Interdisciplinary Conference


in Art & Science

27-29 September 2023, Malta Society of Arts, Valletta

Queering the Beard. A hairy affair…
Event Hours: 29/09/2023 (17:30)
Location: Conference Room [C]
Julia Sprenger
Keywords: Queer Beard, Bearded Women, Queerness, Gender Performance, Feminist Performance Art, Circus

The fluffy facial hair seems to be one of the most obvious bodily features of masculinity which has the power to develop into a special physical characteristic and even become part of one’s identity. So why not as a part of a queer identity? As a glittery, colorful and transgressive element, facial hair can also be used as a marker of representation for queer folks. In drag- and travesty shows, the beard can be interpreted as a strong performative medium to struggle with gender roles. Whether Drag Kings or -Queens, the usage of facial hair has a strong impact on their gender performance.

From a feminist point of view, queer beards can be discussed from many perspectives in art, but also in general. For example, in the context of interpreting the female facial hair as a glitch. In this specific context, provided by Legacy Russell, the glitch opens portals to accept that current societies are broken in many ways. This concerns the view of the body with ideals of beauty, or the relationship between the digital and the analogue world. With the second wave of the women’s movement in the 1960s, the body positivity movement also developed, which has still an impact on contemporary discourses. Feminist pioneers like Eleanor Antin, Adrian Piper or Ana Mendieta used the beard as a performative element to question social behavior and transgressions between different gender, habits, the body and gendered identities. With their performances, they disrupted a symbolic order and used the beard as a subversive tool.

Looking back into the past, it becomes clear that the ladies beards carries a long cultural history. The Egyptian pharaoh Hatshepsut even wore an artificial beard as a sign of power. At the end of the 19th century, the bearded woman were part of so-called freak shows and a constant entertainment guarantee beneath. Many of these women unite stories of dehumanization and abuse, but at the same time they emancipated and had financial freedom. The American circus entertainer and performer Jennifer Miller carries on the tradition of transgression. Within the project Circus Amok she transmit the hairy tradition since the late 1980s into a contemporary and queer form. The New York City based circus-theater company operates in public and performs contemporary concerns of social equity to a diverse audience. These queer and political spectacles are combined with amusement, empower the community and enforce a lively exchange with the crowd.

One thing is evident. Queer people and women with beards consciously oppose ideals of beauty or a gender-specific aesthetic. Hair is political and must be seen from an intersectional position. 

Julia Sprenger

Julia Sprenger is a researcher in the field of performance theory and practice at the interface of gender studies. During her studies of theatre, film and media at the University of Vienna, she focused on body art examining connections between the participation of the audience, game theories, psychological mechanisms of power and the collective evil. Since 2016 she is PhD candidate at the University of Vienna, researching for her dissertation project "Schauplatz Körper. Geschlechterinszenierung in der Body Art - Zwischen Stereotypen und Subversion". She is interested in: feminist theory, theories of the body, art history, performativity, intermediality, activism and politics. Julia Sprenger is based in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Applied Arts Vienna.


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