Beard is a slang term describing a person who is used, knowingly or unknowingly, as a date, romantic partner (boyfriend or girlfriend), or spouse either to conceal infidelity or to conceal one's sexual orientation. The American slang term originally referred to anyone who acted on behalf of another, in any transaction, to conceal a person's true identity. The term can be used in heterosexual and homosexual contexts, but with increasing acceptance of gay culture, references to beards are seen in mainstream television and movies as well as other entertainment.
In a typical scenario, X and Y are in a supposedly exclusive relationship, but X is actually cheating with Z. However, to prevent Y from learning about X's infidelity, W, the "beard", pretends to be paired with Z.
Such a scenario is a central premise of Woody Allen's 1984 film Broadway Danny Rose. The titular talent agent is the beard, pretending to date Tina, a single woman who is actually having an affair with married singer Lou Canova. By posing as Tina's date, Danny can bring her to Lou's performances without drawing attention from Lou's suspicious wife. The term "beard" is a running gag, used four times (e.g., "I'm only the beard") when Tina's relatives assume Danny is Tina's previously mysterious lover.
Concealing sexual orientation
Recognized usage of beard applies to a person who serves to camouflage another's sexual orientation. An example is the woman a gay man pretends to date in an effort to conceal his sexuality. Though beard entered wider use in the 1960s, many of the reported lavender marriages of 1920s in Hollywood, and the similar reported romantic marriage of Rock Hudson (mid-1950s) employed the same usage. In Hudson's case, Phyllis Gates acted as his beard, to avert the damage that the disclosure of Hudson's homosexuality might have caused to his career. In a 2011 interview, Betty White stated that she often served as a beard to Liberace to counter rumors of his homosexuality.
American cartoonist Ted Rall's July 5, 2004, cartoon used the term to mock then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, depicting her character being sent to a "racial re-education camp" where she refers to herself as George W. Bush's "beard". Beard in this context ostensibly referred to Rice camouflaging racial discrimination in the White House; it had been reported in the press in 2003 that she had been involved in crafting Bush's position on race-based preferences.
- Cassell's Dictionary of Slang. p. 83.
- Eric Partridge, Tom Dalzell, Terry Victor. The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English: A-I. p. 114.
- Paul Baker. Fantabulosa: The Dictionary of Polari and Gay Slang. p. 80.
- CNN Official Interview: Betty White: Bea Arthur was not fond of me. youtube.
- Rall, Ted (July 5, 2004). "Ted Rall Editorial Cartoon". GoComics.com.
- "Rice says race can be 'one factor' in considering admissions". CNN. 2003-01-18. Archived from the original on 10 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-03.