Sometimes we feel misunderstood, and sometimes we misjudge others. As a result, we might long for a way of putting symbols or signals out there so people can get a sense of who we are at a glance.
Yet, one can see the down side of that too. One pitfall of wearing jewelry or other items with clear symbolism is that different people interpret some of these symbols differently.
As one example, there is some confusion about the symbolism of a man wearing an earring in the left ear.
It was long thought of as being a way of saying you weren’t gay, with the right ear being the “gay ear” when it came to piercings.
What does an earring in the left ear mean? Let’s take a deep dive.
Recent History of Piercings and Left Ear Earrings
In America (and many other nations) in the 1940’s and 50’s, earrings were mostly the territory of women.
It wasn’t common or widely accepted for men to pierce their ears. At the time, it was part of subcultures and for people who wanted to look unusual or show that they weren’t a part of the boring middle-class conformists.
There were other reasons also. For example, sailors tended toward the single earring as a way to uphold centuries-old superstitions about earrings keeping them from drowning at sea.
While women almost always pierce both ears, it was somewhat common for the few men who did wear earrings to wear one in just one ear.
While rock stars were most likely to sport the single earring in the 1960’s, it became more common among gay people.
The perception started that the right ear was the “gay ear”, so some folks began using the right ear earring as a subtle way of showing their gay status to other gay males.
This was more prevalent in rural areas or anywhere that secrecy was of the essence.
In large urban centers, people would just go to gay bars or find other gay people through their network of friends.
“Left is Right and Right is Wrong”
Through the 70’s, a single male earring was mostly for subcultures of various sorts.
The straight men that wore an earring tended to be performers, gang members or other folks who weren’t going to get harassed or mocked.
Trends began to shift, partly due to the advent of MTV in 1981, and straight men increasingly decided to add an earring into their repertoire, making sure to pierce their left ear.
It was a standard perception that gay men would pierce just their right ear, so by the mid 80’s, everyone knew the saying “left is right and right is wrong.”
Naturally, suggesting that homosexuality is “wrong” is hurtful and discriminatory.
Death of Gay Ears
Fortunately, while an earring in the left ear was still meant as a way of showing oneself to be straight, being gay became more and more acceptable.
Pride parades and political lobbying for gay rights made what had once been a silent subculture much better known.
More and more celebrities came out during the 90’s, and gay marriage was legalized in various U.
S. states during the 2000s. With more widespread acceptance of homosexuality, the idea of having to wear an earring in a certain ear became a bit tired.
Having a code to signal for potential lovers wasn’t an issue anymore and being thought of as gay is becoming less of a fear for straight men.
Therefore, by now, people under 30 or 40 don’t subscribe to the idea of the placement of an earring showing the world one’s sexuality.
History of Men and Earrings
While it’s now thought of as a myth that an earring in the left ear means “straight” and one in the right means “gay,” it is true that over the milennia, people have used jewelry to signal certain things.
Going all the way back to ancient Egypt, society’s elite men wore earrings to signify that they were the upper crust.
The more adorned the body, the wealthier and more esteemed the person was perceived to be.
Similarly, in ancient Rome, Centurions actually got their nipples pierced–as a show of courage–and it was a statement that would take thousands of years to come back into fashion.
It’s interesting that the Romans looked at things in the opposite way to the Egyptians, and had the poor in their society identify themselves with earrings.
That shows how subjective the meaning of various symbols can be.
We know that after the fall of the Roman Empire came the Dark Ages, in which so much attention to religion kept innovations in art and science to a minimum.
Not many people wore earrings during this period because it was so frowned upon by the church.
But there are always exceptions, and even before the Dark Ages gave way to the Renaissance, groups of people sometimes called “gypsies” routinely pierced the left ear of their second-born son.
This was meant to prevent that child getting any diseases or calamities that may befall the firstborn.
To push that idea just a bit further, cossacks had a special reason for having men in their society wear an earring in the left ear.
It was meant to show virility, but it also meant they were the last in their bloodline.
In fact, people were supposed to be protective of men wearing earrings in the left ear because if they died, their bloodline would die with them.
As you can see, historically, who wore earrings on which ear was obviously dependent on a wide variety of societal beliefs.
That may suggest that one doesn’t have to be too worried about current beliefs or think that something really means a particular notion.
In fact, one can find references (particularly from the 1990s and 2000s) to the right ear being the “gay ear.”
That shows how crazy these things can be.
Should a Straight Man Get His Ear/s Pierced?
We’d say that in general, in this day and age, there shouldn’t be any reason not to.
Here are some situations or conditions in which it is most accepted for a straight guy to pierce either or both of his ears:
- You live in an urban area or one that is free of homophobia.
- In your area or peer group, a variety of hair styles, piercings and tattoos are prevalent and people honor the choices of others.
- You are not afraid of being thought of as gay.
If you prefer the one-earring look and you’re partial to the right ear, you should simply do what’s best for you.
Society is moving along, so you shouldn’t expect backlash from anyone but the most conservative of folks.
Over time, various perceptions and ideas change and fade away. The idea of a single earring in the right ear meaning homosexuality originated, at least in the U.
S. , in the 1960’s. It lasted through the 80’s and then began to die away.
As being gay, bisexual or any other sexuality became more acceptable, there was less need to have signals in the form of earrings, because who was gay and who wasn’t was no longer as big a deal.
However, it’s fascinating and illustrative that certain traits through jewelry date back more than a thousand years, and knowing a possible significance for jewelry you wear isn’t a bad idea.
What does it mean when a man wears an earring in his right ear?
Without any further information, it doesn’t mean anything in particular. It’s possible that the man knows of the idea that a right earring signifies he’s in the LGBTQ community and he’s wearing it for that reason, but not necessarily.
Which ear does a boy get pierced?
This is up to the discretion of the boy and his parents. He can choose both ears or either the left or the right.
If he starts with a right ear earring and doesn’t like reactions, he can let the piercing close.
Should I get my left or right ear pierced?
You probably won’t find a lot of people making crude jokes about your piercing in either ear these days.
That leaves the decision open to you, and you shouldn’t question yourself if you want to go with the right.