’t read the person’s mind. I can’t tell what they responded to, what they thought.

The man selling hummus doesn’t correct himself, but I can see the second look as he watches me eat the hummus, which, incidentally, is delicious.
He tells another customer about the special deal – five for the price of four – and then turns back to me. “It’s good, yes?”
“Yes. Very tasty.”
He talks me into another sample – the same stuffed bread, with butternut squash dip, hummus, and sweet and sour carrots.
As I chew, he motions stroking his chin, nods towards mine, and says, “This looks good!”
“Thanks!” I smile. A compliment always feels good.
“I like it!”
“How… How do you… How do you grow it?”
“It just grows there.”
He looked puzzled.
“It just grows there,” I repeat, “I just stopped shaving.”
“Hm. Wow,” he purses his lips and raises his eyebrows, nodding. He thinks for a moment, nods approvingly. “It looks good. I like it!”
He smiles and nods again, then goes back to discussing the merits of the lentil-curry spread with seasoned carrots. I take him up on the five for the price of four deal, getting one of everything except the jalapeno.

Categories: Beard Stories, Positive | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Beard Stories: “That’s disgusting!”

August 2, 2008

1pm, downtown San Rafael, Marin County, CA

J (my coworker) and I are walking around downtown San Rafael, killing time as we eat ice cream and being amused at the overly quintessential American downtown neighborhood with its upscale Marin boutiques. We’re standing in front of a portrait studio, critiquing the cheesy, artsy family portraits on display.

A guy in his early to mid forties, shaved head, medium-heavy build, tall-ish, wearing a tshirt and maybe jeans walks by, passing in front of us. As he passes me, he turns to stare, pausing a step, craning his neck around to see as he walks past. When he’s a step or two past me, he exclaims, “That’s disgusting!” with a look of horror. For a second, I looked around, looking for what horrible thing he’s referring to. A few steps further on, he adds, “That was a bearded [____]” – I didn’t catch the last word, as he’d already turned his head away and was several paces down the street.

I told Dossie about it, puzzling over whether he might have been talking on a bluetooth headset or whether he was addressing the world at large, since he didn’t seem to be walking with anyone in particular. Dossie replied, “He was talking to you.”

The only other negative reaction I’ve gotten was from the one rabbi in Israel. Nothing bad when I was in New Jersey, Florida, Ohio, or even West Virginia (although I avoided strangers and wore baggy jackets when in West Virginia). I didn’t expect this in the bay area.

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Beard Story: Marriage, beards, and bigots

Beard Story from June 16, 2008

(Historical context – this was the first day that gay marriages were allowed, for the second time, in SF.)

Went down to City Hall today, to see Del Lyon and Phyllis Martin get married at 5:01pm
There was a decent-sized crowd outside – out front of city hall and across the street. The queers/ queer-friendly folks and the anti-gay christian folks were all mixed in together, with their various signs and placards. It looked like some people were going inside, but it was a little unclear whether it was an invite-only thing. Dossie asked the cop standing by the doorway if we could come in. He said, “Of course.”
Dossie pointed out to me later that she had made a point to hold onto my arm, so that she would look queer enough by association – quite a role-reversal of me coattailing her through Leather spaces.
We walked into City Hall, got through the metal detectors. It seemed like people were going upstairs, so we followed them. There were clearly a group of people with lots of cameras gathered at one end of the 2nd floor, but it looked roped off. We wandered around trying to see if from various angles, and then saw that no one seemed to be policing who got into the apparently roped off area. So, I wandered in, waiting for someone to stop me. No one did. Apparently it was open to the public.
The crowd was maybe 10 people deep from the center, so we couldn’t see a thing. There was a woman who looked like a reporter, standing on a chair so she could see better. There had been folding chairs outside the crowded area, so I went to get one, again waiting for someone to stop me. Again, no one did.
With the chair, we could see to the center of the crowd. Jacob, Dossie, and I took turns (and shared with some other people nearby) watching Gavin Newsom speak, then hearing Del and Phyllis talk to a reporter, then Gavin again, then the city attorney, then Mark Leno. Lots of cheering. The whole thing was excited and festive and alive.
Somewhere in there Del and Phyllis cut the wedding cake. They’d had the ceremony in a private room and were having a private reception elsewhere, before they took off in a limo with a “Just Married… Finally” sign on the back. When the speeches were over, 3 or 4 fags set to cutting the cake into tidy little 2″ cubes, so everyone there could have a tiny piece of the historic cake. Jacob, Dossie, and I split a piece, after Dossie said hi to a few friends of hers who were there as part of the private party with Del and Phyllis. One of these friends had been Dossie’s “older woman” lover, way back when.
The crowd was starting to disperse inside, so we wandered back outside, to see what the crowds were up to.
As Jacob, Dossie, and I exited City Hall, with Dossie and me walking arm in arm, the whole crowd outside started cheering (and the few hateful hecklers booed and shouted other things). We looked around, trying to figure out who they were cheering for. Apparently, they were cheering for us. A bunch of people took our picture as we walked out – people were lining the ramp out of city hall, nearly blocking our way as we exited. Either the crowd was just so excited they were cheering for anything, or someone didn’t get the memo that there was only one gay marriage today. We watched for a while, and the crowd seemed to be cheering anyone who left city hall who looked anything like a queer couple.

The whole thing was fabulous and exciting and sweet and momentous. The Gay Freedom Band was playing, there were many more pro-gay folks than anti-gay bigots, so the assholes’ yells got drowned out easily, although they did have bigger signs. There was a woman in a cow suit hawking free Ben and Jerry’s, and there were people holding the four poles of a rainbow chupah. And, of course, there were plenty of fabulous signs. My favorites were:
-Married heterosexuals support you
-Yay gays! (Written with a marker on notebook paper and resolutely held up in front of a huge “god hates you” sort of banner, so you couldn’t take a picture of the hateful sign without getting the friendly sign in the picture.)

We wandered the crowd, said hi to a few friends, took photos of the pro-gay signs held up in front of the anti-gay signs. We were standing by one guy with a “god hates you” sort of sign, and he started yelling how there were no gays and lesbians, there were only men and women – and presumably they should pair off accordingly. So, to prove him wrong, Dossie and started making out in front of him. He yelled, “That beard doesn’t prove you’re a man!”  Dossie, Jacob, and I cracked up.
As we walked away, Dossie commented to Jacob , “the beard might not prove it, but the dick sure does a good job of it.”
As Dossie and I walked back to the car, arm in arm, a guy said, “Congratulations! I saw you come out [of City Hall] earlier.” We thought it was sweet to be congratulated by the random public on a marriage we hadn’t even had. And that we don’t intend to have, for that matter. We seem to be doing just fine skipping right over the marriage and on to the consummating.

It was fun to be at something that felt important and historic. I live around so many people who were at events that are now part of the cultural history, and I feel like I’ve missed so much – especially so much of the good, exciting stuff. So, even if this was the second time around for Del and Phyllis to get married, it still felt like a historic big deal, and it felt good to be there.

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Baby fist full of beard

Ok, so the photo didn’t capture the baby with her teensy-tiny fingers all tangled in my beard, so you’ll just have to imagine. It was adorable. Turns out the diameter of my beard curls is just about the same as the diameter of a 4-month-old’s fingers, so her bitsy little digits kept winding their way into my beard. And when I was holding her upright, my beard was right in range of her little outstretched waving arms. When she gets a few more months of muscle on her, that tugging on my chin will get painful. For now, it’s amusing, feels about the same as having my beard tightly braided, and is far better than when the baby steals my glasses off my face.

p.s. This is one of my favorite websites!

Categories: Beard Stories, Positive | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Early beard timeline

I’m posting things a bit out of order here, as I begin to assemble the stories from the various places I’ve written them down – LJ, email, notebooks, 3 different computers, scraps of paper.

So, I’ll provide a bit of a timeline here, to give the stories a bit more context and framework.

Early beard timeline:

February 26, 2008 – got accepted into grad school.

March 10, 2008 – got offered a summer job as a grad student researcher

March 2008 – made a plan to quit my job ASAP, which would leave me 6 weeks to travel and play around before starting work/school. Decided to also use those 6 weeks to grow my beard, to satisfy my curiosity about what my beard looks like if I don’t hide it. Planned to shave it before starting work for the summer.

April 2, 2008 – gave my one-month notice at work. I considered giving notice on April Fool’s Day but decided against it. I was happy enough to be quitting and didn’t need another excuse to start chuckling as I told them I’d be leaving.

April, 2008 – planned a bunch of travel, including trips to see family. Didn’t really think through that I was planning this travel for the time that I’d have my beard.

April 24, 2008 – quit my job, started growing my beard.

May 2008 – traveled to see my parents. Also saw several friends from high school and two sets of aunts/uncles/cousins who I hadn’t seen in a few years.

May 24 – June 4, 2008 – traveled to Israel

June 5-8, 2008 – decided not to shave my beard when I started work for the summer. I’d had good experiences overall, so it seemed ok to keep it. And, I had underestimated how long it would take to grow, and I was curious what it would look like as it filled in more. I figured I’d shave it in the fall, before I started a teaching fellowship that would have me teaching in a middle school once a week.

June 9, 2008 – started work at a graduate researcher.

June 13, 2008 – here are a few pictures of me with 7 weeks of beard.

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June 9, 2008

I finished washing my hands and turned to walk out of the restroom at work. The door opened, a woman walked in. She saw me, blinked, paused half a step as she was walking in. She continued walking a few more steps, so did I. When she had passed me and I was almost out the door, I turned for a second. She had stopped walking and was looking around at the stalls, confused. “Is this the wrong restroom?” she asked me. “Nope,” I replied, in a friendly tone.

I love my new haircut. I also love my beard.

(And I’m wondering if I should start using the men’s room.)

Categories: Beard Stories, Questions | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

The story of this beard

The short version, the version I usually give when a stranger inquires, is this: 

Hair started growing out of my chin when I was about thirteen. For the next twelve years, I shaved, tweezed, pulled, and occasionally chemical-burned the hair away. It was a pain, so I finally decided to just let it grow. 

I didn’t expect to like having a beard (I didn’t expect to hate it, either), but I did. So I kept it. And, somewhere along the way, I started writing down all the odd occurrences and amusing moments my beard brings me. These are those stories. Some day, I hope to organize them into a book, but, for now, they’re appearing here in a more scattered form. 

For more details about who I am, see the “About” section. 


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