From the Book
In his new book, Kevin Clarke, bestselling author of Porn — from Andy Warhol to X-Tube, shows us beards from the gay perspective. In addition to his view on the clones of the 1970s and their recent return, there are interviews and facts about beards as well as photographs showing how erotic a man's beard can be. From bestselling author Kevin Clarke Gay view on history of the beard Trend: The beard as an expression of the modern man
Below is The Mirror’s interview with Clarke
Why are you so fascinated with beards? At what age did it start?
I guess I’ve always loved hairy guys: face, chest, butt. And I have a partner who looks great with a full beard. (laughs) But the main reason for wanting to write a book on beards was a deep rooted interest in gay history. When publisher Bruno Gmünder first discussed the idea of a beard book with me, images of 1970s gay clones with their heavy stubble and mustaches shot through my head. To be exact, photos I had discovered a few years earlier in the archives of the Schwule Museum Berlin while researching my previous Gmünder book, Porn: From Andy Warhol to X-Tube (2011).
These vintage guys made quite an impression on me — probably because they reminded me of my own youth. I had always wondered why they had shaved off their trademark accessory once the AIDS crisis hit in the eighties, the time I was finally old enough to have sex with them. And I wanted to find out why now, all of a sudden, a whole new generation of “post-gay” men grew their beards back.
Was this a return to the “Golden Age of Promiscuity,” the outward sign that the AIDS crisis is over for good? So I told the Gmünder editors that if I were to do a beard book, I didn’t want to write about grooming products or shampoo, but make seventies icons such as Al Parker — whom his biographer calls “The Original Clone” — the starting point for my journey through the centuries, and look at bearded history from a pronounced gay perspective.
Why did gays adopt the beard as a sign of liberation in the 1970s?
After WW2, all facial hair was seen as politically suspicious. Don’t forget, Adolf Hitler had worn a clipped mustache, Stalin was sporting a bushy one, and the fathers of communism all had beards. Men in the West wanted to avoid being associated with such people at all costs, certainly in McCarthy-era America.
A clean-shaven corporate look became the new standard, as can be seen in the early seasons of Mad Men. Then the Woodstock generation started shaking things up in the later sixties, turning against such standards. Emancipated gays, after Stonewall in 1969, adopted that Woodstock look and developed it further. Their aim: showing that they were no longer closeted clean-shaven “Boys in the Band” but self-confident males.
“Gone were the supposedly self-hating queens who lived only to service straight trade, who spent a lifetime on their knees,” writes David Halperin in his book How to be Gay. “No longer were gay men alternately one another’s sisters and one another’s rivals for the favors of the young and the beautiful; now they were one another’s preferred objects of desire. ‘We’re the men we’ve been looking for’ was the watchword of the 1970s.”
And the men who the gays claimed to have always desired were rough bearded guys in jeans and worker clothes. The restyle was certainly “rugged and handsome.” Urban Marlboro men populated the emerging gay scene, worldwide. Of course, once the AIDS crisis started, no one wanted to look “homosexual” or “sexually dangerous,” because that would have meant being stigmatized. So off came the beards, and the body hair, to show there were no signs of decay on the heavily pumped-up bodies that became the new ideal, in the “plastic” porn films of the eighties, as well as in real life.
Any interesting facts about beards you uncovered while researching this book you want to share?
What I found most fascinating is how three very different groups of people adopted beards after 2001 for very different reasons, but collectively inspired the world to grow back big old-fashioned beards.
First, you have the gays who abandoned the clean-shaven Calvin Klein ideal of the 1990s and went for a hairier look, previously made popular by the bear movement; in a way, it was a maneuver to differentiate themselves from the hordes of “metrosexuals” who had all started to look like wannabe homosexuals.
Then you have the renaissance of Wild West mentality and cowboy fashion after 9/11 in conservative heterosexual American circles, a trend that strangely overlapped with the bear movement and found its way into nearly every style magazine of this world — checked shirts, lumberjack outfits, the works.
Then you have the asexual hipsters, adopting the Taliban beard as an anti-establishment statement, but eliminating its political implications. As a result, you can’t tell from a beard which sexual or political orientation a man has today. That’s something new in history, where beards had always functioned as a “marker.”
I guess this anything-goes-attitude makes beards so attractive. Because now they are now just that: a fabulous fashion accessory. Or, as Mike Yerxa from MTV’s 1 Girl 5 Gays puts it, “Forget about glasses, watches, ties, shoes, or hats — the beard is the greatest male accessory of all time.” The editors of the trendy magazine Fantastic Man add: “Prominence, virility, and wisdom are just some of the powers a beard can lend to its wearer. Beards are undeniably rugged and handsome.” I’ll say Amen to that!
What’s your favorite beard story in the book?
One thing that made a lasting impression on me was what fashion photographer Pedro Virgil said: “These days, it’s all about being relaxed with yourself, not just in the fashion world, but in all areas of life. I think people would rather equate ‘relaxed’ to ‘masculine,’ and not ‘gay’ or ‘straight,’ ‘queer’ or whatever. Which is probably why many people don’t want to see overly manicured men, which includes extremely buff gym bodies, anything that signals ‘high maintenance.’ Beards are a clear outward sign of such relaxedness.”
But I also love female porn director Mr. Pam’s observation: “In the more ‘piggy’ style of porn, beards work as a flavor-saver. If a guy eats some other guy’s ass out, his whole beard will smell of ass subsequently. If you’re into that, you can run around all day smelling your upper lip and being turned on by what you did earlier. So, for the ‘piggy boys’ out there, that’s awesome.” It’s kind of funny that this insight came from the only woman I interviewed for the book!
What’s next for you?
I’ve just been to New York to work on a new book called “The Big Penis Collection.” (laughs) It is another gay history, in a way, but instead of beards it focuses on the penis-centered art collection at the Leslie + Lohman Museum. You could say that I’m working my way through all of my obsessions. One by one. But I enjoy doing it, it helps me understand and enjoy them better. (laughs)
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Bruno Gmunder Verlag Gmbh (November 1, 2013)
Product Dimensions: 11.2 x 8.6 x 1.4 inches
Shipping Weight: 4.2 pounds
Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars
Price: $89.99 (Amazon — $60.66; Barnes & Noble — $76.94)