Monday, April 23, 2012

Beards - So Much More Than Facial Hair

One Tuesday evening, when I was 14 or 15 years old, my congregation's youth group was given the assignment to break into groups of five or six and act out stories from the Bible and Book of Mormon. This particular week's activity was a competition where we had to interpret the old, traditional scripture stories with a modern-day theme while our church leaders video recorded us.

After we were done recording the short films, the leaders took us to another room where our parents all sat, waiting to judge our presentations. The rest of the night was designed to be a mini "Academy Awards" gala and we were all looking forward to seeing our movies and equally anticipated the chance of winning some ridiculous prize.

Well, as we all watched the movies, there were jokes made here and there about how nervous "so-and-so" was and about how rigid "such-and-such" was.  I wasn't too concerned, however, about being nervous or rigid on camera and I was super excited to see myself on the TV.  I knew I was going to be an amazing "Prodigal Son" and I couldn't wait for my parents to see their budding movie star in action.

Finally our video came on the screen and I watched in horror as I truly saw myself in action for the first time ever.  Good hell, my arms were flapping, I was stomping around, and my vocal intonations could have given Jack (from Will and Grace) a run for his money. I was a freaking tie-dyed Care Bear with hip dysplasia.

I was mortified and the look of shame on my family's faces was one of the most heart-wrenching things I remember from my youth.  As the video ended, the mocking and mean-spirited comments from the young men and women who were supposed to be my spiritual brothers and sisters began. The snarky comments of my peers and the look of severe disappointment from my parents was enough for me to flee the room in search of punch and snickerdoodles.

A couple of days later my mother decided to take me shopping with her.  As we strolled, alone, through the aisles of Fred Meyer, she would quietly stop and start looking at one end-cap or another before she eventually said, very casually but with a tone and look I will NEVER forget:

"You know, people at church are talking.  And, you know what they're saying. And you know we can't have people saying things like that. Because you're not. So, what are you going to change? What are you going to do differently so people stop saying things like that?"

And so the conversation went; I was drilled on how to act more masculine, or rather more straight, until my mother was satisfied by my responses and convinced of my resolve.

At that moment I knew I needed to change and do something drastic and convincing.  I began folding my arms tightly across my chest to try and minimize the flailing of arms and the use of hand gestures.  I measured the meter and intonation of my voice and did exercises when I was alone to minimize my vocal inflections. And, finally, I decided I needed to start dating ASAP.

Prior to this point I had already familiarized myself with multiple JC Penny catalogs and the several-page spread of men's underwear in each of them, as well as the men's section of a rather old but incredibly detailed sex education book titled, "Human Sexuality." As a result I readily come to the conclusion that I knew what my type of 'man' was but I really didn't know what type of 'girl' I would be interested in dating. All while bearing in mind that I believed my fascination with men and the male form was all a phase and that I just simply hadn't cultivated my heterosexual interest in women, yet.

Sure I had lot's of friends who were girls growing up. In fact, most of my close friends were female and I loved it that way, trust me. But even though I could tell which ones were cute and which ones I enjoyed spending time with, I couldn't really tell you which one(s) I was interested in dating.

Eventually I narrowed it down to one girl in particular and, shortly after I turned 16, I started dating my first "Beard." Essentially we dated for the next four years and I can say that I honestly loved her.  We had a very physical aspect to our relationship and I believe we were best friends. And, for the most part, it worked.

But there was a problem; both her and her mother were convinced we were soul mates and we were going to be together for eternity.  I, on the other hand, did not believe we were soul mates and I hid behind the excuse that I needed to go on a mission so I wouldn't have to get married.  Plus it was convenient that my parents couldn't stand the girl or her family so I had a free 'out' on that front, too.

Eventually things between us did end and I began dating a long line of other Beards.  Each one was different and unique and I tried my best to find a woman that would and COULD work with my "problem." Each one was beautiful and wonderful in her own way and I am a better person because of my association with them even though things did not work out between us.

As I write this post, there are a few of these women that I want to acknowledge and thank and, honestly, ask for forgiveness.

For their privacy and mine I will just use initials.

MS - You are such an amazing woman and I hope you always remember that.  You are charming, sweet, dedicated, and one of the most talented people I have ever met. You truly impacted me in ways you will never know.  We have connected off and on again over the years and I am sorry for all of the times you felt I was leading you on.  You were right, I was and I am so sorry.  Deep down, I believe, you were the only girl I could have married but, even deeper down, I think we both knew that was never going to happen.  I love and miss you and if you ever read this I want to thank you for everything.  You are a wonderful mom and an even more wonderful person.  Good luck and all my love, MJ

WS - Thanks for giving me the confidence to sing again.  You were so wonderful in so many ways.  I wanted things to work out between us so much.  You are such a smart, talented woman and I know you are going to go far in this life.  I hope you and your family are so happy and I know you will be a wonderful mother. Thank you for everything. Love, MJ

SW - Oh, S, this is probably hard on you. Maybe it's not, I don't know.  I know that the last time this happened to you it didn't go too hot for you.  But things are different now.  You're married and have a beautiful baby.  I truly hope you are happy and that you've found peace.  I hope that now you know now why things didn't work out between us that I really wanted them to. In fact, I prayed every day and fasted every week to make it work;  you are wonderful in so many ways and I hope that the man you found is truly worthy of you and all you have to offer this world and a marriage.  Your overwhelming talent, personality, and kindness are all so amazing, thank you for sharing them with me. I wish you the best and all the happiness in the world. Love, MJ

KM - I know we are getting older and I know we both wanted this to work.  On paper, it seemed pretty perfect.  In fact, in many ways it still does.  Your sweet, kind soul is so attractive and your talent and eagerness to share all you have with others is inspiring. Thank you for being so kind and for loving me for who I am. It has meant more to me than almost anything else.  You are going to be a phenomenal mother and wife and I know you will find a man who loves you and cherishes you and can be the husband you deserve. Thank you for everything. Love. MJ

There were many other Beards but the wonderful women above impacted my life and changed me - all of me - for the better. I am so grateful for them and for the ways they have influenced me.

Anyway, it looks like the arm-folding, vocal exercises, and fervent heterosexual dating didn't change me, ma' - I'm sorry to disappoint.  It looks like the Ward is going to have something to talk about - again. Who knows, maybe I'll even make another movie...


  1. MJ, You are one of my absolute favorite people in this entire world. It breaks my heart to think that you would ever feel the need to mute or hide your wonderful personality. The world is a better place because you are here...I am a better person because of your friendship. Please unfold those arms, let the voice inflections fly, and be completely yourself!

    I also think think it's very thoughtful of you to honor the girls who have been in your life. I hope they read this and see the kindness in your comments. You are a good soul. Lots of love, my friend!

    1. It's interesting re-finding myself, you know? As I've met you and your friend, and reconnected with Jo and met many others through her, I find bits of my 'old self' emerging and blending with who I am today.

      It's a really unique experience and I am grateful to have friends like you to help me through it. Thanks!

      As for the girls, there are many others but these four were by far the most active in my life. Thanks for your love and support. You are a wonderful friend!

  2. MJ, I'm sorry my life ate me and I've been rather absent... But I want to say that your posts are always amazing and very moving. (And though I didn't have time to respond, last week's was fabulous! Very well done, MJ.) Thank you for your honesty and constant thoughtfulness.

    By the way, my absolutely favorite French teacher was COMPLETELY metro, and I would not have loved his class as much as I did if his personality had not been so bubbly. Nor would it have been as perfect a class if the bubbly teacher were a woman. It was just wonderful as it was and my teacher was the best. I wish people could see the charm in diverse personalities a bit more, because talks like you received just shouldn't happen.

    Anyways, I'm glad we can be your friends now and not fuss about those silly details. Isn't it interesting how different times in our lives and different people help us explore ourselves in ways we couldn't before? One of my favorite parts of making new friends is knowing how much I'll get to learn from those new interactions. How much I'll learn about the world, about others, about myself, and about the gospel.

    Best of luck with everything, my friend.

  3. Il y a deux profs francais qui sont tellement metro a BYU. Je me demande lequel que tu parles...

    Thanks always for your kind words. The world is a diverse place and we need to celebrate it and all of us! I am so grateful for the friendships that I have cultivated on here. Honestly I would be lost without them!

  4. C'etait Prof Olivier. Je l'aime! :-)

    It's really been an amazing experience to read this blog and get to know some highly amazing people in the process. By the way, let us know how the coming-out went! I'm praying for you in the meanwhile.