For those unfamiliar, a "beard" is essentially someone that a closeted queer person uses to make everyone think they’re straight. So for example, if a lesbian dates a man to try to fit into heteronormative standards, then that man is a beard. It’s pretty shitty.
Unofficially, before I came out to even myself, I had my fair share of beards in the forms of celebrity crushes - a slew of men that I said I found attractive, even though I kind of actually didn’t...because I was gay.
As I approach the 3rd anniversary of my coming out, I decided to highlight this ridiculous array of men.
Hayden Christensen (circa 2002)
In 7th grade, which is the onset of puberty for normal people, my hormonal girl friends were obsessed with every remotely attractive male imaginable. And for the life of me, I just couldn’t understand it. I attended at K-12 school at the time, and before One Direction was even a thing (or born, probably), my friends would fan girl out over the senior boys. I’m talking with a fervor that landed them a lecture about lust by our Bible teacher. Like, they expressed their love with the kind of stuff that restraining orders were made of. One - the alliterated Brent Bennett - walked into our homeroom one morning, and so overcome by her loins, I guess, my BFF Carmen licked the spot on the floor where he had stood.
In short, my friends were lowkey stalkers.
I, however, was completely unfazed. I let my boy-crazed friends know this too, because being a pre-teen Leo, I took pride in being unaffected by the mania while standing out against the grain. This was especially the case when it came to their obsession with Josh Hartnett, which I still don’t get. He looks like a hodgepodge of incomplete features, thrown onto a face, but whatever, I’m sure he’s nice. We’d watch his movie Pearl Harbor at every one of our sleepovers (as if being a middle schooler at a private, Christian school full of the meanest white people wasn’t torturous enough), and I’d sit there in horror as my friends would kiss his face when it appeared on screen, leaving unflattering smear marks on my parents’ TV. My lips, however, would stay firmly in their natural place, not understanding why I would ever want to place them on any part of that man.
Also, Carmen’s AIM screen name was literally JoshHOTHartnett.
At some point, though, I guess I started to feel left out as the only one in our 7-girl clique who was not obsessed with some older dude. But if their preoccupations were going to men, then mine were going to Star Wars, so I figured it would be natural to meld the two together.
And thus I landed on Hayden Christensen, the star of the impending "Star Wars: Episode 2 - Attack of the Clones" that was being released in theaters that Spring.
Because of my Star Wars obsession, I was well-acquainted with him, so it saved me the trouble of having to search hard for something I wasn’t really disposed towards. I was able to recognize him as attractive, which was confirmed when I showed him to my friends, who clearly knew better than I did. So then finally, I had my own man to fawn over! Finally, I could understand what my friends were experiencing.
Because it didn’t quite feel natural to me. I could feel myself forcing it, exaggerating it, every time I’d bring out pictures of him to gush over with my friends. Sure, he was cute, but I didn’t feel passionate about it. I didn’t feel it in my head or my chest or my heart or my stomach. It felt...off.
I even went as far as printing out a collage of photos of him (most of them featuring a Padawan braid), and my friends and I would sneakily write things like “HOTHOTHOT!” and “HUBBA!” on his pictures instead of paying attention during class. We got written up during a band concert for doing this once, but even I could see the appeal of Hayden Christensen’s face over listening to 13 year olds mediocrely play uninteresting songs on their clarinets.
(No shade to clarinet players - obviously, because I was one.)
But even as I wrote those innocently suggestion words over his Canadian mug, I could still feel myself playing up the fervor so I could fit into the more genuine exclamations of my friends. In reality, I felt strained when I entertained the thought of finding Hayden attractive.
I ignored the sensation, though. Eventually as the years went on, I stopped pretending to be attracted to Hayden Christensen, but that was not courtesy of any actual self-awareness, but because other beards sprung up to take his place…
Howie D. of the Backstreet Boys (circa 1999-2001)
Honestly, with his long hair, he looked like a woman from the back, so that makes sense. But my “crush” on him clearly was just so obviously the result of a young, unknowingly gay me not being sure which one of the Backstreet Boys was actually attractive, so I shrugged and picked Howie. Stuck with it, too.
And that’s not even the half of it. Lance Bass was my NSYNC crush. Taylor Hanson was my Hanson crush. Do you see a pattern? Are things making a lot more sense now? Every time I tell someone that I think Taylor is the cutest Hanson brother, without fail they will retort with, “He looks like a woman.”
Yeah, well. I like what I like!
But also, I stand by my assertion that Howie D was cuter than Nick or Brian (who were the common ‘heartthrob’ choices of my peers)! It’s not my problem that those pasty white boys weren’t doing anything for me! And AJ isn’t cute. He just isn’t. Kevin was my second favorite, though. I’m not sure why, seeing how his older pictures kind of look...serial killer-ish.
Back to Howie, he currently has a company called "Sweet D, Inc", which is surprisingly not a male escort service.
Lil Bow Wow (circa 2002)
The Summer of ‘02 was a magical one, indeed. Freshly thirteen, I turned on BET and promptly felt my infatuations flare...with Lil’ Bow Wow.
I’m not sure if it was because he was a common crush for a lot of girls my age, including my cousin who was the poster child of heterosexuality, but I found myself in the beginning stages of...puppy love. Well, no, not really - I just wanted to use that horrible pun.
I did see him in concert, though, when he was a staple on the infamous "Scream Tour" - a show specifically crafted to usher girls into puberty, with boys who were maybe a little too young to croon vaguely sensual R&B tunes. The 2002 iteration of this tour also featured B2K, and though I could never play straight enough to find Omarion even remotely attractive, I did have another brief beard in the tragically underrated Lil Fizz. I guess I had a penchant for the lil ones with ridiculous monikers and long hair. Hmm.m
My only real memory about the entire experience, other than missing the opening act and having to squint to make out an already diminutive Bow Wow from our not-quite-close seats, was daydreaming that I’d somehow be given the opportunity to meet Bow Wow backstage. Despite the fact that I had awful social anxiety and still hadn’t shed all of my baby fat, he would think I was cute, and we’d proceed to have a long distance relationship where we’d correspond mainly by letter.
How gay do you have to be when you fantasize about writing letters to your celebrity crush?
To be honest, especially in Like Mike, Lil Bow Wow looks like a lot of the lesbian girls I used to play basketball with. So this one makes a lot of sense.
Matt Cohen (circa 2005-2006)
Who? Okay, I know this is super obscure, but this is actually a pretty interesting story, and I honestly couldn’t think of any other male celebrity I had a crush on during high school (it was 2003-2007, though - there weren’t all that many beard options).
But in 2005, a new show premiered on “The-N” in the slot that came on after Degrassi, so naturally I began watching it. It was called South of Nowhere.
And though they didn't initially advertise it that way, It became clear pretty quickly that South of Nowhere was about lesbians. Oh.
I was inexplicably so drawn to this show, which I often times snuck around to watch, because I felt weird about my parents knowing, as if I had something to hide (hmmm). I couldn’t quite pinpoint why I had become so invested in this show about lesbians, but to justify my interest (to myself, to my friends, to whomever may have cared), I honed in on the guys on the show.
One of which was Aiden, played by Matt Cohen.
I couldn’t even tell if he was hot at first. I just had the inkling that he was supposed to be, but I couldn’t quite tell. Referencing my trusty, boy crazy best friend Carmen (yes, the same Carmen of ‘JoshHOTHartnett’ fame), she quickly confirmed that Aiden was indeed super hot. Satisfied, I magically became excited about his apparent super hot masculinity too, and he quickly became my pseudo-focal point on the show.
Retrospectively, it’s baffling that I ever had to get a second opinion from Carmen, because he is just clearly so incredibly good-looking. Even being the closeted homosexual that I was, I’m not sure how I wasn’t able to figure that one out on my own.
Like, real talk right now, he is a beautiful man. Like, so cute. This is why I’m a Kinsey 4.5 sometimes when it comes down to it. The fact that his features are quite pretty, though, doesn’t hurt.
Though I’m kind of down with his good looks now, back in 2005, Aiden/ Matt was definitely just a beard. Sure, his picture graced the background of my Myspace page, but in all actuality, I was covertly obsessed and utterly infatuated with Ashley Davies.
Played by Mandy Musgrave, Ashley was one of the lesbians on the show, and I was utterly fascinated by her character - this independent, bad ass with snark and wit that masked her troubled emotional depths. She was nothing like I’d ever seen in my real life, and so much of what I wanted to be...except for the whole gay thing, of course.
I told myself that I wanted to be her best friend, but my feelings definitely pushed the bounds of platonic and lasted me all the way to college, where during the last season of South of Nowhere that aired during my freshman year, I started to imagine what it would be like to date Mandy (who said in an interview that she was a lot like the character of Ashley), because I mean, everyone has that one person they’d go gay for, right?
Interestingly enough, Matt and Mandy got married in real life, crushing both the dreams of my bearded “straight” self and my closeted lesbian self.
Tim Tebow (circa 2011-2012)
When I tell most people that Tim Tebow used to be one of my celebrity beards, they usually give me the strangest, most confused look and, while looking a little bit nauseous, ask, "Why?!"
But as a Christian “straight” girl, that was who I was supposed to like, right? He was inoffensively good-looking (I mean, in the most blandly generic way, but in some pictures, he’s objectively good-looking), shamelessly unspoken about his faith, and thus had become the Christian Posterboy of 2012. He was easy to namedrop in my church circle during those bizarre grown adult women sleepovers we would have, and that made me feel like my hetero game was on lock, like I actually had some semblance of a way to fit in with these women who I often inexplicably just felt detached from, like I couldn’t quite connect to.
Most importantly, if I did ever find myself in the unfortunate situation of dating Tebow, he wouldn’t expect sex from me, which would be great, because otherwise, ew.
Thing was - I actually wasn’t particularly interested in dating him. He was just an easy fallback for a acknowledged crush amongst my friends. I was even conscious of the fact that I was exaggeration my “attraction” to him - for the sake of humor, because if there’s a joke that always lands in Christians circles, it’s saying in a goofy, sultry voice that so-and-so's "sex appeal" is making you “stumble.” Works every time.
Tim Tebow definitely did not make me stumble. I was definitely walking quite steadily when it came to thoughts of him.
He also holds the distinction of being the only beard I kept up with after I finally realized I was gay, halfway through 2012. I just sort of chooe to let people believe that I was still all about Tebow until I officially came out eight months later. Shamefully, I can’t say I was privy to this charade during my entire Tebow stint, however.
Also, please forgive me for ever using the phrase “wifed up” in reference to a man and not meaning it ironically.
Nick Jonas (circa 2010-2011)
I mean, present day, he can definitely get it - I’m not gonna deny that.
But not in 2010! He was a CHILD!
Besides, back then, I wasn’t making one-off comments about how “yeah, Nick Jonas tips my Kinsey scales a bit” - I was legitimately claiming him as my future husband.
Got a little nauseous writing that.
This one’s juicy, because as I was posting all over social media about how I wanted to be Nick’s boo thang, I was secretly drooling over Demi Lovato constantly. I went to a concert they did together in 2010 and gushed all over facebook about Nick, Nick, Nick, when in all actuality, it was Demi who I was blown away by, who I couldn’t keep my eyes off of.
If I would’ve been famous as this was happening, I’d be fake-dating Nick Jonas but hooking up with Demi behind closed doors.
Back when I thought I was straight, I used to have the most boring fantasies about Nick Jonas that were pretty much just us being famous together and holding hands. I had absolutely no desire to kiss him whatsoever, so that would never happen in my day dreams. I figured I’d just need to actually get to know him for real, maybe fall in love a little, before the urge to pucker up came upon me.
And I definitely didn’t want his penis anywhere near me. But I figured that’s something a good Christian just magically started to desire once she got married.
Turns out, I was just super gay. This became clear when my “friendship” daydreams about Demi Lovato started to peculiarly always end with us making out - I wasn’t even consciously acknowledging my attraction to her, and that was still happening! It is now obvious that I was way more into Demi, even when self-closeted, than I could ever be into Nick.
You made a good beard though, Nick Jonas. But my closest friends weren’t fooled, because as fervent I was about you, my closet fervency for Demi still managed to shine through even more. As my best friend Nina told me after I came out to her, “I mean, I wasn’t that surprised, because of how you love Demi Lovato.” Oops.
Nowadays, however, if I had to choose a dream threesome, Demi and Nick would be a top contender. Because let’s be real - they both can get it.
Tommy the Green/White Power Ranger