I was asked this very question by a young boy a couple of weeks ago. The answer I gave was a very simple "Well, I've just always liked long hair and earrings." The actual reason is a bit deeper than that.
For about as long as I can remember, I've had long hair. My mom used to keep my hair long when I was a little boy. My dad, of course, didn't like it. There's was a story in my family that my dad actually paid a waitress in a restaurant to say to me "What a cute little girl." Don't know if that's true or not.
I do know that, as a teen, I got a lot of crap for the length of my hair. Guys were always trying to start fights with me. I mostly just ignored them. My step-dad and his friends would just refer to me as "Gay" - as in "Hey Gay, how ya doin'?" That didn't really bother me either. I just never cared too much about what people thought.
I got my first earring March 16th, 1980. It was the Sunday before St. Patrick's Day of my freshman year in high school. I don't know why I remember it that way, I just do. My mom and I agreed that an earring would be cool, so she took me to Piercing Pagoda at the Shore Mall in Pleasantville, NJ. At the time, there were very few boys in school with pierced ears. I remember one kid telling me that if he ever got in a fight with a guy with an earring, the first thing he'd do is grab the earring and rip.
My second piercing came on March 5th, 1982. I remember it because it was the day John Belushi died. A couple friends, my girlfriend and I were in my room listening to music and I decided I wanted a second hole in my left ear. My girlfriend got some ice and a needle and, a few drops of blood later, I was the first in my class to have two holes in my ear.
It was probably about the summer of '84 when I got my right ear pierced. My friend Doug wanted to get his ear pierced for the first time, so I went with him to the Ocean One Mall in Atlantic City. The Piercing Pagoda there was running some kind of deal where you could get two piercings for the price of one. I didn't want a third hole in my left ear, so I decided to do my right. Doug tried to talk me out of it, but I figured people didn't get much cooler than Jimi Hendrix, and he had both ears pierced.
So, why do I still have long hair and earrings? Because when I look in the mirror, I see me looking back. There were, of course, times in my adult life when my hair was short and my ears were jewelry free. This was never by choice, and always because of job restrictions. During these times, I'd look in the mirror and a stranger would look back at me. A stranger who looked like Danny Tanner from Full House. I just never felt right with short hair.
When I got my current job, my hair was short. After I was here for a couple of years and had proved myself to the company, I checked out the dress code and found there were no restrictions on hair length or earrings beyond the size of the earring. Finally, it was me looking back from the mirror.
Fortunately, no one tries to start fights with me anymore. But I do get to live the whole thing all over again as my daughter, who likes to wear all black, tells me that kids pick on her for the way she dresses. I try to tell her that it's ok to be herself and that she just needs to get a thicker skin, but sometimes that's easier said than done.