By the 1980s a single earring worn by a man was no longer a symbol that he was a sailor who had traveled around the world. Earrings have been around for centuries, and are one of the oldest forms of body modification. But, beginning in the mid 20th century, earrings began to hold a much deeper meaning to the queer community.
The 1960s was a time of incredible growth for the queer community, The Black Cat and Stonewall protests took place during this time, but queer people were unable to openly express their sexuality due to the dangers that surrounded being out. Laws preventing homosexual acts were not outlawed by the Supreme Court until 2003 with Lawrence v. Texas, meaning queer people faced the risk of being imprisoned if they were caught sleeping with the people they were attracted to.
To find members of their community during this time, queer men had to invent subtle ways to signal their sexuality. One of the most well-known became the single earring on the right ear. Earrings had been worn by artists and alternative men for a large part of the 20th century, so this subtle signaling worked until word got out.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the phrase “Left is right, right is wrong.” became popularized, wrong here symbolizing homosexuality. By 1991 The New York Times had published an article stating how men would wear an earring in their right ear to signify sexual preference. The secret was out.
A subtle and stylish way to identify yourself as part of the queer community was no longer safe. Some areas of the country flipped ears, trying to rebrand the left ear for queer men. But even with those efforts, the safe haven identifier of the single earring had lost its anonymity forever.
In the 60-years since queer men first began wearing a single earring to alert other queer men of their sexuality a lot has changed. Being out isn’t an option for everyone, but for those who are able to be open about their sexuality, barriers have been removed that allow more genuine expression.
The single earring no longer needs to be a hidden identifier for queer men. It can be a celebration of those who fought for equal rights and struggled to be able to love authentically.
This pride month is a great opportunity to up your earring stock. Venvs specializes in gorgeous gender-neutral jewelry that will look beautiful with any look.
If you’re looking for something a little darker than a traditional stud, then you should check out the sultry Stevie Earrings.
But maybe you’re feeling some glamour, then look into the Grace Earrings. These will brighten any day and look gorgeous in one or both ears.
A single earring can be an ode to those who marched, legislated, and persisted for you to be able to love freely.