Beard Stories: And again

A tall, thin man with stringy blond hair shook a paper cup, rattling a few coins. He wore an oversized nylon windbreaker that once was white, and the creases in his pale face were highlighted by a faint accumulation of dirt from days without washing. “Spare some change?”

“Sorry,” I said. I didn’t have any in my pockets. Pan-handling must have been easier in the days before credit cards.

I turned to enter the store. “Hey!” he called out. “Hey, I like that!”

I turned. Yes, he was pointing to my chin. “Thanks!”

“That’s awesome!”

“Thanks!”

 

I used to be kind of scared of homeless people. They were foreign to me, and, growing up in suburbia, I associated them with a kind of rough urban grunginess that included muggers and pickpockets and people who smashed in your car windows – various kinds of people who were trying to get some tidbit of the relative wealth I enjoyed. The overlap in homelessness, addiction, and mental health issues added to my apprehension. I knew, growing up, that giving money to homeless folks was a complicated issue, because of the potential that they would spend it on drugs. I had seen homeless people (or people I perceived to be homeless – I conflated homelessness and panhandling and dirtiness) screaming and yelling at the sky, or, worse, at passersby. I saw homeless folks as irrational, unpredictable, and potentially dangerous.

As I started to collect the beard stories, I started to notice patterns. Who responds and how, under what circumstances, and with what emotions.

Of all the people I see, talk to, interact with, or walk by on any given day, almost none of them have any visible reaction to my beard. Now and then, someone will ask a question or say something about it. But, out of the hundreds of people I might pass on a given day, typically none of them respond.

Far and away, the group that’s most likely to comment on my beard is homeless people – or people I perceive to be homeless, anyway. Today, for example, I probably walked by a few hundred people who live under roofs, and not one said anything about my beard. I walked by two men panhandling, and one of those two responded.

But, what surprised me more than the number of responses from homeless folks was the quality of those responses. Almost without exception, the responses from homeless folks are enthusiastically, sometimes jubilantly, positive and complimentary.

I don’t quite know why that is. D suggested that maybe it’s because they’re a group of people who are used to living outside of society’s rules and expectations, so they may have more fondness for other folks who are living outside the rules, including gender rules. I wonder if some of the mental health issues might be working in my favor – maybe folks who struggle with impulsivity and following standard codes of politeness are, in general, more apt to blurt out whatever’s on their mind, while others maintain good manners and “appropriate personal distance.”

I wonder what the homeless subculture might be like. I imagine that there’s some subculture there, forged by these groups of people who live and eat and sleep and beg together. I’ve heard of rules of etiquette and territory among those who work the freeway off-ramps. I imagine there are many details of the subculture that I don’t know, and I wonder if I’m seeing a little glimpse into this subculture through these responses to my beard. What is it about homeless subculture that makes folks so easygoing about talking about my beard? What makes them compliment me so enthusiastically?

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Categories: Beard Stories, bearded lady, bearded woman, Positive, Surprising | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “Beard Stories: And again

  1. C.

    I stumbled accross your blog through the Reddit story about Balpreet… I’m going through my own period of wondering – different wonderings but even so… – and I find your writing to be comforting and calming in the midst of my own chaotic and painful situation. I appreciate your observations. I’m not sure I could rock the beard but I am humbled by, even envious of, your comfort with yourself and who you are. I am pleased to see that you have support not only from those who you know but also from random people in the world who have no agenda or motivation to do anything but speak the truth as they see it. It restores a little of my faith in humanity at a time when I have very little faith left at all.

    • Hi C,
      Thanks. Glad to hear my writing is helpful. I hope you’re able to figure out whatever it is you’re wondering about.
      Rae

  2. Del

    Another thought is that many homeless or street people have a severe lack of connection – most people do their darndest to ignore them or act as though they can’t see or hear them. Once someone establishes even the smallest amount of recognition – looking them in the eye, talking directly to them – they will go to great lengths to continue that for as long as they can. Imagine spending all your days where everyone around you actively wishes you were invisible and inaudible, and then someone has the heart to drop the smallest piece of humanity into your lap…it feels validating. I do my best to interact with street people as much as I can; maybe not always giving them money, but at least acknowledging their existence and maybe extending them a touch, a hug, a meaningful and heartfelt “I understand”.

  3. Pingback: BEGGARS CORNER « hastywords

  4. Loving this blog – thank you! I too am a bearded lady, although I’ve been plucking it since I was about 17 – that’s more than 30 years now. I’m actually pretty hairy all over, but my little goatee is the only hair I’ve ever really felt self-conscious about, and I let the rest of it flow free … I’ve even finally grown kind of fond of my mustache. Funny how random people’s (or at least my) ideas of OK vs. Not-OK can be. Re. homelessness – I’ve often wondered what it would be like to be without a private, convenient place to pluck. Could I learn to be comfortable plucking in public? Or would I finally just let that go too? What would it take for me to embrace my beardedness? Just some thoughts – and a “thank you” to you for eliciting them!

    • Thanks!
      That’s an interesting thought. Homelessness does deny folks of a sense of privacy – for going to the bathroom, for masturbating and sex, for all the things most of us are used to doing in private. I hadn’t thought of it in terms of plucking hair, but you definitely have a point.
      And, along the same lines, many homeless men grow beards because of a lack of opportunity to shave. They don’t have clean water, a mirror, fresh (expensive) razors, etc. Years ago, a friend of mine was being stalked by a homeless man. She had an easy time describing him to police because he was unable to grow a beard. So, she told the police to look for the beardless homeless man, and that narrowed it down pretty well.

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