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As the singer Kelis would say, “Her milkshake brings all the boys to the yard”. One thing that will always bring me howling to the yard is a man with facial hair or, at the very least, that five o’clock shadow.

In the late 70’s, the clones with their check shirts and ’taches emulated what many gay men saw as the ultimate heterosexual man with Tom Selleck and Burt Reynolds the undisputed poster boys. And let’s not forget the fantasy images of Tom of Finland. 

Image: Tom of Finland foundation

In my experience, much as the clones looked “hot”, what was on the lid was often not what was in the can. Many were hiding their dislike of their own sexuality by playing it pseudo straight, something that was compounded when, in New York in the 80s, I was outside the Munster Bar and a friend advised me, “Babe: if you get into any trouble scream for the drag queens. They will come running. The clones will just go hollering back into the bar.” 

Freddie Mercury brought the clone ’tache look back to life for Queen’s third studio album, “The Game” – a trend many said was inspired by the San Francisco gay clubs. The look was prevalent in London at Heaven, the Coleherne and the Earl’s Court Catacombs. Freddie is actually quoted as saying that when he looked back on all that black nail varnish, chiffon and satin, he thought, “God, what was I doing?”

The much-missed Freddie Mercury.

I recall having lunch with the late, amazing Kenny Everett and the Daily Mail journalist Lester Middlehurst in early 90s Los Angeles, when I couldn’t help but notice that both men had moustaches. Kenny was delightful and so very sweet. Still, he commented that I should really grow a ’tache. Men without them simply looked like women to him.

My partner of 18 years had a sexy ’tache, and his hair was standing up on the crown where someone had cut it too short, when I first spotted him. Devilishly handsome, I loved his ’tache. Although I’ve always remained smooth faced, I guess I always went with the theory that opposites attract. It just did not feel right to me if I missed even one day with the razor. 

Movember, the well-known charity, was behind my only attempt to grow a ’tache. One week in and friends kept asking if I had not washed. Two weeks on and it was starting to show, and though not impressive, it was there. A beautician friend of mine offered to get rid of a few nose hairs.

During the action she waxed half my newly sprouted moustache off. I let out a little shriek of horror. “WHERE’S MY MOUSTACHE GONE?” 

“Is that what that was?” came the reply.

It seems that 2020 saw an explosion of male facial hair adorning our screens. My favourite actor, Colin Farrell, makes me go weak at the knees with his Irish accent and ’tache. Eurovision, though cancelled, gave us the Russian band “Little Big”. Joining them from the gypsy Russian band “The Hatters” was Yuriy Muzychenko.

Yuriy – “Little Big”.

Yuriy, with his many stages of facial hair, is sex on legs, as well as being uber-talented. Since “Little Big” seem to embrace the ’tache so easily, it’s a pity their stance on LGBTQ issues seems a little questionable. Tom Hardy and Jake Gyllenhaal are wearing the beard this season and it looks (as Americans would say) totally  awesome on them.

Colin Farrell. Phwoarrr.

Graham Martin, one of London’s premier LGBTQ photographers, has seen an explosion of his clients sporting facial hair. Graham, who himself wears a distinguished silver-fox goatee, tells me that half his male clientele have some sort of ’tache or beard, compared to around one in ten just five years ago. Designer stubble started sneaking in, and the odd ’tache. The demand for the more rough-and-rugged look started pushing ahead of the usually popular twink or surfer look. 

Your correspondent with Graham Martin.

It could be that the gay scene is evolving. When I first came out in the late 70s, I was told at the tender age of 16 to have fun as “you’re washed up by 25”. Nasty lies fed to me by the chicken-hawks, as they were called back then.

At one point during the groundbreaking (and sure to win every award going) “It’s a Sin”, written by Russell T Davies, two of the characters are chatting. Curtis tells Richie he slept with a man who was 36; both express their disgust. Arguably the gay scene has always been youth obsessed, with a tendency towards the Dorian Gray complex.

Still, change certainly has come upon us. The Daddies, Silver Fox and The Bear, Wolf and Well-Over-40 seem to be the new in. One Silver-Haired Daddy who is in his sixties, wearing a ’tache and beard, says he is inundated with young men wanting to meet, as well as guys his own age. All seem to love the beard.

Michael Edde is a popular barber in London’s Earl’s Court with a large gay clientele. He has seen a huge increase in beards and ’taches. 

Legendary barber Michael Deeds.

“The best way to get your beard looking good is to grow it for ten to fifteen days and have it professionally shaped”, says Michael. “Obviously during lockdown this is impossible. My recommendation is to use conditioner or beard oil, and you might try using Buddha clippers. Start with the highest gauge and work down till you get the shape you’re happy with. Many of my male clients love a beard.” 

Slide for your correspondent’s before and after pics!

Being on my own during lockdown, I gave up shaving for a day or two and decided I quite liked the look. The second time around I had better luck, and my ’tache seemed to come through strongly this time. I had a little help from Watermans’ “GROWME” shampoo.

By week four, I had a beard and a ’tache for the first time in my 59 years.

Reactions were, erm, varied. Some people burst out laughing. Two girlfriends thought I looked like a Joe Swash tribute act. But for the most part, it went down very well. Graham Martin thought it was an attribute. My ex loved it, and even my sister thought it was cool. One thing that did stand out is the fact I am ginger, and much as I have hidden this since I was 18 by dyeing my hair blond, there was no way of hiding it with the beard. Maybe in my sixth decade, embracing my red-headed Scots heritage might not be a bad thing. It has certainly been fun trying it, and it may be here to stay. 

Certainly now, I can say with conviction, “Who’s your Daddy?” 

Graham Martin photography

Movember: charity for men’s health and suicide prevention

Click here for Michael’s Barbers. 

About the author

Steven Smith

One thought on “Tales of a single, middle-aged gay man: Steven grows a beard!”

  1. 59 is not middle aged, unless you’re planning to live until 118.

    However, there’s nothing wrong with looking after yourself, using a little hair dye, Botox and moisturiser to compliment the long hours at the gym. And a well sculpted beard can cover up a lot, from aging skin to a double chin and drooping jowls. Cheaper than a facelift.

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