Part IV

Past and Present series

Reading Time: 9 minutes

I was never one to blend in with the other kids back in 1960s. My mother made certain of that. She set up a fashion store for kids in a small town in South Africa and used me to model the latest fashions, sending me out to gauge public reaction.

I was a mere slip of lad at the time, vertically challenged at 5 feet, 4 inches and as skinny as a toothpick. At the start, each time I ventured out into what was mainly conservative Christian territory, where Calvinism was the dominant strain, I was filled with trepidation, not knowing whether I would be reviled or admired.

But I quickly grew in confidence, taking great delight in jauntily stepping out in garments never before seen in the town of Springs. Anyone who stopped me to ask where I got my clothes would be given a flyer, directing them to my mother’s store.

These market-testing exercises worked so well that her shop became a popular fashion hub, attracting local customers and even some from neighboring towns. But one customer she never expected was a Black woman who came in with a teenage son, who was far lighter-skinned than she was.

She chose a variety of expensive garments for him and piled them high on the counter. When my astonished mother asked how she intended to pay, she said she had no money but that the teen’s father would cough up. She then proffered the telephone number of a local dominee, a Dutch Reformed Church minister.

Dumbfounded, because interracial sex constituted a breach of the Immorality Act – a crime punishable by seven years’ imprisonment – my mother called the number, and the panic-stricken minister said “give her whatever she wants and I’ll be around soon to settle the bill. And DON’T TELL ANYONE!” He was true to his word.

I was in my early teens at that time and began to revel in the looks I attracted, even the hostile ones. This was because my uncle Charlie, a dandy who frequently strolled around town with a chameleon clinging to one shoulder, had coached me well in self-defense. He even set up a gym for me in our garage, promising that I would soon become another Charles Atlas, the “world’s most perfectly developed man.”

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Despite my diminutive stature, I’d gained the strength to see off any bully who chose to pick on me. Those who assumed, correctly, that I was gay called me a “moffie” – the South African term for “queer” or “faggot”– and they lived to rue the day.

I reveled in the looks I got, but felt that I would attract far more attention if I grew my auburn hair long. What prevented me from doing so was a short-back-and-sides rule imposed by my school.

But when my school days abruptly ended – I was expelled for spraying “Wilson Pickett for President” on the outside wall of the principal’s office – I allowed my hair free rein.

When it cascaded way past my shoulders, I was accosted by a street preacher, who sprayed spittle in my face as he screamed “you are an abomination in the sight of God! Go get a haircut!” And he thrust into my hand a tract entitled “The Loathesomenesse of Long Haire.”

My first inclination was to screw it up and throw it in his face, but I was intrigued by the title, so I held onto it, thinking it would make for amusing reading. Given that it was written in 1654 by Thomas Hall, a colonial New England Puritan, the early modern English he penned did not make for easy reading.

But his message, in a nutshell, was clear enough. He declared that long hair

Went against the modest, civil, and commendable custom of our nation, til lately that we began to follow the French and Spaniards, who yet are known Papists and Idolaters.

It was not only long hair the upset the Puritans. Wigs did too. Gershon pointed out that, in “A Essay against Periwigs” (1702), Nicholas Noyes worried that older men used wigs to appear younger, shirking the honor and responsibility of becoming an elder advisor to the young.

And Benjamin Colman warned that those who tried to “trip with levity to [their] grave[s]” and adopted “the modes, liberties, and customs” of youth would undermine their own authority and become ridiculous.

Wrote Gershon:

Just as worryingly, wigs blurred the lines between men and women. Noyes noted that most wigs were made from women’s hair, which created ‘an unnatural incongruity between the complexion and hair, when the complexion and constitution [was] masculine and the hair feminine’– something akin to the locusts of Revelation, ‘man-faced, woman-haired, lion-toothed, scorpion-tailed, horse-shaped.’

Veteran atheist blogger Bruce Gerencser, a former evangelical pastor, addressed the issue of Christianity and long hair in an updated 2020 post. The long-haired and bearded Gerencser threw in a passage from a Jack Hyles sermon delivered in 1971. It was called “Satan’s Bid for Your Child.”

Jack and Beverly Hyles. Image via YouTube

Hyles, above, said:

God pity you people who call yourselves Christians and wear your long hair, beard and sideburns like a bunch of heathens. God, clean you up! Go to the barbershop tomorrow morning, and I am not kidding.

It is time God’s people looked like God’s people. Good night, let folks know you are saved! There are about a dozen of you fellows here tonight who look like you belong to a Communist-front organization. You say, ‘I do not.’ Then look like you do not …

According to Wiki, Hyles, who died in 2001, was a leading figure in the Independent Baptist movement. He was pastor at the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, from 1959 until his death.

He also wrote a piece entitled “Jesus Had Short Hair.”

The paintings of Christ are simply artists’ conceptions and have no Scriptural authorization. At least one historian of His day described Him as being a tall man with chestnut-colored hair, parted in the middle, with short hair which turned up at the end. In the book, The Modern Student’s Life of Christ, by Irving Vollmer, published by Fleming H. Revell, the author says, ‘Archeologists object to the conventional pictures of Christ because they are not true to history.’

A German painter, L. Fahrenkrog, says, ‘Christ certainly never wore a beard, and His hair was beyond a doubt a closely cut. For this we have historical proof.’

Oh, my ears and whiskers!

He also wrote:

It is very interesting that as the trend toward long hair increases, the acceptance of homosexuality increases. This is not to say that long hair and homosexuality always go together, but it is to note the fact that both are on the rise in our generation.

Image via YouTube

A great deal of time has elapsed since then, but hostility towards men with long hair persists to this day, as US theologian John Piper, above, demonstrates in “Is It Wrong for Men to Have Long Hair?

He takes up the issue of blurring the distinction between men and women thus:

If I walked into church five years ago, while I was still preaching, wearing a dress, high heels, stockings, long floppy earrings, and lipstick, the elders should hustle me off to a side room and with dismay say, ‘Pastor, doesn’t nature teach you not to wear a dress?’

They would be right. It does. It would be horrifically contrary to my maleness. Nature does teach me that. This is the very same nature that teaches me that having sex with a man is shameful.

Image via YouTube

One pastor – Craig Duke, above, who recently did the full drag thing, not in church but in an HBO show We’re Here, sparked such outrage that he was forced to resign from his role as lead pastor at the Newburgh United Methodist Church in Indiana.

Piper concluded:

Did nature teach the Corinthians that if a man wears long hair, it is a disgrace for him? Yes, it did. Nature did because the God-designed, healthy male soul revolts against clothing himself in symbols of femininity, just like the God-designed, healthy female soul revolts against presenting herself as a man …

The only time my long hair put me in real danger was when I was 18. A car drew up alongside me as I was strolling along a sidewalk in Johannesburg. A young man in the passenger’s seat beckoned me over. Thinking I was about to be asked directions to someplace or another, I thought nothing of approaching him.

He then seized my hair and ordered the driver to step on the gas, But for the fact that my assailant suddenly screamed “stop” I might well have been severely injured, perhaps even run over and crippled or killed.

What brought the attack to an abrupt end was a 32-calibre automatic that I managed to pull from my waistband. I jammed the business end of the Beretta gun into his face. Right between his eyes, as it happens.

Why on earth, you’re probably asking, was I armed? The answer is simple. Having a gun was a rite of passage for youngsters in apartheid South Africa, and if you were white, 17 or over, had no criminal record, and had written permission from a parent or guardian, the police would issue a license, no questions asked.

It was only the second time I was compelled to draw the weapon. On the first occasion, I fired two warning shots in the air to scare off three thugs who were viciously assaulting a young Black man late at night in a parking lot. The assailants stood frozen as I roughly pulled the bruised and bleeding victim to his feet.

I told all four that I was carrying out a citizen’s arrest because the Black guy was in violation of curfew rules (at the time non-whites had to be off the streets by 10pm). I then led him to my car, drove him a to a point of safety, used the contents of my first-aid kit to bandage his wounds and sent him on his way. We hugged before parting company.

But the Beretta proved a lot more trouble than it was worth. A short time later it tumbled out of my waistband and plunged down a wide metal tube in a cinema. The tube should have been covered by an armrest, but some vandal had removed it.

When the movie concluded, I told the cinema manager what had happened, and with a bent metal coat hook he managed to retrieve it. The retrieval process took almost 30 minutes, which meant that the following performance had to be delayed. The manager was beside himself with fury and I was told never to show my face again in his “bioscope”, the term used in SA for cinemas.

The Beretta and I parted company under alarming circumstances. While on vacation in the seaside city of Durban, before going to bed in my hotel, I placed it on a Gideon’s Bible in bedside cabinet drawer.

When I woke up it was gone, stolen by a thief who had entered my room while I was totally dead to the world, due to my experimentation with “Durban poison”, a particularly strong strain of cannabis.

I first reported the theft to the manager, who then called the police. As punishment for being careless with a firearm, the cops informed me that my license would be revoked, and that I would never again be allowed to own a weapon.

Easy come, easy go. I hope it was never used to maim or kill anyone.

At this point I should emphasize that I am strongly supportive of gun control, and I have always detested the NRA for precisely the reason spelled out, after the Kyle Rittenhouse case, by Amanda Marcotte. Writing for Salon, she said:

Blame the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the gun industry, which has had a massive assist from the right-wing media. For decades, the gun lobby has fought a battle on two fronts — through law and propaganda — to redefine the American concept of ‘self-defense’ away from the sensible one and towards one that encourages people to seek out violent conflict. They’ve empowered every insecure yahoo in the country to recast himself as a hero in an action movie, who goes out hunting for bad guys under the guise of ‘protecting’ the community.

Male pattern baldness was not God’s design. It is the result of the fall. I don’t think men’s hair would have fallen had Adam not sinned.

But, hey, one has to work with what nature allows, and I grew a beard and a handlebar moustache. I once thought it would be fun to join the British Handlebar Club. All one needs for membership is “a hirsute appendage of the upper lip and with graspable extremities”.

Unfortunately, men with beards are excluded. This, I believe, is a form of pogonophobia, something that was experienced back in 2013 by a BBC TV presenter, Jeremy Paxman, who drew harsh criticism on social media for appearing on Newsnight with a newly-acquired beard.

While some fundamentalist Christians still rail against long-haired men, they appear perfectly at ease with beards and, presumably moustaches. Writing for the Huff Post in 2013, Catholic sociologist Dr. Craig Considine said:

The Bible and other artifacts of Christian history show us the long history of the beard in Christianity. The most clear biblical passage to condone beards comes from Leviticus (19:27): “You shall not cut the hair on the sides of your heads, neither shall you clip off the edge of your beard.” To cut off another man’s beard, according to Samuel (10:4) is an outrage. Moreover, Leviticus (19:27) also states “… to all men in general, you shall not make a round cutting of their hair of your head, nor disfigure your beard.”

Photo: Barry Duke

On that note, I’m off to my local barbershop, which not only has a fabulously camp figure outside, but is the only place I can buy Capt Fawcett’s Moustache Wax.

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Veteran journalist and free speech activist Barry Duke was, for 24 years, editor of The Freethinker magazine, the second oldest continually active freethought publication in the world, established by G.W....