RTFM: Keith Alexander


“Sometimes a scream is better than a thesis.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Keith Alexander’s presence in the body modification community has been felt for nearly fifteen years now, both online and in the physical realm; from rabblerousing on USENET to organizing events such as 1998’s promotional party for Dee Snider’s film Strangeland — dubbed the Night of 1000 Scars — on which Keith served and is credited as the Bodyart and Fetish consultant. If one were to throw a penny in the air at any BME event, it’s almost a certainty that they’d hit someone who has either been offended by Keith, learned something from him, or in all likelihood, both.

Currently a technologist in the interactive world, Keith has done piercing and scarification work out of Gauntlet, his own Modern American Bodyarts studio and others, as well as toured as a guitarist for Dee Snider’s SMF — an intimidating range of experience to be sure. Factor in an ostensibly brash, sarcastic personality, and a conversation with Keith can seem like a complex waiting to happen — and to the weak of heart, it may very well be; he is an educator though, and maintains that even the worst of his ball-breaking comes with a message. Continuing his tradition of being in on the ground floor of BME’s new ventures (he was the first person ever interviewed for BME, as well as one of BMERadio’s first phone interviews), Keith recently spoke to BME about being a successful member of the modified workforce, his issues with the term body modification itself, and his reputation for being an abrasive, RTFM-type personality.

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BME: Let’s talk transitions. You’ve, occupation wise, sort of been all over the place from veritable rock star to body artist and now you’re in the corporate world. So generally, how does your past affect you? The corporate world is not really known for being the most accepting of a more liberal lifestyle, and tends to be seen as more of a conservative kind of environment.

KA: You know, the word “corporate” is kind of used in too broad a sense. There are a lot of corporations out there; Modern American Bodyarts was a corporation, so you could say it’s less a matter of what the structure of the business is as far as a legal standpoint and more of what the mindset of the business is. So, I never worked for IBM — I interviewed for them and actually, I got a call-back but I had accepted a position before them. It’s really… you’re just talking about physical aspects?

BME: Well, physical, and as well, some people may see that, well, this guy was a touring musician and then he cut people for a living for a couple years.

KA: I’ve always said I have more balls than brains, and my enthusiasm has always carried me through. One job I got in the interactive industry, the woman who hired me, after she hired me she said, “Oh, by the way, I just want you to know, I was on one of your sites today,” and I thought, “Oh no, shit!”

BME: [Laughs]

KA: I said, “Which one?” And she said “Modern American,” you know and she said, “and the first picture I saw was of a pierced penis, and that was my introduction to you.” And she still hired me. So it’s really … I hear so many people just whining about, “My quote-unquote mods keep me out of jobs,” and I really don’t buy into that. If you have a full facial tattoo and you got it when you were sixteen and it’s shitty art, then maybe that is working against you, but I don’t have much sympathy for you. So again, I’ve never really had a problem, it’s always just a matter of setting the goal and going for it. I’ve counseled and helped so many of my friends with going through transitions like that because I’ve done it so many times, and the advice that I give them is to just pick what you want to do and go for it.



Corporate

Koiporate

BME: And I think there is a trend these days for a lot of younger people getting heavy work done without really thinking it through and then a couple of years later they’re trying to get a job in the workforce and going, “Well, what the fuck happened?” And a lot of these people I find can be very holier-than-thou about it, to say, “I had this work done and in spite of that, you have to hire me,” and it can be a dangerous thing.

KA: It’s such bullshit, because the bottom line is if you can do the job, and your resumé and experience and so on carry you through, people will be willing to overlook a certain amount of work. But if you have a certain amount of work and you aren’t good enough, then what do we need, affirmative action for people with facial tattoos?

BME: Oh exactly, I think it can be used as an excuse—

KA: Right, and it often is. I think 99% of the time it’s an excuse, and I think there’s some serious emo component to it — whiny personality types, sometimes over-medicated, they’re obsessed with the meds that they’re taking; I’ve met more tattooed assholes than not-tattooed assholes.

BME: Right. But there are probably more assholes in general than not-assholes.

KA: [Laughs] Yeah, but you know, back to the transition bit, I’ve… I’ve done so much, like when I was fourteen I was working on Wall Street. My dad was a bit of a big shot on Wall Street and also a bit of a musician, so I think I kind of get it genetically because he had a foot in both worlds as well, as did my mom. But you know, I was working on Wall Street from when I was fourteen to eighteen; I worked at 2001 Odyssey, I was a DJ there in the height of disco fever — that’s where they filmed Saturday Night Fever — so I’ve always found myself right before these trends, for lack of a better term. I’ve always found myself in a bit of a position to help push them along a little bit. So it’s almost just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. And to use a bit of a cliché, a Joseph Campbell riff, it really is about following your bliss, it’s about identifying what gets you hard and going for it.

BME: Now, do you think as years progress, obviously today a higher percentage of people have at least visible work done than they did ten years ago—

KA: True.

BME: And do you think another ten, fifteen years from now, will corporate worlds and business worlds have to start making concessions and acknowledging that there’s a critical mass and that the potential workforce is overwhelmingly modified?

KA: Oh, I think so for sure. I mean, just generationally — the older generations dying off and the younger generations coming up, and the majority of them have work. But, we overuse the word “modification” a bit too much too. It’s one thing to have a tattoo on your arm, but it’s another thing to have your ears stretched up to three inches and a labret at triple-zero gauge. So, look, we’ve reached critical mass as far as public awareness goes: Everybody knows there’s people like us and people crazier than us doing these things. So, they’re aware of it, it’s just a matter of your resumé and experience being able to back it up. I don’t think that, given the choice between a person who is somewhat qualified and not pierced or tattooed and a person who is extremely qualified and pierced and tattooed, I think that the business environment is such these days that you have to make the right choice to go for the person that’s best for the job, visible work or not.

BME: [Agrees] And as far as what you were saying before, about an eyebrow piercing or whatever being different from a facial tattoo or a sleeve, even — I know that you take issue with the term “body modification” to an extent and have even done workshops on it, so is body modification something that is more of a permanent thing?

KA: Well, the whole point of that workshop is to get people to admit that there really are no answers. I mean, I certainly have a bias, but I acknowledge — I can step back and say, well maybe it’s not everything to everybody, and it’s nothing to everybody, there’s no right or wrong. My beef with that word is when people who just have a tattoo say, “Check out my mod.” It annoys me. It annoys me from a standpoint of, they’re co-opting, I hate to use that term, they’re identifying with a subculture that they’re not a part of. You’re a tattooed person — you have a tattoo. Is it a modification? Sure, we can split hairs and say it absolutely is, you’ve modified your body, definitely. But … it’s a tattoo. You know? It’s not a modification, it’s a fucking tattoo. Your eyebrow piercing is an eyebrow piercing — it’s a piercing. Those things taken together, you’re pierced, you’re tattooed, and somewhere along the line somebody came up with the term “body modification,” and, boom! People took to it like the trendoids that most people are. So I have a problem when people say, “Oh, check out my mod,” when they could just as easily say, “Hey, check out my tattoo,” and they wouldn’t be revealing that trendiness. It’s almost like a signifier when somebody says to me, “Check out my mod” and they show me their PA, it tells me that they got their PA to be part of something that didn’t come from inside them. Personally, if you’ve got a PA, just say, “Check out my PA.”

BME: So for you, body modification would be more, like, look at Erik Sprague or Cat, who actually undergo an overall body modification?

KA: If pushed for an answer, I would say that body modifications are amputations, you know, things that are out of the norm. A branding, a cutting, a piercing or a tattoo, to split hairs, are modifications, but to me they’re just brandings, cuttings, tattoos and piercings. It’s the stuff that falls outside of that that’s a modification. And there’s definitely a bias there, it’s somewhat naïve, and I realize, I’ve argued for hours with people about these things and facilitated those workshops for many hours and I’ve realized that my point of view is narrow. [Laughs] It’s definitely narrow. But I’m not trying to be part of anything. Anything that I’ve done or gotten into, I’m into because I’m into it! I’m not into it because I want to be a part of something. I didn’t start riding bikes like I do now because I want to hang out with the racers; I’m riding bikes because it satisfies a need in me. So people that look to without for satisfaction are people that, number one, I feel sorry for and I have a certain amount of contempt for. I’m sort of like the exact opposite of Shannon, where Shannon will be very nurturing and try to help people and show them the right way; right away, I’m on the defensive and I don’t want anything to do with somebody who has what is in my opinion the wrong motivation.

BME: Well, I suppose if you’ve spent enough time in the community, in any community, you can find yourself on either end of the spectrum. You can be a Shannon type where you are open to just about everything and you want everyone to experience everything to the fullest and love it, or you can be more like you and, like you said, immediately skeptical and—

KA: [Agrees] But on the other hand, I’m extremely compassionate to the people that have, what is in my, again, narrow point of view, the right motivation. To get a piercing from me, or to get any work from me, not just these days but for a while now, you go through, like, an interview process in a sense via email that most people wouldn’t deal with. When I get emails, I just reply to 90% of them, “Sorry, I’m a little bit too busy to do it,” but the other ten percent, I’ll ask them, you know, “Why do you want this?” or, “What is it you’re doing this for?” And I just did some piercings in an S&M situation, and the guy was kind of a little upset that I was talking right to the girl, because the dynamic is the master/slave thing. I don’t give a shit what you guys do outside of here, and I understand the dynamic, but I’m touching her, not you, so why don’t you just wait over there while I talk to her? To ascertain that she wants it for herself. So I’ve always been very … look, it’s karma! And if I’m doing something to somebody who doesn’t want it, that’s on me. So it’s in my best interests to really ascertain the reasoning behind the motivation.

BME: People have to understand that there are lifestyle decisions that people make, but at the same time, when you are bringing someone else into that, you have to be—

KA: Yeah. And most people are. Like, I get called an elitist and I want to argue with that, but it’s really not hitting the nail on the head. It’s more of, I’m so protective of my karma; I mean, coming from somebody who just breaks balls mercilessly—

BME: [Laughs]

KA: But I’m still … I would say there’s almost always a lesson in my ball-breaking, that I’m doing some form of teaching in that. I know it sounds really weird to somebody who might be on the receiving end of it, but my motivations are almost always coming from a good place.

BME: That’s what my observation is. From, say, RAB [USENET’s rec.arts.bodyart], or on IRC channels or even in IAM forums, you do very much have a “read the fucking manual” personality to you, but if anyone takes a second look at it, you’re obviously speaking from experience. You know that information is out there.

KA: Look, I’m getting into skiing now, so I know that I’m going to ask a few questions in a few forums that are definitely, you know, “read the fucking manual”-esque, but I am going to Google for it and I have started the educational process. But, when I see people who are so blatantly, didn’t even Google the keyword once, that tells me more about them than anything else. Granted, I speak of karma, I should really just, move along, move along, but there’s something in me that feels it’s of value to say to somebody, “What the fuck?” There’s definitely some value in kind of like, slapping somebody awake a little bit like, hey, if they’re not asking these questions on their own, they’re not asking questions in life.

BME: And you are an educator; you do teach classes, you do these sorts of workshops and there are different types of teachers. There are some who will just be very nurturing to the slowest kid in the class and hold everyone else back, or ones who say, you know, you’re not an idiot, as much as you’re making it look like — you can do things on your own.

KA: Absolutely. I mean, that’s the thing I love about digital communication! That like, Google is a cut and paste away. My biggest beef online is, well, among many of them, is when people say, “What should my next piercing be?” That blows me away. Words fail me when I see those kinds of questions. And at times I wish I was a bigger person and I would just say fuck it, you know, move on, and I usually do — I don’t go for all the low-hanging fruit. But every now and then there’s a personality that I really just need to connect with for whatever reason.

BME: And people can see that as you being an asshole, but if you think about it for a second, it’s really you being more compassionate and not holding this person’s hand and saying, you know, “Don’t worry, everything’s going to be fine—”

KA: Exactly, and I’m really glad you see that, because it’s funny, on RAB or IRC, more IRC because it’s real-time, the majority of people at first blush hate me, and then as they stick around or observe me a little bit more, they see that there’s a method to the madness. And I see it happen every day. I see people that the day before were saying, “What a dick,” are now saying, “You know, he’s right, listen to him.” Like, there’s a few women on IRC — they’re kind of young — and I’m very straight with them whereas most people would be, “Oh, don’t worry, it’s okay,” I’ll give them the link to read the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. You know, when somebody’s just whining about wanting their boyfriend’s company, all suffering comes from desire, so I’ll paste that. And if they ignore it, well, you’re happy being miserable. And then all bets are off and now you’re fair game. BME is supposed to be very much a safe place, and I agree with that, but the world is not a safe place, and I’m not evil at the root of it, but I’m definitely a little… me and some people don’t really get along. And I think it’s really important that when a person is ready to walk, you let them walk. You can’t walk behind them with a fuckin’ mattress everywhere they go.

BME: No, absolutely not. And you have to draw a line between compassion and just being realistic. There is too much sensitivity and political correctness as of late; everyone needs the chance, everyone needs a voice — well, they do, but you’re not entitled to [respect] just because you’re breathing.

KA: Right, exactly. That’s a great point. And that’s something that I really see come to the fore in digital communications — there’s a lot of noise out there, and one of the reasons that I’ve made the in-roads that I have over the years is because the choice of words I use are generally… I’ll answer a question with one sentence whereas other people will go on for like three fuckin’ paragraphs and say the same thing, if they even answer the question at all. So I’m kind of lucky in the sense that I know how to interact online, and a lot of people don’t, so they get frustrated and right away, you know, I’m an asshole or you’re an asshole or whoever’s an asshole. Instead of taking the time and lurking a little bit and seeing how things can be worked most effectively, they foam at the mouth and… and that’s when the fun really starts. [And] I know that there’s a living person on the other end of the computer screen, but at the same time, it’s still just text. So, like, on RAB in particular, especially with certain people whose names I don’t even want to mention, I will call names, but to me it’s almost like poetry, to say “Hey, cocksucker” is the same thing as saying “Hey, [your name],” you know?

BME: [Laughs] No, I know what you mean, and it really just comes back to this, I forget who it was, I think it was… it was a Bill Maher comedy special and he went on about the pussification of America—

KA: Right, totally.

BME: And I mean, I’m not saying we need chauvinists and people just berating others for the sake of it, but people are being babied by this culture a lot, and whether it’s telling someone in a boardroom that their idea is stupid and flawed or telling someone who comes into a piercing shop and saying, you know what, maybe this isn’t for you—

KA: Exactly. What’s the word, the feminization of America. Guys aren’t allowed to be guys — you know, there are a lot of masculine traits that are bad. I truly believe that the reason we have so much war and all these things is because of testosterone, you know, but we are definitely not allowed to express ourselves that way. I talk with my girlfriend a lot about that I curse a lot. And to me it’s just a matter of, it makes the language more colorful, it adds emphasis. So you know, I say “God damn it motherfucker!” — that says as much as saying “Oh wow, it’s really a drag that I, you know, whatever.” I remember when I was a kid, Dee Snider — I would see him when I was really young, like fourteen or fifteen, and I read an interview with him and he was asked why he curses so much, and he said, “Have you ever talked to cops or firemen? You know, people curse. And when I’m onstage, I’m talking to my friends, and people curse to their friends. So, I curse onstage like a fireman or a cop would talk at a bar; we’re all friends here, so I feel comfortable enough to curse.”

BME: And on your personal website, I read one article you linked to that basically just said that there are no bad words.

KA: Well, that was, uh, I used a bad word at work, and I got called on it. The fucked-up thing about it was when I said it there was nobody around me, nobody was in the fuckin’ room. Someone was outside the room and I said it loud enough that they heard it, and they reported me two months after I said it in response to me calling them out on something, and the next day I get called down and it’s like “Holy crap!” I was laughing, I couldn’t believe it! I was just like, blown away, like, “Yeah, I remember saying that word but I know there was nobody around and I know the way I said it” — I said cunt. [In my office] I totally broke down and was like “Fucking cunt!” and you know, I didn’t call anybody a cunt! It was just hilarious. It’s just a fucking word.

BME: And especially that word in particular has such a stigma to it with some people. Now, abruptly switching topics and to backtrack a little, you mentioned doing piercings in an S&M situation a little while ago, and being that you are in the quote-unquote corporate world these days, what is your current relation from a business standpoint or a practitioner’s standpoint to body modification, if you want to call it that? I know that it’s appointments only—

KA: Yeah, and that’s basically it. First of all, you have to be intriguing. If you just write to me and say, “I want a guiche, how much?” I’m not going to do it. But if you write to me and say, “You know, I’ve been doing some research online, and your name came up a couple of times, and you seem like you’re gay-friendly, and I’ve been thinking about a guiche but I ride bikes a lot, and I don’t know if it’s the right thing for me,” I’m going to send you my phone number. But, you know, “I want a PA, how much? Does it hurt?” We’re not going to work. There’s a great little studio up here that I use when somebody does intrigue me enough that I want to work on them, but to be totally honest, I really miss my shop. You know, we opened up in ’96, and it was really just Gauntlet, Venus, and us, there was nobody else, and I was the first one in Brooklyn. If you talk to anyone who was in my shop, it was really magical; the colors that we chose, the music that we played, every single [thing]. It was a small place, only like four hundred square feet, but every little thing had so much thought and love put into it, that you would walk in off this pretty gnarly street in Brooklyn and people just go “Holy crap! This is like an oasis!” So I miss having that, because now when I go work in somebody else’s shop, you know, they’re very respectful and they let me do whatever I need to do as far as music and lighting and so on, but it’s just never going to be the same — it’s just not the same place. So part of me really wants to find a partner, maybe a jewelry-maker; I’m not too hip on a tattoo artist because I don’t like the noise of the machine going all the time, but I would love to find somebody where I could open up a small little space and just maintain that environment the way I’d want it to be. But it’s not going to happen any time soon.


BME: Now, what initially caused you to move away from it? Was it a business thing, or—?

KA: No, I got so into the Internet. I mean, www.modernamerican.com just did unbelievable things for my reputation — not even my reputation with clients, but my reputation with the press. I was getting, you know, a dozen calls a week to be on talk shows all over the world, there were more interviews than I ever could have imagined, and I thought, this is all because of my website — because that’s how they’d find you! So what I did is, I think in ’98 I made the decision to start phasing it out and start looking for a job in the interactive industry. My dad would come into the shop and take appointments for me, and I would spend less time in the shop and more time over at Fox, Rupert Murdoch’s organization, in digital publishing. I took an internship over there, and at thirty-five years old I beat out all these college kids for this internship — it was my enthusiasm; I really saw the future, and I still see the future of what digital communication is going to be. So I was really lucky in that I got that job, and as time went on I just realized — it’s funny, because I also quit Dee’s band on the eve, the proverbial eve that they were leaving for Spain and Italy, to stay at Fox. And everybody at Fox was like, “Are you fucking kidding me? You’re not going to Spain with Dee Snider to play Twisted Sister music because you want to be an intern at Fox?” And I told them that at the time, and still to this day, that was as exciting to me as playing in front of 20,000 people. The ability to FTP into a server in Australia still gives me goosebumps. Like, I cannot believe the magic of this whole sphere.

BME: And it’s different for someone like you because younger kids these days, they’re growing up and they know the Internet and digital communications from day one, whereas someone who’s been around and can see the progression from a computer that you could, you know, house a family of four in, to—

KA: [Laughs] Exactly, right. So it’ll be interesting to see what turns those kids on. And what I think it’s coming full circle to is that at the end of the day it’s really about what you have to say. The technology itself should always be transparent; unfortunately most of the time it’s not transparent, it’s broken or it’s too big or whatever, but it’s going to get to the point where it’s so transparent you can’t even see it, and all that’s going to count is what the headline is, what it is that grabs this person’s attention. So it’s a cliché, but it’s really about the content.

BME: And just to backtrack once again, obviously you were at Gauntlet and then you had Modern American but from a practitioner’s perspective, you’ve seen the community expand and become so saturated and to open up a shop like you said, you would like to get a partner — opening up a shop these days could be a very hit-or-miss endeavor and enterprise. Would that be a concern, or do you think that your history and your work would speak for itself?

KA: You know, it speaks for itself. I mean, without sounding like a totally conceited asshole, I get a dozen requests a day. I mean, the work is there for me, it’s just a matter of do I want to take it on. I mean, it wouldn’t be a street-level shop, that’s for sure; it’d be appointment only. And there are requests coming though — I wish I was getting the requests back then that I get now. I even have form letters at this point that I send out to turn people down — I cannot believe the amount of requests for piercings that I get, so no, I wouldn’t be too worried about that.

BME: Okay, because I know that locally for me, even Tom Brazda just recently had to close down Stainless Studios and again he moved it to just a more or less one-man, appointment-only operation. And it wasn’t, I don’t think he was tired of running a business, but the business aspect just wasn’t happening [as a standard shop]. And then, you know, you walk down the street and there’s Jimmy’s Tattoo Emporium and Café—

KA: Oh yeah, that’s one of the things too, is that tattooing was illegal in New York City for a long time — like, ’62 until very recently, I think ’97 — and when they legalized it, all of a sudden, every tattoo shop that opened up threw a piercer [in], so there was definitely a saturation at that level. But you know, I’m definitely kind of like two levels above the average piercer and reach the people that really care about it the majority of the time. I get, certainly 25 to 30% of the requests I get are the usual misspelled, “Will you peirce my naval?” kind of shit. But those are just people who search and randomly come across me, those aren’t the people who really care; the people who care will find me.

BME: These days though, do you think that people who want to be a body piercer or a tattoo artist or do scarification work — it used to be just a labor of love but now you have to be a shrewd businessman to do it as well. You look at guys like Brian Decker (IAM:xPUREx) who do incredible work — but he looks like he’s starving; he just can’t get the clientele and he struggles to make it happen professionally sometimes it seems.

KA: Well, there are a lot of levels going on. What you said in number one was all true, but there are various levels of cause and effect there that make these things happen. Number one, a guy like Brian who’s talented beyond belief — he’s young. At least he appears young. I don’t think he can do it all on his own, I think that’s why he uses Shawn Porter a lot to run interference for him, but me and Brian went at it for a little bit, because to me it’s like, you live and you die alone; if you can’t stand up for yourself and do it for yourself, you know — you just have to be able to! And I don’t think that Shawn, and I love Shawn, you know, I’ve done work on Shawn, Shawn and I go way back. [But] a guy like Brian, he really needs to stand on his own and then I think he might be more aggressive about it. I get requests fairly often, maybe one or two every couple of months saying, “I want to break into the business, I love body modification more than anything else in the world, can you help me?” And I usually write back a little along the lines of how it’s not really a viable career choice, and it’s not. Number one, the market isn’t there; if you take any business classes they give you the example of the hardware store, and you figure out if Town X can support another hardware store based on the population, the median income, and those kinds of things. The chances are, the town that you live in isn’t going to support you as a piercer. So, as a viable career choice for the future, it’s probably not there. Short term, if you want to spend the time and learn, you know, you could make some money but you’re not going to buy a house on it. So it’s really a matter of your goals. Some people are very happy living on rice and beans, and they might say at 25 that they’d be happy doing that at 65, but I think that as you get older, your concept of what success is changes. To me, success was always doing what I wanted to do, so I could die tomorrow and I’d feel extremely successful. But the truth is, I don’t have much money in the bank; I don’t have many assets; my net worth is nowhere near what it should be — but I consider myself extremely successful. So if this person who is eating rice and beans and opened up a small piercing shop but truly loves it, that to me is the lynchpin, the fulcrum; if you’re just getting into it because you think it’s cool, fuck you. If you’re getting into it because you think you’ll make some money, fuck you as well. But if you’re getting into it and learning it because you love it, you know, more power to you, and those are the kinds of people that I help, and it’s relatively often.

BME: I think that when someone is very new to this and all of a sudden they find BME or they find spc.Online or whatever and all of a sudden it’s this whole new world that they’ve never known before, it’s very romantic at first—

KA: [Agrees]

BME: I know that I, me personally, after going to hacks and verifiable psychopaths for my first piercings I eventually became friends with Blair, and—

KA: Blair is probably the best in the world—

BME: Exactly, and spending time with him and actually developing something of a friendship with him… it’s very romantic to want to do this for a living and be as content as Blair, you know, who wouldn’t want that?

KA: Blair is the exception.

BME: Exactly. It’s a very different… that’s Blair’s personality.

KA: And why do you think he’s so successful? He loves it so much, he kicks ass at it. If you get into it and you’re not as passionate as he is, or as I was back in the day, or Tom for that matter, you know, you’re doomed to failure, or you’re doomed to mediocrity at the very best.

BME: And even Blair — he worked at a host of different shops before he eventually bought Passage with a partner, which is in the heart of Toronto’s gay community. So he gets lots of business, but he even had to institute a pervert tax, essentially—

KA: [Laughs]

BME: Because guys would come in and they would book consultations with him and hit on him the whole time, or drop their pants and be like, “Well, how do you like this?” So he raised his prices dramatically for that sort of thing. But if someone came in and they were obviously with it and weren’t going to sexually harass him on the job, they wouldn’t necessarily be “taxed”. [But] a lot of people aren’t in that position to be able to make concessions like that and be like, “Well, you’re sort of a dick. I’ll pierce you, but I’m not going to talk to you afterwards, but you know, here’s an apadravya for two hundred dollars.” I’m exaggerating, but—

KA: Yeah, that’s one of the problems I had; I would charge the same for PA as I would for a nipple, and I’m not saying that Blair does this but I’ve seen a lot of other piercers that will charge like three times the amount for a genital piercing! Like, nothing could be easier to do than a scrotal piercing — it’s the same thing as doing a fucking earlobe, basically, but you’re charging three times as much. It never made sense to me, but I can totally relate to what he’s saying. I’ve had it happen to me a shitload of times at Gauntlet, and at that time I wasn’t half as comfortable with sexuality as I am now. You know, I’ll never forget the first time I did a PA — it freaked me out! I had never touched anybody’s dick other than my own, and I was like holy crap, that was the weirdest thing I’d ever done! I did it, I aced it, I was psyched about it, but it was like, wow, that’s bizarre. And you know, there was definitely a pervert community [laughs] that gets off on piercers like that.

BME: And I think that some people who want to get into the business, they don’t take into account that they may not be as comfortable with other peoples’ bodies as they are with their own. And you know, you’re a piercer and all of a sudden a 300 pound woman walks in who wants a hood piercing, and are you going to be able to handle that sort of thing?

KA: Totally.

BME: Still, I talked to Blair, I hung out at his shop for days on end, and there were very minor rumblings of apprenticeship, and after a while I was like, you know what? Learning the skills would be incredible, but at the same time, as far as an actual profession goes, I don’t know if this is actually for me. And I think that’s where a lot of people get mixed up.

KA: Yep. Well, you know, you’re obviously self-aware, and the majority of the people in this world are not self-aware, and they’ll go whichever way the wind blows or what have you… it’s your personality. Whether or not you’re into the things you’re into or not, it’s your personality that sets your course in life. And if you don’t have the right personality to get what you want, you never will [get what you want], or you’ll just take whatever comes your way.

BME: But you know, at the same time, when I would go and talk to Blair, we would hang out and I’d learn… he’d teach me how to take care of biohazard or how to operate the autoclave, and there were things I learned, but at the end of the day it was not for me. And I think people who romanticize it to the point where they will just get facial tattoos right away or stretch a huge labret—

KA: It’s not a sport, I say that all the time, it’s not a sport. How big can I stretch, how quick? But you used the right word, that’s the perfect word is romanticizing it; you make it seem like something that it’s not. You know, it’s like girls, or anybody for that matter, who want a tongue piercing. I tell them all the time, and they’ll wink like, does it make oral sex better? And my line is, if you can’t give head without it, having it’s not going to help. You know, a PA’s not going to make you a great lover if you weren’t a great lover to begin with; it certainly shows a certain mindset that’s admirable that you’re willing to go to places to make your sex life better, but really it comes down to personality type. The best thing to do is just live your life and lead by example. You know, that’s what I like to do; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in big presentations, I’ve just given a great presentation, everyone’s just kind of blown away, and then I roll up my sleeves and people are like, “Holy shit, that’s a lot of work,” and you know, I’m totally aware of when I do it, how I do it, why I’m doing it, and so on. So you just have to set an example by the way you live your life.

Whether you’re pierced or not or you’re tattooed or not or whatever it is, you know, because too many people talk, you know how it is, this is how you should do it, this is how you could do it — show me, don’t tell me. And just live your life the way you think it should be lived. And like Blair is doing; he’s living the authentic life, and I feel strongly that I am, and you sound like you are; I know Shannon is, and Shawn for that matter. You have to live an authentic life, and then you’ll be happy. If you’re living an inauthentic life, it’s going to show.


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6 thoughts on “RTFM: Keith Alexander

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