Which ear is the gay earring?

You might recall hearing that if a man wore an earring on the right ear, that meant he was gay. The term “gay ear” was often used. Around the 1960s, people began to catch on that a right-ear earring was effectively a code for being gay. At the same time, the left ear is straight.

As time went on, earrings as a whole became more popular, and even some straight men opted to pierce their right ear. It soon became clear that the “gay ear” was no longer a reliable way to tell if a man was gay or not.

The “gay earring” fad lasted until the 1990s. But wearing an earring on the right ear is still a popular choice. And as ear piercings on both men and women are becoming more mainstream, more men than ever are opting to get their ears pierced.

A brief history of the gay earring

Now you know a little bit about the gay ear. But you might wonder how a right-ear piercing came to be a kind of code.

The truth is that gay men weren’t the first men to start wearing earrings. Sailors frequently wore earrings, believing they would serve as protection against drowning at sea.

It’s not quite clear how the earring became adopted by the gay community as a code. It may have something to do with the fact that wearing earrings went against most people’s concept of traditional masculinity. Since being gay was already seen as non-traditional, using earrings seemed like a logical choice.

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By the late 1960s, wearing an earring in the right ear was a pretty clear sign that a man was gay. Over time, it became a kind of open secret that more and more non-gay people were becoming aware of.

It’s important to note that the “gay earring” was only ever considered to be a signal for gay men. Since earrings were largely considered to be mainstream for women by the 1960s, earrings weren’t a useful code for lesbians.

But during the 1990s, ear piercings became more associated with general rebellion and punk rock culture. With people of all sexual orientations having one or both ears, it became impossible to use an earring to tell if a man was gay.

The “gay ear” fad thus largely died out. But it hasn’t disappeared entirely — you can find plenty of forum posts online from men asking which is the gay ear before getting a piercing!

The “gay earring” wasn’t the only thing used for signaling that one was gay, although it’s probably the most famous one.

“Flagging” was another. In this code, keeping a handkerchief in the left back pocket indicated that the wearer was a top. Wearing one in the right indicated the wearer was a bottom.

Should you get a gay earring?

Now that piercings have become much more mainstream, getting a piercing in the “gay ear” isn’t the clear indicator that it once was. Men of all sexual orientations now have pierced ears, and not everyone follows (or knows about) the history of the right ear as the “gay ear.”

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That said, if you’re gay, getting a right-ear piercing can be a kind of homage to the history of using a gay earring for signaling. But you also shouldn’t feel like you can only have your right ear pierced — there’s nothing wrong with piercing the left ear if you think that looks better!

Likewise, if you aren’t gay, there’s nothing wrong with piercing either your right or left ear. Essentially, since so many people have piercings now, ear piercings aren’t the reliable indicator of sexual orientation that they once were. But thankfully, they’re still a great vehicle for self-expression.