This article was originally published in The Spectator’s June 2021 World edition.

‘The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime everything’s fine, take off your mask, forget it,’ said Joe Biden. ‘It still matters.’

Sorry, Mr President, I disagree. After more months than I care to count of rigorously strapping a face covering across my mouth and nose, I’ve decided to shed the mask. Now, after nine maskless days, I can say that I have never felt so sensible, so liberated and so, well, attractive. In fact, I cannot recommend it enough.

I first shed the mask by accident after getting slightly drunk one evening. Who cares, I thought, as I hurled myself on to the subway. All of the endangered oldies have been vaccinated anyway, I told myself, with what CNN would call ‘staggering selfishness’. I got home feeling wonderfully empowered. In an absurd moment of inebriated grandiosity, I compared myself to a 1970s feminist burning her bra.

With sobriety came trepidation. Was my masklessness endangering the aged or the unwell, who have been told they will die a long slow death if they so much as stand within six feet of me? Is it irresponsible to go mask-free in another person’s place of work, such as the local store? Will I get fined?

These questions spun around my already quite dizzy moral compass. Doubts swirled over my hungover head. Then I remembered that strange feeling of facial freedom and decided to give it another go. Now, after more than a week, I can reliably inform you that going mask-free is the gift that keeps on giving.

What other experience provides such a subversive thrill?

Masklessness in public requires courage. It earns the respect and esteem of your fellow commuters — the ones who don’t tut at you or berate you, that is.

There is also the exhilaration of risk. Exhibiting your face in a public space is now a crime. Here in Britain, officers have ‘enforcement powers’, meaning that they can issue fines of $277 for the ‘first offense’.That is twice the penalty for dangerous driving, an act which clearly carries more substantial threats to the public at large. That is relatively cheap compared to New York. In October, the New York State Department of Health announced that ‘individuals who violate [social distancing and mask-wearing rules] are subject to a maximum fine of $1,000 for each violation’. Ouch. In Washington State, refusal to ‘protect the health’ of ‘friends and loved ones’ can result in incarceration. You can, in theory, get 90 days in county jail for a breath of fresh air.

The rules are nonsense and everybody knows it. To the brave and the hardy: go forward and conquer the world without a mask. You’ll find yourselves members of a minority community in which people smile and wink at one another knowingly. Furthermore, you may notice that a sunnier disposition falls upon you wherever you go. Confronting the world in the knowledge that you are going against the grain requires a certain amount of manufactured cheer. People are always going to hate you. They may as well hate the smiling version of you.

Removing your mask doesn’t make you universally abhorred. In fact, it endears you to surprisingly large sections of the population. You will be met with wide-eyed admiration from men and women alike. Last week, I was approached suggestively by not one but two members of the opposite sex. Could it be that I have emerged from my lockdown chrysalis a great beauty? Of course not! It’s because these hopeful gentlemen haven’t seen a strange face in full since the halcyon days of early 2020. Try it, I implore you.

Those concerned about R numbers and the spreading of the virus should scrutinize the facts. The science supporting the masks is much debated and the evidence — dare I write it — is shaky. In theory, the mask reduces the likelihood of emission (and indeed transmission) of the virus by placing a physical barrier between the wearer and ‘friends and loved ones’. The efficacy of prevention lurches from 6 percent to 45 percent depending on which study you read.

World leaders have resisted showing their true faces. Biden spent much of his muffled campaign spouting the spiel around mask-wearing. ‘Just 100 days to mask, not forever: 100 days, and I think we’ll see a significant reduction,’ he said. Well, we are now well over 100 days in, and Biden remains as attached to his mask as a child to its pacifier. In fact, at an event to mark his first 100 days in office, the President panicked when he could not find his comforter: ‘Looking for my mask, I’m gonna be in trouble,’ he muttered as Dr Jill dutifully scrambled to his aid like a mother helping a troubled infant.

Since Biden’s inauguration, the CDC has stated that vaccinated Americans do not need to wear masks unless in crowded environments. Both President Biden and his wife Jill are fully vaccinated. But liberal cities like Brookline, Massachusetts, where you can’t throw a used mask without hitting a doctor or another holder of an advanced degree, are overruling the CDC. They think they know better, because they think politics beats science. Carry on like that, and the right to bare one’s face may be lost forever.

In years to come, I will remember this past week and know I was a rebel once. If, in the passage of time, I struggle to believe it was so, I can turn to my love token from this era, a letter passed to me on the train last week. ‘Hey, I don’t normally do this but you are beautiful. I don’t know if you are married but I would like to go out with you. Here is my number.’ He was tall, dark and handsome — and in his school uniform. But us rebels can’t be choosers.

This article was originally published in The Spectator’s June 2021 World edition.