Gem City Gentlemen of the Gilded Beard: Saving the world from social tyranny, one beard at a time
By Benjamin Dale
In our so-called “civilized state,” in this, the modern age, beards are seen as something of an anachronism. A relic from our unwashed past in the primordial soup, a beard is thought uncouth or eccentric. Most white collar work still carries a strict prohibition on male facial hair, which begs the question – are you a beardist?
Beardism, (beer-diz-um,) noun. Hatred and intolerance of beards, and those who sport them.
“I don’t know if women are more attracted to men with beards, but the good women sure are,” said Thomas Maurice Smith, co-founder of the Gem City Gentlemen of the Gilded Beard as well as Beard Team Ohio.
Some won’t be stopped by the restrictions of society, and choose to wear a beard regardless of the social ramifications. Recently, an underground society of flavor savorers has been organizing for the betterment of bearded fellows everywhere.
The Gem City Gentlemen of the Gilded Beard, a beard advocacy group started in February 2010, are Dayton’s own chapter for sideburn solidarity. Their motto, “Saving the world from social tyranny, one beard at a time,” pretty much sums up the group’s fierce stance in opposing authoritarianism, wherever it may be found. Beards are even represented at the state and national levels, with Beard Team Ohio and Beard Team USA.
Beard Team USA organizes the annual National Beard and Moustache Championships, represents the U.S. at international beard and moustache competitions, and through its network of over 50 local chapters, “promotes the appreciation of facial hair nationwide,” according to their website.
They also claim that unlike some sporting organizations, “Beard Team USA encourages the use of performance ‘enhancing’ substances.” Beard Team USA also opposes discrimination against the bearded, mustached, sideburned and goateed.
Local chapter, Gem City Gentlemen of the Gilded Beard is gearing up for the 2nd Annual Ohio Beard and Mustache Competition on Saturday, November 12 at COSI in Columbus.
After the tremendous success of last year’s beard competition at Polen Farm in Kettering, the founders decided to relocate to Columbus.
“This year we’ve combined with beard and mustache enthusiasts statewide,” said Smith. “We’ve decided to have the competition in the middle of the state, in the capitol.”
The competition is split into nine categories, ranging from full beards to fake beards to a simple mustache; there will be winners in each category. All proceeds from the event will go toward Prostate Cancer Research.
While I understand the military’s argument that beards can be a distracting from regimental uniformity, and also, considering the dirty work the military must do, a performance hindrance when wearing a gas mask. The true reasons for widespread beard prejudice become increasingly foggy upon critical examination.
During the civil war, arguably one of the most badass wars in human history, brother against bearded brother slaughtered each other in America’s fields. Nearly every distinguished general in that war had a prodigious beard, and the period gave birth to various beard styles still practiced today, albeit in a less militaristic crowd. The sideburn was in fact named after General Ambrose Burnside, whose champion chops accompanied him through command at the battles of Antietam and Fredericksburg. In fact, Civil War re-enactors are perhaps one of the few subcultures in society where beards are prevalent, as they are also ubiquitous in the music and bohemian urban arts scenes. And baristas. Can’t forget them.
In the 20th century beards fell out of fashion after the military abandoned the beard when it was found to inhibit the effectiveness of the masks worn to protect soldiers from the deadly mustard gas deployed during trench warfare. The last president to wear a beard in office was Ohio’s own William Howard Taft, and since then, despite a brief revival in the 1970s, the beard has gone the way of the buggy, falling out of mainstream fashion for nearly a century. Even today, despite a revival of facial individuality in our postmodern landscape, one risks being labeled a terrorist if one allows their beard to fully bloom. I can’t help but wonder if in an alternate universe where Americans wore beards and terrorists didn’t, might the opposite be true?
Beards are not only associated with violent men, however, as some of the most distinguished philosophers and men of peace were known to wear whiskers. Many religions hold the beard to be a sacred symbol of masculinity, and even prohibit their followers from shaving, or marring the corners of the face. Hell, even Jesus had a beard, and perhaps like Peter’s refusal to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord, we in post-Christian society still regard ourselves as unworthy to sport the beard of our subconscious Savior.
Many today must sacrifice considerable economic opportunity for the sake of maintaining a piece of facial flourish. Militant feminism in the workplace certainly castrated men, preferring a clean, androgynous look rather than an intimidating symbol of masculine power that could only lead to patriarchal domination.
“At large, there is a weakening, but definite prejudice against the bearded man,” said Smith. “Some people see a beard and assume things about you – that you’re a Hell’s Angel, you’re homeless, you’re a drug addict. But I see it as an opportunity to make bearded people look good by being polite and decent to everyone.”
Ohio’s Second Beard & Moustache Competition and Festival will be held Saturday, November 12, at 6 p.m. in Columbus at the COSI Science Center, 333 W. Broad St. Tickets are $10 and are available at www.beardteamohio.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Benjamin Dale at BenDale@DaytonCityPaper.com.