Have you ever heard the term "gay ear"? Now it’s considered a fad that has become passe, but at one time, people really used it as a tell-tale sign of whether a young man was gay or not.
Here are some interesting facts about this historical LGBTQ+ trend that you might not know.
Fact 1: The “Gay Ear” Referred To a Man Having His Right Ear Pierced
When people talked about the gay ear, they referred to a specific ear being pierced on a man.
This trend didn't include women in the gay ear fad because, in most Western cultures since the 1950s, it has generally been a cultural norm for females to have their ears pierced. So, when people looked at men who weren’t entirely adhering to “traditional masculinity” by getting their ear pierced, people sat up and took notice.
Keep in mind that this performative measure was originally used to discriminate against men based on their perceived social class, not sexuality. Initially, the only men who had pierced ears were usually sailors. But it wasn't until the late 1960s that people attributed a man who had his ear pierced to being gay.
Now, men have pierced ears for endless reasons. With piercings no longer serving as any sort of identifier to occupation or sexual orientation, pierced ears are relatively common among all genders.
Fact 2: Piercings Were Associated with Counterculture and Sexuality
In modern times this notion seems a little out of place as plenty of cultures around the world have traditional origins of ear piercing. However, within much of the United States, there used to be a connotation with ear piercing that it was against the norm and was a way to rebel as a deviant practice.
This had some roots in racism because piercings were something associated with non-white cultures. Anyone who pierced their ears, men or women, was seen as strange, promiscuous, or rebellious until the 1950s.
It was then that jewelry companies saw that they could make a lot of money selling earrings, and they started promoting them as something “normal” and “culturally acceptable.” With this trend, even good girls could finally enjoy some bling in their ears.
Fact 3: Right Earlobe Meant Gay, Left Earlobe Meant Straight
The practice of ear piercing history began to thread through hippie communities first and then through the gay community.
Some straight people also enjoyed the trend and established that the left earlobe signified that they were not gay, even though they were a man with a single pierced ear.
Though some people preferred to have both ears pierced, the LGBT community quickly decided that if a man had one ear pierced, namely the right one, on the earlobe, it was a covert signal that he was gay. That covert signaling takes us right into our next fact.
Fact 4: The Gay Ear Was Used for Gay Signaling
Since being gay isn’t just inherently something visible from someone’s looks, the LGBTQ+ community of centuries past spent a good amount of time looking for specific styles or trends to allow people within the community to show other people that they were gay and proud of it.
In some societies where being gay was either frowned upon or illegal and punishable, LGBTQ+ members would choose subtle methods of demonstrating their sexuality. Over the centuries, among different societies, any good historian can point to a few different methods of gay signaling.
Sometimes it would be more overt than others, depending on the permissiveness and acceptance of that time and place. Still, it usually revolved around fashion or an item that could be quickly displayed or removed.
Depending on how a man wore his hair, he could easily hide his ear and any earring he chose to don. Alternatively, slipping off an earring before going into the workplace or some other area where a man was afraid of being outed was a quick and easy task. However, these subtle methods did occasionally suffer when gay individuals either wanted a more comprehensive demonstration of their gay pride or when straight people found out about the trend.
Discovering the secret “gay ear code” led to increased scrutiny of men's ears by discriminatory individuals. Still, it also led to a decent number of straight men mimicking the style for reasons of their own. As you can imagine, this led to a certain amount of confusion in society for quite some time.
On top of that, people also began to start piercing both ears as signs of bisexuality or to show that they were transgender. By the 1990s, the definition of the gay ear had become so confusing that most people just shrugged off the idea and decided that any man who had any part of his ears pierced must be queer. However, as punk rock culture came more prominently onto the scene, enough men began having their ears pierced that people decided to move on from the idea of a “gay ear” entirely.
Nowadays, when it is more acceptable to show your true colors in many places, the LGBTQ+ community has taken to flying their flags proudly. Whether that means wearing a cute t-shirt with your identity’s colors or getting a pride pin for your backpack, people don't have to be anywhere near as subtle as they used to when it comes to being themselves.
So, if you want to get one or both of your ears pierced but don't want to give people a reason to make assumptions about you, you don't have to worry anymore. Most people have completely forgotten about the gay ear fad or are too young to even remember it.
Fact 5: Rings Haven't Gone Out of Style
Don’t be afraid to show off your bling!
Pride statement rings are a fantastic way to subtly show off your identity without feeling like you have to hide it, and they have remained a classic way to show off that pride for decades now.
So, what's the statement ring really about? Statement rings allow the owner to truly reflect who they are and creatively express a little bit of their persona.
Pride rings may also be displayed on their own or paired with other jewelry. However you plan to rock them, the statement rings will help you show off a little bit of who you are to anyone who notices!
While the idea of a gay ear, or anything really that’s a tell of someone's sexuality seems laughable today, it was once an integral part of LGBTQ+ culture.
The idea of gay signaling hasn't stopped, especially in places and cultures where people can't be as vocal about their sexuality as they might want to be.
But today, everyone wants to express their true identities while still finding the love and acceptance of their friends, family, and community.
At Pride Palace, we believe that nothing should stand in your way when it comes to being yourself because you are beautifully unique, and the world deserves to know it.