My life has undergone a wonderful shift, reclaiming a piece of my personal identity I gave up five years ago: I am wearing earrings again.
I don’t remember exactly when I started wearing earrings–one in each ear, usually somewhat long and dangly–but it was some time in the early to mid-90s. Nor do I remember exactly what prompted me to have my ears pierced, but it was probably because it had been the custom for many gay men to wear one earring in the left ear. I thought then, as I do now, that I like both my ears and would not favor one over the other.
I do remember finding a pair of long, dangling rainbow earrings at a flea market in Brooklyn and buying them, and finding great pleasure in wearing them. They were my first (other than boring studs and rings). Sadly, I have lost them.
But I have many other pairs. I kept them when I stopped wearing them in 2010, thinking I might resume the custom later.
Why did I stop?
Leaders in the congregation where I served as pastor told me that although they supported my habit, they also believed it cost us members. Not wanting to hurt the church, I took off my earrings. I remember well how many in the group applauded when I did this; a few others did not. They told me they were unhappy that I given in to these opinions.
The truth is that the number of visitors to the church did not increase nor did our rate of new member retention improve.
What caused me to return to this practice?
First, I have been missing the joy I felt in choosing earrings each day, and looking for new ones, too. I also felt I had lost a part of myself.
But what pushed me at this time was participating in a online symposium for my denomination, Metropolitan Community Churches (see October 16, 2015 “What’s Sex Got to Do with It?”), “Who Are We, Really? Re-Engaging Sex and Spirit.” As I listened to presentations and prepared my own remarks for a panel on healing queer bodies and healing the Body of Christ, I realized I had been living in denial. I denied my own sense of self by removing the earrings, and I had become disconnected from the me who is gender queer.
I am male-bodied and glad of it. I like having and using a penis and other aspects of male embodiment. I am gay and glad of that, too. I like other penises, and other aspects of male embodiment in men generally (and my husband’s in particular!). But I have my own ways of expressing those truths, and one way is by decorating myself in ways that honor my own particularities. Those decorations include earrings (and wearing colorful socks that match or accent the rest of my clothes, and using scarves and various other items of clothing).
Those practices have caused people to ask me if I am transgender. I have to say “No” even as I honor my trans siblings as they explore, express and live their truths. I am glad to be on the gender continuum with them, as a gender queer.
And there is one other aspect. As I age, my relationship with sex has changed. I no longer take it for granted. My body requires more attention, to be healthy, of course, but also to be sexy and sexually active. For reasons I do not fully understand, earrings help me feel more sexual and desirable, even to experience more desire. I do hope someday to wear only earrings at a nude or clothing optional beach (just have to be careful not to lose them!).
And then there is one more very important thing: I really want to undermine the rigid gender binary (for more on this, see “Why Do Watches Have Gender?”). This is the spiritual and political activist in me. I seek to undermine any system that undercuts the souls of God’s people in all our wondrous, divinely-inspired and created, variety.
So, the earrings are back!