The Unbeard

A beard is a slang term describing a person who — knowingly or unknowingly — is recruited as a companion to someone in order to hide, well, usually, to hide that they’re gay. That’s uh, that’s the point, a Beard is someone you go on dates with or even marry, so that you can convince the people around you observing your life that you’re straight. Oh, you can make the case that if you tell your wife you’re going to Vegas to hang out with Tony Baloney for a minigolf tournament, and the inherent Dudes Rockness of that covers for the fact that you are, in fact, going to Vegas for some entirely heterosexual infidelity, and that makes Mr Baloney your beard, but let’s not kid ourselves, when people talk about ‘someone’s beard’ they mean the gay thing.

Beards are a longstanding tradition in media, and you can view them in terms of the real world people doing real things, or you can consider them as a media trope. In sitcoms, it was not uncommon for a Love Interest to get dropped in to a media vehicle for a bunch of male comedians just to make sure that this show full of dudes who hung out with dudes and did all their emotional engagement with dudes didn’t look, ah, gay?

What I want to present to you now is the Unbeard: A heterosexual love interest who is so unconvincing and undeveloped that it makes the character interested in them seem gay.

I’ve talked about the Unbeard before, in the context of Tangled: The TV Series Whose Name I Will Not Bother Looking Up, where Eugene, a perfectly acceptable and kinda charming and fun love interest in the movie is transformed in the cartoon into the least convincing partner you can imagine. In the movie, he’s sassy and he has an arc he has to overcome — the challenge of being emotionally sincere with Rapunzel. In the TV series, they rewind on Rapunzel to give her the long blonde hair back, and introduce a rival-bestie Cass to have this ongoing story arc with. Rapunzel is fun, Cass is serious, and they bounce off each other, while Eugene, Rapunzel’s Love Interest is… there. Just there. Over there. He doesn’t have a lot to do, because the end of the movie was him giving up on being a thief to become a who cares, and they don’t bother rewinding him or giving him a new Thing To Do.

As a direct result of this, Eugene is very unconvincing as The Person Rapunzel Wants To Marry. Just on exposure, he’s kind of just waiting around until the series ends, as Rapunzel meets new characters. Eugene has old friends that show up, but they tend to appear, do a thing, then disappear forever. Some attempt is made late in the series to address this part of Eugene’s flatness, but it mostly is about Eugene as Eugene and even makes his relationship with Rapunzel less necessary.

The other Unbeard I bring up is Kairi from Kingdom Hearts. An incredibly flat character with so-close-to-no-plot-agency as to make no difference, Kairi is meant to be a person that Sora and Riku technically fight over in the opening of Kingdom Hearts: The First One. The subsequent course of their narrative is entirely about how they are friends with one another, and Kairi exists to be moved around by other people’s plot contrivances, kidnapped to get her to different boss arenas. This is all while Riku has sequences of plot about how he’s bad at expressing his feelings, how there’s someone inside him who wants things he doesn’t want to admit, about how he dreams of Sora, lots of very heterosexual things. Kairi is there to make sure that you know Riku and Sora are into a girl, not into, you know, each other…

… and because she’s such an underdeveloped character, the result is instead to make Riku and Sora look even more gay as they stand off to the side of Kairi and assert “Ah, yes, I want to date lamp.” This is a character who apparently, has finally, finally gotten some agency, a mere eighteen years since her first appearance.

An Unbeard is a love interest in media who thanks to the way the media is presented, serves to make their romantic partner who is ostensibly interested in them seem gay.

This isn’t an exhausitve theory, mind you and it’s really me teasing badly-written het couples in media where there’s an interesting queer one, but there, here’s an explanation of the term for future reference. It’s as much an indictment of flatly-written uninteresting romantic het couples, which usually means someone writing a woman character in their story about dudes they think rock having not bothered to give that woman anything to do.

Because, y’know, that’s a common thing.

Maybe write women better? Maybe make it so that women are people who also want to be involved in relationships, and have interests and hobbies and like things…?

I dunno, just a thought.