Quearrings: How The Sapphic Earring Trend Challenges Gender Performance

Article Written by Ella Rockart, @myweeklyarn

I was in Michael’s for carabiner clips when I came across a small bunch of grapes in the clearance section. Two years ago I would have just scoffed and thought “who would buy these?” But now my first thought was “these would make a great pair of earrings. 

By Ella, @myweeklyarn on Tik Tok

Human beings have long enjoyed adorning their ears with shiny things: piercings and their popularity are nothing new. Neither are large earrings, which are found in cultures all over the globe.

But the growth in demand for unconventional earring subjects and materials (from ketchup packets to fuzzy toy worms) is primarily attributed to a community of which I am a proud member: the lesbian community. 

Why are lesbians— and other sapphic and gender non-conforming (GNC) people— so drawn to wacky, weird, and downright ridiculous earrings?

From my own experience— and that of my GNC and sapphic friends— these earrings have two main functions other than aesthetic.

Most of us agree that we wear them as a form of flagging: indicating to other sapphic and GNC people that we are also a part of the community. “I like your earrings” is an excellent way to let someone know you’re gay and interested without having to bring up your ex-girlfriend (that’s second date material). Yet this reasoning does little to tell us how and why this trend started. 

As a lesbian history enthusiast who makes, wears and buys unconventional earrings, it wasn’t hard to find an answer.

By @alulaer on Tik Tok

The queer community has used earrings to “flag” before: while it is hard to find a definitive source on the significance of a right ear piercing (left ear in America and Australia) on men who love men, historical photographs and community lore suggest that this was a subtle way to indicate sexuality within the community.

In the western world, earrings generally indicate femininity; a single earring can be seen as lopsided femininity, a performance of femininity by non-straight non-cis men for other non-straight non-cis men. The staples of queer culture— from drag to leather and the dykes on bikes to the high femmes— are based in the exaggerated or otherwise convoluted performance of gender.

The staples of queer culture— from drag to leather and the dykes on bikes to the high femmes— are based in the exaggerated or otherwise convoluted performance of gender.

It is gender performed for the non-cis non-straight audience; gender performed for those who already know that gender is, at its essence, a performance. 

A friend of mine is a non-binary sapphic who, until recently, identified primarily as “butch”. They have several face piercings but no ear piercings because they have always thought of it as “feminine”. As a kid, I also did not want to get my ears pierced because it indicated a certain “girliness” from which I felt alienated.

By @jenaroseart on Tik Tok

I almost never wore earrings until about a year ago, when suddenly everyone at my historically women’s college started walking around with dried lemon slices, acorns, and wrapped condoms dangling from their ears. One friend started selling 3D printed statues from ancient art history (at Antiquittities on Etsy) another crocheting fruit earrings as gifts.

When packing up my friend’s room I made a Tik Tok rating the earrings I had made from tchotchkes that we found as we cleaned. Some, like my salt and pepper pack earrings, are utilitarian; others, like the long dangly worms, are simply camp.

What unites them is that, unlike all of the earrings I have previously owned, I wear them for fun and not out of a sense of obligation to conform to a standard of beauty or femininity. To receive attention, sure, but attention from fellow queer and GNC people. 

Most modern-day “flagging” is used not to indicate that someone is seeking sexual attention but rather to indicate to other queer people, closeted or otherwise, that you are with them.

Performance of gender through signaling is not inherently sexual; in fact, most modern-day “flagging” is used not to indicate that someone is seeking sexual attention but rather to indicate to other queer people, closeted or otherwise, that you are with them.

The joy of seeing someone in public who I can immediately clock as queer is only matched by knowing that I have been clocked as queer by another queer person.

“I like your earrings” is more than just a compliment; it is a moment of being seen and appreciated as a gender non-conforming woman who loves women. 

Besides, what else would you do with your extra salt and pepper packets? 

Ella Rockart is a fiber artist and political science major at Wellesley College. Her love of queer culture and gender expression is matched only by her love of women.  

Find her on TikTok, Instagram, Etsy, and Ravelry at @myweeklyarn. 

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