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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 keep 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.
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 perceived damage that the disclosure of Hudson's homosexuality might have on his career.
In early episodes of the first season of The L Word, the character Dana Fairbanks pretended to be dating her gay doubles partner, Harrison, to conceal her orientation before eventually coming out. Also, in the episode Lay Down the Law, lesbian actress Niki Stevens (Kate French) is forced to beard with her co-star Greg (Dominic Zamprogna) at her film premiere to kill speculation about her sexuality.
In the "Born This Way" episode of Glee, closeted lesbian character Santana Lopez (Naya Rivera) discovers a classmate, Dave Karofsky (Max Adler), is also in the closet; she corners him and suggests they be each other's beards.
In the "Mein Coming Out" episode of Happy Endings, Max refers to Penny as his beard.
In the novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter, the titular character refers to his girlfriend, Rita, as his beard. He uses his relationship with her as camouflage to hide from those around him that he is a self-professed monster and serial killer.
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.