Interview with James Keen; a young, heavily modified, eunuch.

I first talked to James several years ago. At the time he was a minor seeking answers to questions about heavy mods. In all honesty, I didn’t take him too seriously. I foolishly lumped him in with several other young modders that seemed to be more into the fantasy of obtaining heavy mods than the reality of doing so. In fact, I distinctly remember some photo editing of mods onto a picture of his face at one point which made it truly seem as if it was all just fantasy for him.

However, as years passed, it became obvious he was totally serious with his desires and he began to get all the mods he had previously spoken with me about.

Several years ago, he interviewed me for the now defunct youngmodders.com. Now it is time for me to turn the tables and interview him. So without further ado, I give you a conversation with the now 26-year-old James Keen.

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BME’s Big Question #5: The Series of Tubes


Welcome to BME’s Big Question! In this feature, we’re going to ask a handful of the community’s best and brightest piercers, tattooists, heavy mod practitioners and shop owners for their opinion on one question or issue that’s affecting the body modification community. Many, many thanks to all of the contributors.

If you’d like to be a part of future editions, or if you have an idea for an issue or question you’d like to see addressed, please e-mail me.

This week’s topic:

The Internet has obviously changed the body modification industry dramatically: The amount of information and discussion about it can be staggering, and more people are engaging in it than ever before. Some see this as a positive thing, while others may have misgivings about such an increased amount of attention, and perhaps a watering-down of the talent and art involved.

If you were working prior to body modification’s rise on the Internet, how did you adapt to its emergence? If you came around afterward, how large a role did the Internet play when you were becoming established in your field? And for everyone, what are the positives and negatives of having the Internet available, whether as a tool for research, marketing, or communication? Where do you think the industry would be without it?

* * *


John Joyce
When I first started piercing, I wasn’t aware of any type of body modification community online. Without that online community, I took everything the person who was teaching me to pierce to be truth. What he said was how it was done, and I had no reason to think otherwise. I later found out about BME and IAM. Through BME, I found that there were many things that we were doing that weren’t really the best way to do things. Talking to other piercers online made me a better piercer, helped me improve myself and the studio I was working in.

Now there is so much information out there and so many great piercers, and body jewelry manufacturers online (just on this site alone) that it really irritates me when I see someone doing things half-assed. When I was starting out, you really had to search for information, now it’s right there ready for you to take, but a lot of the new piercers just aren’t taking it.


Derek Lowe
I see the availability of information to be a good thing. It’s not a matter of the information, or its availability, having a negative impact … it’s what people do (or don’t do) that is positive or negative.

As John pointed out however, it does make it extra frustrating when you see people doing things that make no sense at all. The information about various options is so readily available, there is really no excuse (other than laziness or just not caring) for doing things grossly below par.

Maybe I’m just being nostalgic and romanticizing things, but I do think there is something to be said for the effort you had to put into finding information before the Internet was around. You had to go out of your way to find books or magazines, you had to actually pick up the phone and call someone or go hang out with them. It required a greater commitment of time and energy from everybody involved.

I think one benefit of the information being less accessible was that it forced people to do more critical thinking about their procedures; especially if it wasn’t a traditional procedure. Instead of hopping on BME or YouTube and seeing pictures/videos of procedures being done, you had to think through the process step-by-step and you had to evaluate what your different options were. You often didn’t have a “right way” to fall back on; you just had the way that made the most sense to you. And that way would likely change as you became more skilled/experienced.

Many younger piercers I deal with these days simply want to know how they are “supposed” to do it. They are often reluctant to consider various options and they just want to know what’s “right and wrong.”


Ryan Ouellette
When I started piercing I remember having to scrounge for any information I could get about piercing. I picked up Grey’s Anatomy and dog-eared all the pages on the ear, face, nipple, etc. It was much more of a challenge finding any useable information. The internet has made it so easy for any idiot to watch some other idiot do a horrible piercing on a third idiot. The Internet is great at helping good piercers become better piercers. But I think it’s used more frequently to turn bored people with no career into shitty piercers.

I grew into the Internet really slowly. I used to have this research folder full of any old article I could come across in print or online. I had to track down bits and pieces over months and years. By the time the Internet really started to trickle out the professional-level information I was already fairly established so I really just used it to learn other people’s little tricks of the trade. I’m glad that I had to work for it in the real world instead of just pulling all the info down off the Web.

I think my professional opinion is that I dislike almost everything about the Internet’s marriage to this industry, minus the publicity aspect, but at least it’s evolution. It started off as a community of professionals sharing information with people they felt comfortable with. There’s no barrier of good judgment or apprehension anymore, it’s all just public domain. I liked it more when people kept secrets and you had to work for it.


John Joyce
Oh man … I know what you’re talking about. The first day of my apprenticeship I was handed folders, and binders, full of random information. I was given an old Gauntlet seminar hand book, interviews with Keith Alexander, Fakir, Jon Cobb, the Modern Primitives Book, all kinds of things.

And when I started apprenticing Shelly, I did the same thing. I gave her all kinds of information and said, “Read all of this and then find your own.” I think it’s important for people coming into this industry to do their own research and not just look to a forum and say, “Hey, how do you do this?” without doing any of their own digging first. We’re always learning and always changing our techniques, so if we can get our apprentices to do their own research right from the start it will keep them being proactive throughout their careers.


Stephen DeToma
I started my own notebook of everything the guy teaching me said. A lot of that helped give me a point of reference as I continued to learn. When I was just cutting my teeth, Ask.BME was something I read often.

I still feel I’m many levels below everyone else on this panel. Hell, I read the writings of more than a couple of you years back. I think I found my way onto BME just after I began my apprenticeship and it’s been an invaluable communication and education tool ever since.

In terms of a glut of availabile information, I certainly echo the displeasure of being able to watch kids sticking each other with needles on the school yard. Not that I think experimentation in youth is a bad thing, I’m sure we’ve all been there. But seeing something on a video through the Internet often lends an air of credibility to the experimentation, allowing others to follow in line.

I remember one afternoon, less than six months of learning in, one of the regulars from the shop brought in a stack of old PFIQs — I thought I had hit the jackpot. Now, being able to pull up any amount of varied articles at any time, it’s certainly easier, but the thrill of the hunt has diminished …


Meg Barber
When I first started my “apprenticeship,” I was given the “Pierce With a Pro” VHS tapes, the “Hole Story” VHS tapes, a pile of old PFIQ magazines, and was told to read and watch.

There was no easily accessible info to be found online really at that point, as BME was still in its earliest stages. I have to agree totally with the above statement,
“Maybe I’m just being nostalgic and romanticizing things, but I do think there is something to be said for the effort you had to put into finding information before the Internet was around.” You had to work to find the info you needed. Anatomy books, medical journals, actually reaching out to other piercers by *gasp* going to their studios, and hands-on trial-and-error were all par for the course, and I think that is why the older set of piercers are better at what we do. We worked for it, same as any job. Chances are, you will never really excel at something if you are just handed it on a silver platter, which is how I see apprentices nowadays.

While I DO think that there is some GREAT info available online, and I see the Internet as a great resource for piercers and other mod artists, I also feel that it contributes to the the over-saturation of idiots in our industry. Perfect case in point:

Me to a client: How did you end up with such a horrible piercing?

Client to me: Well, my friend and I watched this video on how to pierce your own *fill in the blank* on YouTube…

And yes, while these YouTube-trained home piercers are not technically a part of our industry, they are putting out piercings. They are perpetuating the idea that piercing is ugly, full of risk, and a delinquent behavior. The videos are also, for the most part, scary to watch, and I get a ton of clients now that are more terrified than ever after watching them!

I just feel that, like anything, the Internet as a tool for us is both positive and negative. It has its high points. I mean, how else could projects like this be possible? But it has its low points. There is a greater amount of information available to those seeking it, which can be wonderful when that information is put into the right hands, but really, how often have we all cringed when we’ve seen the results of that put into the WRONG hands?


Allen Falkner
In 1979, my father purchased a dual floppy, wooden cased, DOS-based computer called the NorthStar Horizon. With no hard drive, a giant dot matrix printer and a tiny monochrome screen, this magical machine could run the tax software for his CPA firm, making the tedious task of written double-entry book-keeping obsolete. Although the device is now just gathering dust in my garage, at the time it was a tool that allowed his business to grow dramatically without needing to hire more accountants.

Jumping forward a few years … I started piercing in 1992, the World Wide Web didn’t exist and the only comprehensive online resource was the rec.arts.bodyart newsgroup. Yes, there were plenty of photos changing hands in those days, but the random body modification you might see was simply the byproduct of downloading porn. Yes, porn was passed around before the WWW. Crazy, huh? Sites like BME and SPC didn’t exist and the body modification community was inspired by images in printed materials, most notably Modern Primitives, of which many careers including mine got their start.

Back in those days I know the desire for body modification existed, but without the Internet to expose the masses, it remained an obscure art form. It was the practitioners that appeared in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s that were the first generation to really cut their teeth simultaneously as the Internet began its influence. Some embraced the new technology and their careers grew and thrived. Others tried and ultimately floundered in the wake of the World Wide Web’s massive and sudden overexposure. Then a third group of modders either missed the boat altogether or purposely avoided the Internet, and who can blame them? For every positive thing posted there seems to be numerous negative and often hateful responses, especially in those days.

Remember the days of film cameras and scanners? Back then people had to take pictures, have them developed and scan them before they could ever be uploaded to the web. It was a time when Paul King was the MTV poster boy for navel piercings, and practitioners were changing from simple craftsmen to rock stars almost overnight. Tattooers may have earned that stature before the rest of us, but the Internet definitely played a key role in helping everyone working in the body modification industry to reach a new level of fame.

Back then if you put a ring in your friend’s penis using a safety pin, you might have been viewed as a hack, but take a picture and put in on the web and you were a pioneer and an innovator, and it didn’t stop there. One ring in a penis? How about two? Three? Heck, why not cut it in half? Half, shit, cut it off!

Now before the age-old debate of how far is too far begins, I will step back and say this: People are going to do what they want. Do photos on the Internet shape the viewer? To an extent, sure. Do these same images inspire people to reach for the next level? Yes, of course, but don’t blame the Web for people’s stupidity and poor choices. It’s like blaming rock music for murder. Giving someone an idea is far different than forcing their hand.

The Internet is a tool, nothing more. A very complex, multifaceted and often entertaining tool … but still just a tool, one that the body modification community uses more effectively than any other hands-on trade. Maybe it’s the fact that our industry blurs the line between craft and entertainment. In a sense we hit the reality crazy before the TV ever did. Want see the strange and bizarre? You can program your TiVo to find the shows or you can just turn on your computer.

So here we are, the subject of constant controversy from both inside and outside our ranks. The male ear piercings we found so shocking the ‘70s hardly raise an eyebrow anymore. Will two-inch lobes and facial tattoos be viewed the same way in 30 years? Who can say? There’s no doubt the Internet has helped body modification to thrive. Would television, film and print media have had the same effect? Probably not, but our growth may have been more controlled. Research would have trickled down slower. International communication would have been difficult at best. Marketing and exposure? Really I have no clue.

If there is nothing else I’ve learned over the years it’s that technology is ever changing. No matter what the field, all industries must learn to adapt and use what is available to the fullest if they hope to survive.


John Joyce
The first shop I worked in used to play the “Pierce with a Pro” VHS tapes in the waiting area. I hated it, but the boss thought it would be good for clients to see what they would be going through beforehand. We used to get this kid who would come in just to watch these videos. Then, guess what? About three months later that kid was piercing at a studio down the street. That was all the research he did. He continued to be a hack for a few years after, before disappearing.

And I agree with Allen that you can’t “blame the web for people’s stupidity and poor choices.” Remember when that picture of the stretched-up Achilles heel piercing was on ModBlog? I thought that was fantastic. It’s amazing to me what the human body is capable of and that there weren’t serious complications from that. I loved that it was on ModBlog because otherwise I would have never gotten to see it. Does that mean I’m going to offer Achilles piercings? No fucking way!!! People need to have some common sense, and take responsibility for themselves.

With the lack of hands on research and initiative, people also seem to be losing professional morals and ethics.


Allen Falkner
You know what’s funny? We were all hacks once, especially the old timers. My training came from a one day course by Fakir. This was before his school, and I was his second student after Erik Dakota.

So in a sense I was one of those hacks that knew very little and just set up shop. In a way I’m kind of glad I did it that way. Because I didn’t have any formal training, I had to work twice as hard to both learn and prove myself.


John Joyce
Right, but you worked hard to learn and improve. People seem to be losing that motivation. Almost 12 years later, I’m still working hard and improving. There are all these piercers now that think they have it all figured out, they are masters of their craft. I just don’t understand that mentality.

Meg Barber
“Because I didn’t have any formal training, I had to work twice as hard to both learn and prove myself.”

Hear, hear.

The kids that think they are master piercers, so to speak, after piercing for a year KILL me. There has been nothing earned, no sacrifices made.

What do you think? Let’s hear it in the comments.

* * *

Please consider buying a membership to BME so we can continue bringing you articles like this one.

Toph: BME Publisher’s Ring Interview [BME/News]

Toph: Transformational Sacrifice

“Pioneers may be picturesque figures, but they are often rather lonely ones.”

- Nancy Astor

When I was twenty in 1994, my 3/4″ earlobe piercing was shocking enough to the public that I was stopped regularly so people could take photos. Today, with a societal foundation laid where the public is “used” to seeing body modification, I doubt anyone would even notice — it takes something far more radical to turn heads. My friend Toph certainly falls into that category — with roughly an inch plug in each nostril and a nearly two inch lip plate, as well as a myriad of other modifations, he’s tormenting the programmers of facial recognition software by pushing the limits of a modern human face is.

I’ve split this interview with Toph into two sections, beginning with a discussion of his amazing modifications, and with the second section being about him and his life. As well as via the comment forum at the end of the article, you can contact Toph via his IAM page, toph.bmezine.com.

- Shannon

Toph's Amazing Stretched Piercings

PART ONE

How did you do your lip stretching?

I got my center lip piercing done at a 16ga — I didn’t have a choice in the matter because the shop I went to only had that size, so when I went home I immediately put it to a 12ga. A few days later I put in an 8ga — my body stretches rather easily I think compared to most people. My steps were either every week or every other week until I got to 3/4″, which was done all with a taper up until that point. Once it got to 3/4″ it became loose every other day, and then I took my steps one millimeter at a time, every other day or so. By this time I was just “popping” them in without tapers or tape — I didn’t use tape until about 28mm.

How long did the lip stretching take in all?

My lip took a total of six months to go from 16g to 40mm (1 9/16″).

How do you usually wear your lip?

I wear it down 24/7, even when I eat, but drinking is always with a straw!

How about your tongue stretching?

My tongue was a different situation. I wanted to split my tongue, but I needed a good back brace, so at first I started my tongue off by scalpelling straight to 6mm, then stretching it up to 9mm the next day. I wore that for four days, and then scalpelled it to 16mm and stretched to 19mm the next day. By then I was ready for the split — I first cut it to 20mm, stretched it to 21mm, and used a scalpel and cut from the underneath up until the plug fell out and my tongue was split.

And your nostrils?

My nostrils were pierced when I was eighteen at a 10ga and immediately stretched to 8ga. I waited a good four months before going to 6ga, and then every month I went up to the next size until 16mm. Then about every week or so it was 1mm at a time until I took a long break at 22mm — about 5 months. I tapered them the whole way until 5/8″, then slide the next millimeters in by hand. I just recently started stretching them again.

Toph's Amazing Stretched Piercings

Finally, tell me about your ear stretching? What happened to your ears?

My ears have been a work in progress since I was sixteen, when they were done with a gun at the mall. I took it slow the most of the time, but I did stretch a few times faster than I should have. Unfortunately both my lobes were cut by a bad pair of eyelets at 19mm, and then thinned out pretty badly, so I had to take it really slow after that. Then last year I had plastic surgery on my left lobe due to a landscaping accident — I was weedwhacking a lawn at work and a rock got kicked up and split the 1 1/2″ lobe!

What are the differences in stretching the different types of piercing?

The differences I came across stretching the different types of piercing were that on the ears and lip weight worked really well, whereas the nostrils were all about time — if they didn’t have enough time they just wouldn’t stretch. My tongue was cut the whole time so it was a piece of cake, and I learned that if you really really want a 20mm tongue you can cut it there in a week without a hitch.

Did you have any problems in your stretching?

I did get some scar tissue on the front of my lip during my journey, which was cut off each time it happened and healed perfectly fine. I didn’t come across any problems with my nostrils, mostly because I was really careful. The have minor scar tissue but it went away with the pressure of o-rings in under a week. With my tongue I didn’t have one problem — besides blood and drool!

You managed to upsize all of them incredibly quickly — did you have a secret to doing this or does your body just tolerate stretching really well?

I think it’s a mixture of the two — on one hand my body handles stretching really well because I keep it on a basic schedule, and I think my body adjusted to it and went with it for the most part. My goal sizes are 28mm nostrils and a 63mm lip plate. My ears are as is and if they go bigger then good, but if not I’m still satisfied.

Toph's Amazing Stretched Piercings
Toph in the early stages of his modifications

Are all of your piercings publicly visible, or do you have private mods as well?

I have had a 00g PA, a 4ga scalped frenum, three ladders and two pubic surface piercings. I do my own genital mods and plan on starting my full subincision soon — I’ve already done the meatotomy.

Do you have plans for further modifications?

My future modifications will include more facial ink, full sleeves,scarification, and large conches. It’s a short list but over the years I’ve had a lot of different stuff done and I’m pretty satisfied with the way my image turned out.

Toph's Amazing Stretched Piercings
Other facial configurations that Toph has tried

And if you change your mind about all of it and want to go back, do you have a “Plan B”?

If it ever came to a reversal, I would downsize the same way I went up and hope for the best — but I’ve never once seriously thought about changing my image. I’ve been planning this out and making it a part of my life, and plan on keeping it for life.

How much do you think you’ve spent on jewelry so far — you must have gone through a lot?

Over the years I’ve spent about $8000 on jewelry. That was another addiction — I collected jewelry, never thinking I would actually wear it all in multiple piercing over the years. I collected anything from normal stainless steel to one of a kind $200 plugs. Once I met Karl (iam:MobyK), he offered to make me Delrin plugs if I ever needed them. At first I was like “no thanks”, but the more I got into it… like you said, I went through a lot of jewelry.

Karl became a mentor to me and a godfather — we have been very close friends for about three years now, and have never once met. I met Pauly Unstopable through Karl who showed me how big a nostril can go — he was my inspiration for that single piercing. Jesse (iam:pillpoppinfun, featured in BME’s first article on lip plates) was my original influence for the labret. He wore pins and plugs and it interested me. Throughout the years I’ve had a lot of positive influence through the industry, not to mention the movie ‘MODIFY’ which gave me the idea to scalpel my own frenum.

* * *

PART TWO

How old are you, what do you do for a living, and what “life plans” do you have?

I am twenty years old, and currently unemployed. I worked restaurants for five years and landscaping for two before I moved to Oklahoma. Now I’m back at the challenge of finding a new occupation. My life plans are to find someone to apprentice me so I can take what I love and make it into a living. This is my life and it’s what I think about day in and day out. I’m just hoping for the opportunity to get into the modification industry to fulfill my life goal.

Tell me a little about yourself in terms of interests?

I am a big fan of extreme sports — skateboarding, aggressive inline, four wheeling, motor cycles, and jet skis. I’m big into nature and photography and consider myself a decent artist.

Toph's Amazing Stretched Piercings

What’s your peer group like?

I don’t have a big group friends outside the Internet and I like to keep my life limited to family and close friends for the most part. When I go out in public I like to inform anyone who has questions about myself and what and why I do this, to my best ability, to try to help the public understand that we’re not freaks or assholes. I do this mostly to help the next generation of modders so people don’t get the wrong idea about us — this is very important to me.

How do people respond when they see you?

When I’m out in public people freak out… when they talk to me, it’s very funny. Once they see I’m willing to talk to them they just let go and ask me a million questions. People jump up and down, spin and laugh, saying “oh my god, that shit is crazy!” I’ve found that I get more attention from middle aged and older African Americans than I do from white teens and young adults… I don’t know why but I like it.

What got you interested in body modification originally?

I was around fifteen years old and I was a troubled kid, and I met a body piercer named Paul Kriner. He changed my life. I had already had a major interest in body modification, and so when I met him I tried to spend all my free time up at the shop that he worked at. He taught me a lot about the industry, proper aftercare and stretching, and became my mentor and someone I could look up to no matter what. I learned a lot from a young and very talented artist (he was only twenty at the time), and since the day I met him I knew what direction my life was going.

I know the why question is hard, but “why?”, and can you think of earlier influences?

This is my passion. It makes me very happy doing this, and it satisfies an empty spot in my life. I believe in concentrating and self-inflicting pain — it’s putting myself through more challenges in life… As if life wasn’t hard enough! I don’t think life should be easy, and if you’re doing something you love and it makes your life harder, and you have the ability to work through it, it only makes you stronger. This is the love of my life — more than family and friends even. If I wasn’t able to mod myself I’d feel as if I was walking around as a fake. I also find the way I look attractive — I’m absolutely amazed at what one can do to one’s body to make it completely change form.

Really, why should everyone look the same?

Like I said, my piercer was a big influence on me in my teens, but as a kid my uncle was in a state prison and all I could see were endless tattoos. He was a great guy — he just screwed up. I had a very positive image of body modification at a young age, although it went against everything my parents ever told me. As a kid I pierced my ears with safety pins and my labret with a sewing needle, as well as numerous surface temporary piercings. The more my parents said no the more I got into it… Then I discovered BME — oh my god, BME — once I was shown that site it was over. It was a candy store for me. I started hanging out at tattoo shops all summer long and every day after school for around five years until I went off on my own.

All of this added to my obsession… The interest was already there, but when my eyes were opened to how far it can be taken I never looked back. I dedicated my life to it, and to this day still do and plan on doing it until I die. It’s a part of my life that’s too good to let go.

What made you decide to start to push your modifications in a direction that’s far more extreme than most people can relate to?

My interest got so deep into it I didn’t see a reason to stop at a certain size just because it was more accepted to stop there — being accepted by the community is something I can do myself no matter how I look. After seeing some of the famous modders like The Lizardman, Pauly Unstoppable, and the movie ‘MODIFY’, I knew I could put up the fight, and so far have succeeded. I take this part of my life so seriously, and I believe you can change the way people think with the right attitude and perspective. It’s all about being nice no matter what, and fully informing them no matter how unbelievable what they see is.

Given that you’ve made these changes in such a short time, I’m sure you’ve got some remarkable insight into how people who look different are treated?

My immediate family does not accept my body modifications at all, and still don’t completely understand me. I’ve done my best but they don’t want to believe this is who I am. My friends love it — they refer to me as a rock star when we go out in pubic because I have five to twenty confrontations each time I go to a store… nothing but tons of questions, excitement, and disgust. The public is very interested but not everyone can gather the courage to confront someone to ask questions and to fulfill their curiously. You’re always going to get bad attention, but there is a lot more good attention than most people would think.

What advice would you have for people who are considering doing something radical like this?

I would seriously encourage people to take a long hard thought before doing something like this. You receive so much criticism, and it’s a lot to deal with on a daily basis. It is very difficult to handle and you have to be emotionally strong to get through it all. But if it is a decision the new generation is willing to take, it is only going to get easier as time goes on.

Since Valentine’s Day is coming up, would you like to meet and date someone as radically modified as yourself?

I believe it would be so much easier to date someone that looked like Duff or Miss Kayteek Etemine because it would be easier to deal with the constant modifications and the public response as well because they would have already been use to it in their own lives, instead of having to adjust to an extreme amount of constant attention.

It can be a lot for someone to handle who has never experienced it before. I recently lost my marriage over my body modifications — she told me it was her or the modifications…. I couldn’t believe my ears. I basically laughed, then cried, then said good bye. This path wasn’t meant for everyone and it takes extreme dedication to do what I have accomplished.

Not to mention sacrifice…

Toph's Amazing Stretched Piercings

Thank you to Toph for taking the time to talk to us! Please visit him at iam:Toph.


Shannon Larratt
BMEzine.com

The Life Symmetric

For many people, body modification involves a lot of planning and decision-making. Many aspects of one’s life come into play during this time, such as job-related concerns and general aesthetic preferences. One commonality I have come across time and again when discussing specific modification choices with fellow modders is symmetry. I personally have never been concerned with the symmetry of my mods, but I know many people who have become so anxious over an asymmetrical piercing or tattoo that they are compelled to acquire its counterpart. Upon searching through the BME experience archives, I found a number of other people who seem to have a “thing for symmetry,â€? claim that they “believe in symmetry,â€? or even go so far as to say that they’re “obsessed with symmetry.â€? But why this focus on symmetrical modification?

One clue as to a possible reason behind this fixation is the need for symmetry or order that sometimes accompanies cases of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Persons afflicted with OCD often become extremely anxious if they feel that some particular aspect of life is not symmetrical, and often go to great lengths to achieve this balance. There is even a disorder called asymmetriphobia, which is (yea, you guessed it) the fear of asymmetry. So maybe there exists within some humans an inherent (or perhaps learned) anxiety in the presence of asymmetry.

FACE
Left
Right Face

Another clue comes in the form of scientific research that has led to the common belief that facial and bodily symmetry contribute greatly to one’s perceived attractiveness. Studies show that even babies are inherently attracted to symmetrical features, as they spend significantly longer looking at pictures of symmetrical than of asymmetrical faces. There’s even a website that utilizes a picture of your face to show what you might look like if your right side was perfectly symmetrical with your left side, or vice versa. I tried it (pictures above), but the results were not as ‘attractive’ as I had expected.

There may even be evidence of an evolutionary reason for the perceived attractiveness of bodily symmetry. An article on WebMD points out that “If the potential mate has a great degree of asymmetry, he or she is judged to be less than optimal. In numerous species, asymmetry is linked to greater rates of disease and early death, and lesser success in fertility — all important to their selection as mates.â€? So perhaps the acquisition of symmetrical body modifications is the outward expression of insecurity about one’s natural features, and an attempt to give the illusion of symmetry. After all, no one wants to be alone.

Okay, so now that I know that the symmetry issue is relevant even outside of the body modification sphere, I’m still left puzzled as to why humans are so drawn to it. I have begun to wonder whether it is simply the fact that our bodies (and those of many animal species) are naturally symmetrical in many ways. Our bodies contain mirror images of each arm, leg, ear, cheek, kidney and so on. Maybe we’ve just become so comfortable in our own skin that somewhere along the way we developed an affinity toward symmetry.

I’m sorry that I couldn’t offer an absolute answer to this query, but perhaps those of you modders out there who do indeed have a love for mod symmetry can help fill me in. Until then I feel just fine about the fact that my left profile contains 5 more holes and one more tattoo than my right :)

Germany ups the fight on Body Mod

As you may know, even linking to BME in Germany is illegal, and the German government has already successfully taken legal action againt Google there to have BME removed from the German version of their search engine. I recently received this letter from a friend in Germany:

Bad news for Bodymod Freaks here in Germany. The government decided to redesign our health system. As a part of these changes so called “risk groups” like extreme sports fans or bodymod addicts have to pay any medical treatment they need by themselves, given the trouble is caused by these activities. No [standard] health insurance will cover any kind of problem you could have after a body piercing or a tattoo, not to speak about heavier mods.

So if you should be so unlucky to need very expensive treatment, a surgery maybe, because something went wrong when you got something pierced, you will have to pay thousands of euros (1 Euro is about 1.20 US Dollars) by yourself. If you can’t pay it you’ve got a serious problem. Because no Doctor will help you then.

And they talk about human rights. Yeah. But only rich people are humans to them. Be grateful you don’t live in a country which is ruled exclusively by money bags.

I asked for a little follow up information, but this is a brand new change so there is not much yet:

There is a way to get a health insurance which covers these special risks — but you have to pay 25 Euro (30 US$) extra per month, in addition to your regular health insurance. No matter how much you earn, these 25 will always remain the same. The extra insurance is volontary, but if you don’t have it, it is like I said: No doctor will help you if you get an infection from a piercing or something like that.It would have been a lot better if they offered an insurance you can buy when getting pierced, so a piercing will become more expensive, but you are safe if something goes wrong. Maybe some private insurance company will have this idea some time later, but this will surely take some time.And do-it-yourself piercers, self-modders or people who got an illegal modification done at an underground parlor would be unprotected in this case either.

So currently it looks as if you’ll have to join this extra insurance-fund, paying 25.- extra per moth, if should ever want to get a piercing or try yourself at a BMX offroad bike. All so-called “self-accountable risks” are to be covered in this expensive extra-insurance. If you refuse joining it, you should not risk to do anything dangerous. And a nostril or belly button piercing, as every second girl has it, would be considered dangerous in this context. I don’t know about how they include the standard ear lobe piercings there. 98% of the female population have pierced ears, including many women over 70 years. But as I know German bureaucrats they will make no difference there. Politics and reality are very different things.

So most people, but espeacially the younger ones, will have to pay this extra fee. Everything else would be too risky…

What do you think? Should body modification fans have to pay extra to have healthcare? And if anyone knows more about these changes, please do post them in the comment forum.

Rites of Passage Suspension Family [Guest Column]


  

Rites of Passage

Suspension Crew Family


“Rituals have the power to reset the terms of our universe until we find ourselves suddenly and truly ‘at home.’”

- Margot Adler


Rites of Passage is currently one of the most active suspension groups in America with six chapters across the North East comprising eighteen members. I was able to speak with ROP founder and current leader of the Michigan chapter, Emrys (
IAM:along those lines), as well as New York chapter members Brian (IAM:xPUREx) and Cere (IAM:cere).

BME:  What was your experience in the body modification community before getting involved with Rites of Passage?

BRIAN:  Before I began working with suspensions with ROP I was heavily involved with practicing modification work in Connecticut. I worked with piercing, implants, scarification, and many other more “pseudo-surgical” aesthetic modifications at the time.

CERE:  I was a body piercer of about five or six years and then I left piercing due to the fact that in New York even the best piercers can’t maintain a high enough standard of living (for me). Afterwards though, I remained “in the scene” by working on friends only, and going to conventions, clubs, and so on.

EMRYS:  I’d been a body piercer for about two years at a local studio in my home town and served an apprenticeship under a traditional Fakir-trained piercer. I’d experimented when I was younger (nine-ish) with branding myself, cutting myself, and carving words in my skin as a relief of tension. I started stretching my lobes at around thirteen as a result of meeting a Kenyan tribesman that came to my school to give a speech on his culture. I also had a decent amount of tattoo work for someone under the age of eighteen, including a memorial tattoo crowning my head in dedication to my mother.

 
Cere’s first suspension being watched over by Brian (front)
and George (back), with Emrys working in the background.

BME:  How did you three meet each other and the rest of ROP?

BRIAN:  I actually learned the most about suspension from Emrys as a trade for modification work. Implants for a first suspension! Even trade. From then on I was really interested in learning the techniques and arts involved with performing suspension and helped out whenever I could.

Rites of Passage was in its beginning stage at the time. Em was living in Pittsfield (Massachusets) then, and most of my trips up there to visit involved suspension at some level — I learned more about knotting and rigging every time. It wasn’t really until Em moved to NYC with me that I began to become as knowledgeable as I am now, though. That’s when ROP-NYC started to grow.

CERE:  I know this is going to sound clichéd, but I’d always wanted my tongue split. Well, not always, but ever since I’d seen one in person, I wanted one. The first time I ever saw it was on a cute chick in St. Marks Place (a strip filled with modders in New York City). Unfortunately everyone that I knew who performed the procedure wasn’t producing results I was happy with, so I turned my search online and came across BME. I ended up meeting up with Brian, and we hit it off and became friends. At the time him and Emrys were roommates in NY, and we all just kind of hit it off.

EMRYS:  Besides the few members that were there when it was just an idea, most of the members are people that I’d suspended with ROP or other groups I’ve worked with that then became interested in helping others experience what they had. The “original members” — let’s say first year — were people that were into piercing and tattooing and so on that I knew from my hometown area and had become friends with due to our similar interests.

BME:  Did you seek out training in ritual rites or did it simply present itself?

BRIAN:  I guess, perhaps, I subconsciously sought out the teaching, as I was definitely interested in learning, but it wasn’t until Emrys actually presented me with the opportunity that I really knew it was something possible to pursue.

CERE:  Although I was always interested in suspension and played with the idea of it, I never thought the opportunity to hang, let alone be part of this, would ever come. It’s not something I sought out — actually it was something I thought I’d never come across! I was just at the right place at the right time with the right friends.


Cere and Ellie doing a night pull on the beach


EMRYS:  The answer depends on what you narrow down as “ritual”. In my opinion any form of modification to the body holds some form of ritualistic intensity. I’m sure you’re meaning suspension and so on, and I had to seek out information and guidance in that area.

Being nowhere near as popular then as it is now there were very few individuals with actual experience with it. Through BME and suspension.org I came in contact with people like Allen Falkner and Steve Joyner who offered me guidance and answers — though I’d have to say 75% of what I know came from trial and error, along with first hand accounts. At first the group was closed to anyone besides ourselves in order to become more experienced so that we could safely share suspension with other people.

BME:  What did your training actually consist of?

BRIAN:  Being an established modification practitioner I was well versed with the concepts of avoiding cross contamination, having proper bedside manner, and aseptic technique, so the first thing I needed to “learn” was the art of hook throwing. I learned a few different styles of piercing, which I caught onto very quickly. “Training” really consisted mostly of hands-on experience working next to Em, as he explained what he was doing — and why — throughout each suspension.

Learning how to tie different knots was mostly just a memorization skill, but where to put the hooks and tie the knots and why, and when a person needed to come down, was the part of suspension that needed to be learned through experience and practice.



Brian suspending; one hook chest and multi-point suicide


CERE:  I’m not going to go in depth here, giving a play by play, but it started slowly learning one aspect at a time and not moving on to new things until I was comfortable that I could do it.

EMRYS:  Training is a lot to cover in one question and could be broken down into a rather large number of categories. As Brian said, a lot of the piercing of the hooks and bloodborne pathogens and other technical aspects came from being a body piercer — the rest was learning knots, talking to those that had paved the way, learning ways to calm people as they go from beginning to end, learning better ways to rig this, faster knots for that, and so on. Almost all of it was learned hands-on — it’s not something that can be read and learned. It’s all about being walked through it, and when you have no one, you walk yourself through it. I’m not sure if that answered your question but it’s rather hard to answer that without writing a book!

BME:  How did ROP manage to establish itself so well? It’s a very respected group.

BRIAN:  I believe ROP is so well respected because of the dedication we all have to making each suspension meaningful for each and every person on both personal and professional levels. We all breathe suspension all the time, and take as much concern with learning as anything we’d like to be the best at. We’re all really easy to talk to and all generally care about your experience being the best it can possibly be, which is what makes ROP what it is.

CERE:  God, this is going sound so high and mighty but I think what makes ROP so unique is a couple things. First off, we are clean. We will not cut corners under any circumstances, and we will never jeopardize a suspendee. I’d have no problem throwing away a 100′ spool of rope if it was contaminated. Also we are people. We don’t have an attitude or rockstar mentality. We’re here to help people, not to be “cool.”

EMRYS:  We just did what we do, nothing more, nothing less. ROP is something that comes from my heart and the hearts of all its members. We all do it for the one reason and one reason only: the love of the art of suspension. Each and every member was once a first time suspendee who was nervous and scared, who we walked through each step to help their experience be the most positive and safe it could possibly be. And I think that’s how we managed to establish ourselves. By always being open and patient with people who come to us and the level of professionalism we have to offer for something that can’t help but be personal. We’re dedicated to what we do as more of a lifestyle than a hobby — it’s not making scrapbooks — it’s a life changing experience for that person so we make sure it’s for the better.


Emrys and Brian working together


BME:  Emrys, I’ve been told that you are the main reason that ROP has branched out so much. How have you been able to set up so many different chapters? It seems as if you’re the Tyler Durden of suspension!

EMRYS:  Besides being the person that started the group, I was always willing to share the knowledge I had learned with others. If someone came to me or another member of the group and showed true interest in learning to help other people experience suspension, they deserved to be taught. Also, a large part of it has to do with the amount I try and travel. In addition, the few times I’ve moved around, I’ve tried to develop a suspension group wherever I went.

I mean, once you suspend someone, you change their life. A lot of the time you develop a bond with that person they are forever thankful for, and every now and then they want to be able to pass that feeling on. I’ve been rather fortunate as well to have so many genuine people come to me and want to learn, and become part of the group. We prefer to refer to ourselves as a family, and I look at each chapter as a household — some bigger, some smaller, but all just as important as the other.

BME:  What do you want the future to hold for ROP?

BRIAN:  There really isn’t much more I can hope for ROP to accomplish as a group, except to keep the same practicing techniques and love for the art as we all have now for any new members we work with. All of us involved with ROP definitely have a strong heart for suspension. Shock value is not important.

CERE:  Honestly? I’d like to build a center devoted to suspension. I plan to do it within the next two years so we could have a permanent open space for us to use.



Cere and his ROP cutting, done by Brian

EMRYS:  We can only prosper. I feel I couldn’t ask for a better crew of individuals scattered through this country. We’ll continue to focus on personal suspension for first timers and private ritual suspensions, though we’ll continue to hold Suscon events, BBQ events, along with performances and more interesting rigging styles and developments to help push the ever growing community that is suspension.

BME:  Is there anything else you would like to add?

BRIAN:  If you would like to suspend with ROP or learn more about the group, you can visit us on the web at ariteofpassage.org. Contact info is available there to set up scheduling for a personal suspension as well.

EMRYS:  Over the past years I’ve been doing this it’s consumed my life. I’ve helped change the lives of thousands of people throughout the world. It was originally for me, to fill a personal void in my heart, but has become a selfless act I now perform to help others in hopes it can reach them on any level close to how it’s reached me.

I’d also like to thank Allen Falkner for all his patience and sharing his knowledge, and also taking the place of a father figure I never had. Too little people appreciate and acknowledge the amount he’s given to the modern suspension community.

- Elizabeth Belk   (iam:Uberkitty)



Current ROP (January 2005)

Bumble

Dave

Massachusetts

Small, but the original chapter — most of the members have since moved to other locations.




Frank

Craig

Joi

Leo

Jon

Kenny

Rhode Island

This chapter was the second to develop after the Massachusetts staff trained other crew members, and hosts a large annual SusCon (visit Frank’s page for more information on that).



Brian

Cere

George

Jeff
 
Evan

New York

The New York chapter was created when Brian moved from Connecticut.




Emrys

Adam

Mike

Michigan

After Emrys and Adam moved, the Michigan chapter was formed.




Sam

Luke

Connecticut and Missouri

While not currently suspending people on their own, Rites of Passage has support chapters in these areas as well. Sam has also extensively photographed ROP events.



Elizabeth Belk was BME’s top experience author for 2004, with many of those being featured. She is currently a philosophy major at UNC Chapel Hill.

Online presentation copyright © 2005 BMEzine.com LLC. A number of the photographs in this article are © 2004 Sam Lerner. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published online January 10th, 2005 by BMEzine.com LLC from La Paz, Mexico.



Bod Mod and Class War [The Publisher's Ring]

This columns marks the re-introduction of a hopefully weekly piece by me, Shannon Larratt (glider). I think it's important to note that while my views do largely represent the official stance of BME, my views by no means should be taken to represent this community as a whole. I am well known for having radikal notions on most of subjects, including body modification (and I do mean to say "radikal", as in the political sense, not "radical" as in the surfer dude sense). With that caveat made clear, let's begin.

Body Modification as a Form of
Class Consciousness and Class Warfare

"A downtrodden class will never be able to make an effective protest until it achieves solidarity"

- H.G. Wells

No one likes to admit it, but there is a war for survival going on between those who choose to lead public modified lives, and those who believe this lifestyle is wrong. In this article I will attempt to show how this war is being fought, and will propose plans of counterattack that strengthen our collective stance without alienating the generally neutral mainstream population.

First of all, it's important to differentiate between attacks coming from the private sector (individuals and private businesses) and the attacks coming from the public sector (generally municipal and state government actions). While in the private sector there is a certain balance of rights (for example, the balance between a person's right to free expression contrasted with a private company's right to impose a code of behaviour on its workplace and employees), but in the public sector the balance must be far more liberal as the services provided are in general both monopolistic and universal, and because they are paid for by all (including the modified), morally they must be accessible by all.

I'd like to address the public sector attacks first. While I'm not proposing that there's a unified conspiracy throughout the government opposed to body modification, closed-minded and backward-thinking individuals voted into power can use the strength of the government to attack us primarily via educational restrictions (which attack young people interested in pursuing body modification), although business restrictions (which attempt to close down or restrict from opening body modification studios) and subsequent related prosecutions occur to a lesser extent.

If a state institutes a policy of banning body modifications (generally piercings) in schools, they leave "young modders" with an unpleasant choice: cease to exist as modified people, or be expelled from the school system to fend in the world without an education1. To take away someone's basic right to an education over a piercing or tattoo makes a powerful statement: the government viewpoint is that we do not in fact own our bodies or have authority over them, and that the government holds the sole rights to dictate what happens to your body. Additionally, it makes the statement that body modification is so wrong that a person who has committed the sin of body piercing does not deserve to have an education due to the level of danger (presumably via moral corruption) they present to other students. Both are of course patently ridiculous propositions and impossible to defend in any logical debate.

If a state institutes a policy of interfering with the business of body modification, either by malicious zoning and regulation2, or by an outright ban3, they attempt to kill body modification at its source. This type of attack has the end effect of putting out of business reputable high-quality studios and forcing customers into the hands of far less reputable fly-by-night studios4. The government is perfectly aware that acts like this serve not only to reduce the number of modified people in their community, but also to injure and put at risk those that remain.

I hope that short introduction clarifies that elements of the government are very much at war with the modified community, and that they are willing to both exterminate us and when not able, injure us as much as possible. It is no surprise that similar bigotry exists in the private sector as well. Every one of us has experienced a range of attacks from very minor (rudeness and bad service) to more severe (restriction of access to the job market, poor or even dangerous medical and professional service, and so on)5.

Minor and individually launched attacks, while unacceptable and boorish, fluctuate with the whims and perceived norms of the moment, and I believe will largely disappear in time as the practise of body modification becomes more normal and visible — I don't believe the average person has a problem with us. The difficulty is that more powerful forces in the private sector are doing what they can to ensure that this community doesn't grow in any space they control. The primary methods in use are the restriction of access to employment, as well as misleading and sometimes fraudulent statements made by professional and semi-official organisations such as medical fraternities and "public interest" groups6.

Businesses of course can and should dictate how their employees look and dress. In general this is done in the best interests of the business and to a lesser extent the customer (by instituting policies that give the business a unified look, ensuring employee safety, or increasing customer comfort), but in many cases do not aid the business itself and serves primarily to further the personal bias of the business owner, to the detriment of both the employees and the public — I hold that any act which attempts to restrict consensual activities which do no harm to others takes away from the validity of a free society. When individuals or corporations use their power to attempt to do economic harm to people who've chosen to modify their bodies, they are doing what they can to wage war on this community.

I've used the term "freedom of expression" a few times — I think it's important to note that this is not a legal right in the same way as free speech and free religion are. While some hold that body modification is a religion (I certainly concede that it has many spiritual aspects, and even on a minor level is an essential and life changing act for many people7), I do not believe that anyone would claim that this is a universal statement8. So the private sector attacks I've described above are perfectly legal on the whole. Unethical and disgusting, yes, but unfortunately also quite acceptable to the judicial system — and to be honest, as much as I'd like to have what I believe are fundamental rights forced through, if we believe in democracy and the general goodness of people, this can be solved without unpleasant legal confrontation.

So how do we fight this? How do we peacefully show them that we can make their lives better, and that they should want us to take part in the system?

I believe both in the general goodness of people, and in our government's general system of representing the needs of its population — although it is clear that it often lags behind in reforming questionable policies and there are times when politicians are more concerned with their personal ignorance and prejudices than the needs of their constituents. I believe that if body modification is "right", that by exercising our democratic voices, both as voters and as consumers, that we can "prove" ourselves. I also believe that if we can not use this system to prove ourselves, that it shows they are in the right9.

The simple fact is that there are a lot of us. It is difficult to get exact statistics, but studies show that about 18% of college students have tattoos (up from about 10% in 1997)10. Employment studies by Vault.com showed that about 20% of the general working population says that their tattoos or piercings have hindered their progress in the job market11. Certain demographic groups show higher numbers; for example, a full third of those involved in computer gaming have piercings and tattoos. Whatever the precise number is, it's clear that it's a giagantic group — most likely approximately one in five people12. For comparison, that means there twice as many people with piercings and tattoos in America as their are African Americans or Hispanics13. In addition, when we compare the growth rate of the modified community, we are growing at a rate dramatically faster than any other demographic group14.

Because there are a lot of us, our strength and victory can come through co-operative organisation, community strength, and grassroots action — not through confrontational legal action which works to alienate and frighten those who don't understand us. Now let's outline how we can win this battle. We need to send the message that if they don't want to play nice, we're not going to play their game, and we need to send the message that they are better off with us in the system.

The vast majority of people don't mind what other do to their bodies, but they do suffer from both fear and ignorance, with flames fanned by misleading statements issued by groups such as the American Dental Association15 which are then transformed into flat-out fraudulent statements by irresponsible journalists16. As such, we need to be vigilant and responsible in dispelling these myths through even-handed public information campaigns of our own, along with ensuring that members of our community behave responsibly and safely when interacting with the general public, so as not to provide ammunition against ourselves.

As soon as a person has body modifications that are public — facial piercings, tattoos on public skin, and so on — they become aware of the class line. While we are of course fundamentally the same, it really is "us" and "them", even though this line should be absolutely illusionary and inconsequential. Because the general public has been so effectively conditioned to believe there's something wrong with modified people, we get treated poorly and receive inadequate service17. Now, what's very important here is that the modified community not play into and confirm the stereotype.

That is, if someone is rude to you because of your piercings, in their mind, you started it. Which means that if you respond rudely, in their mind you came in to their place of work and abused them. They will not realize that what they did is wrong in any way. Politely leave, but first make sure that a manager is informed that you were displeased with the service and how you have been made to feel. If the manager does not adequately conclude the encounter, I would strongly encourage you to write a letter to the corporate offices (I have attached sample letters at the end of this article). But please do not ignore the advice of first turning the other cheek and attempting to resolve the confrontation with kindless and polite manners. Don't be surprised if by doing that you shatter that person's misconceptions and make life more pleasant for the next modified person.

In any case, the fact is that businesses, especially large businesses, operate on very slim profit margins. A single percentage point drop in their sales is enough to destabilise their business model. Again, it's very important to note that there are a lot of us, and if we work together we have enormous financial and social power. I'm not suggesting any far out goals or special recognition or special rights — I'm simply saying that we have the right and the power to demand and get "fair and equal treatment".

If you are turned down for a job, or fired from a job for piercings or tattoos, the simplest way to remedy the situation is to use your voice. Fighting it in court is generally a losing battle, and will eat up your time and money. On the other hand, telling everyone you know what happened to you, and urging them to not support this business until they remedy the situation is free, ethical, very effective and most importantly sends a clear message.

I realize that I am about to ask you to accept some self imposed hardship, but unless it's utterly necessary, please do not tell them that you're willing to compromise and take out or hide your body modifications. When that happens, it lets them know that they can push us around, and that expressing who we are means less to us that $6.50 an hour. To achieve this liberty, it's important that a modified person with uncertain job prospects live light financially and try and keep enough buffer cash to avoid becoming an optionless and powerless wage slave. In addition, it is doubly important that the network of modified people support each other through job contacts, boycotts, and so on. If every time a modified person is denied service or a job by a business, the modified community makes it clear that they've just lost a significant percentage of their customer base, the practise will end quickly and peacefully (whereas if we try and fight it using other means, the practise will continue and grow, and if we lose, it will become very clearly legalised).

The government is more difficult to fight because it can not be intimidated by the threat of consumer actions and there may not be alternate services (which gives them the power to dictate nearly any condition they want without leaving other options), and in addition the majority of government attacks are on underage individuals who don't typically have the power or experience to fight back. As such there are two very important conditions that should be met before attempting to fight this. First of all, the student should not have any major weaknesses — it is far easier to fight if they have average or above average grades, don't have a disciplinary problems, and are well liked by their peers and hopefully teachers. Second of all, the student should have the active support of their peers and family.

A school can usually get away with quietly kicking out a single student — so refuse to take out your piercings, and make sure your friends do the same, and make sure that your parents support you on the whole. A school can not kick out a dozen or more students for piercings and tattoos, especially solid student with parental support. That's all it takes to make those policies end almost overnight: solidarity of the modified.

To recap and summarise, they attack us by restricting our access to essential services and by attempting to ban our activities. We can combat that by being productive and positive members of society, while still refusing to bend to their will, and supporting each other through the tough times that sometimes get forced on us. By exercising the power we have due to our numbers, and refusing to take part in their system when it treats us unfairly, we can show them that they will be happier and successful with us than without us18.

All we have to do is stand together, and we will win.

Thank you,

Shannon Larratt.


Endnotes

1 Over the past five years an increasing number of school boards are including bans on body piercing and dyed hair in their dress code rules. These rules are generally retroactive (that is, the student is forced to remove their piercings and un-dye their hair). It is important to note that these rules are not passed for the safety or benefit of the student, but instead to attempt to force the social morals of a minority on the student body. There are a number of personal stories about this in the editorials section of BME/News, and an Internet search on the subject will turn up numerous examples. Sadly this is not unusual, at least not in North America.

2 Most cities have zoning laws written specifically to set rules for piercing and tattoo studies. These laws restrict the opening of studies and often restrict them to ghettos outside of key business districts. As well as restricting the business's right to compete fairly in the market, this sends the message that tattooing and piercing is "beneath the mainstream" and that it doesn't have the right to be in the same area. In addition, it is not unusual for zoning boards to try and push existing businesses out. As a point of morbid trivia, New York City's vote to re-ban tattooing was terminated by the September 11th attacks.

3 A number of states still maintain state-wide bans on the art form of tattooing. Anyone tattooing in these states faces immediate arrest and imprisonment. Recent court challenges to this law have made tattooing the only art form not protected by the first ammendment.

4 My submissions numbers at BME are very clear — piercing and tattooing reaches all demographics and geographies. Laws banning the practise simply pushes it out of the public eye, with an end result of lower quality service to the client.

5 One of the first things a person notices when they get their first public modifications is people's eyes. We are very good at catching what people are looking at — all animals are; it's a survival skill. I doubt there's a single person with public mods who's never suffered from this. Yes, we knew it would happen when we went down this path, but that doesn't make it right.

6 Again, I'm not trying to imply some grand conspiracy. I'm talking about a "trend" or "swarm" of action committed by misguided individuals in positions of power. However, all those actions brought together do represent a somewhat unified wave of attack on us.

7 Read the experiences in BME, especially in the ritual section, but also in every section, and it will become immediately clear how profoundly life-changing even fairly innocuous body modification and body ritual acts can be.

8 My polls suggest that approximately 5% of the body modification community holds that for them all forms of body modification are literally of religious purpose (and therefore theoretically already constitutionally protected in most Western countries).

9 If one agrees that a democratic system can effectively reach conclusions that are what is best for society, then one must use that system to initiate societal change (rather than attempting to strong-arm it through).

10 Statistics on college students vary a great deal from study to study, with many showing numbers far greater than the 20% range. I have chosen the lower number in order to make a "worst case" number, and I have focused on college students because they are most definitely representative of skilled young people entering the workforce with a large enough skill set to have some freedom in the job market. In addition, college students tend to have the social awareness coupled with financial empowerment that makes being an activist easier.

11 While this is how the study was presented, I believe this may in fact mean "20% of pierced and tattooed people have experienced discrimination". Either case is unacceptable. The study goes on to say that over two thirds of employers state that they have discriminated against potential employees with visible body modification.

12 BME's usage statistics dwarf many other mainstream magazines. According to Lycos, the word "tattoo" was the fourth most popular search term — of all subjects — in 2001.

13 The African American and Hispanic communities both make up about 11% of the US population.

14 BME's usage statistics have continued to ramp up faster than Internet growth, consistently since opening. In addition, the piercing and tattoo industry has continued to grow every year since the 1970s.

15 It is not unusual for groups such as the ADA to issue misleading public warnings about the dangers of piercing. While tongue piercings definitely do cause problems from time to time from chipped teeth (which can be minimised through proper jewelry), risks such as "infection leading to brain abscess" are so rare that to bring them up instead of the real risks is clear fear-mongering intended to damage the industry. The medical professionals making these statements are well educated and should be perfectly aware of the deception they are perpetrating and the effects it will have. IAM members can click here to see a letter I wrote to a newspaper on the subject.

16 A recent example that became national news was the study linking tattoos and piercings to "troubled teens". While early stories were clear that this was a study of 200 students at a military school, most of whom at been pierced illegally, subsequent articles stated only the size of the entire study (about 5000 students) which had nothing to do with the actual number of pierced students (only 200). This story was repeated internationally in its misleading form, and most certainly influenced the attitudes of parents and legislators. IAM members can click here to see a letter I wrote to one of the news wires on the subject.

17 My polls indicate that effectively 100% of people with public body modifications have had these experiences.

18 Let me be clear about something: while right now it is "us and them", I hope that one day it will simply be "us". Other than the fact that we on some levels are more self-aware and free, modified and unmodified people are not particularly different. Our goal should be to equalise the rights and treatments of the two groups. Not to achieve special rights or separation, but simply to coexist in a fair and equal manner.


Sample Letters

To a business which provided poor service:

To whom it may concern,

On March 21st, 2002 at about 2 PM I was shopping at the Queen and Bathurst location of "Bob's Books" in Toronto for what would have been about a $75 purchase. I am a person with visible piercings and tattoos, things which I believe have enhanced my enjoyment of life, and I consider personally essential. Your employees in the reference section avoided me and made it quite clear that they had a problem with my appearance. I brought this up with the manager at the time who dismissed my concerns as baseless.

I understand that not everyone sympathises with piercings and tattoos, but I was civil and polite in your store and I do not believe it was asking too much to simply be treated decently in return. I hope that this was an isolated incident but please realize that it reflects very poorly on your corporation and it cost you a good sale and more in the future. You should know that pierced and tattooed people now make up approximately twenty percent of the consumer base in this country.

This pierced and tattooed person will no longer be shopping at "Bob's Books" and I have brought up this issue both with my friends and associates as well as on public message boards in the pierced and tattooed community. I hope that this situation does not repeat itself and is brought to a hasty conclusion.

Sincerely,
Joe Frapster
Proud to be pierced and tattooed

To a school which has threatened expulsion to modified students:

To the Maples County school board,

I am a student at Maples County High School. I have maintained an above average GPA for my last three years there, and have never had disciplinary problems of any kind. That said, your recently enacted "no piercings" policy concerns me greatly as I have a septum ring and a tongue piercing, both of which are very important to me.

Piercing has helped me grow as an individual, has made me more confident, and I believe is sincerely beneficial to me without being harmful to anyone. While I appreciate that some of you may find it distasteful or have concerns, one of the things that makes our country great is our right to express ourselves freely as long as we aren't taking away someone else's rights. The school system is an extension of this system (rather than being a private company), and as such has a responsibility to uphold these rights.

I hope that you will reconsider this discriminatory policy and allow the pierced students of Maple County High to continue receiving an education. There are over forty students in this year's graduating class with piercings and tattoos and I believe it would reflect very poorly on this school and this county if we were to be publicly denied an education simply because you don't like the way we look.

Removing our piercings is not an option we are willing to consider, and while we hold that it is unjust, we are willing to stand up for what we believe in and be expelled if you genuinely believe that such a severe punishment is really appropriate for our perfectly legal and non-disruptive behaviour.

Sincerely,
Jack Went
Proud pierced and tattooed student

Cosigned,
Marla Went
Pround parent of a pierced and tattooed son

To a business which has anti-mod hiring practises:

To whom it may concern,

On October 2nd, 2002 at about 11 AM I was interviewed for the job of clerk at your Bay and Bloor location by Robert Pordle. I am a person with several piercings and tattoos, including a small ring in my eyebrow and a star tattoo on my wrist. I was informed that if I wanted this job I would be required to take out my eyebrow piercing and cover up my wrist tattoo.

I feel that my body modifications are an essential part of my life and that if I were to concede in taking them out, it would be detrimental to my growth as a person. I understand that not everyone sympathises with piercings and tattoos, and I certainly support your right as an employer to dictate the appearance of your employees. However, I am more than qualified for the job, and I feel it is unfair to deny me the chance to try over something that is beneficial to me and harmless to others.

It is important that you recognise that pierced and tattooed people now make up approximately twenty percent of the consumer and employee base in this country. By alienating us, and by making it clear that you are unwilling to employ us, you risk losing the consumer support of that consumer base.

This pierced and tattooed person will no longer be shopping at "Lord of Lamps" and I have brought up this issue both with my friends and associates as well as on public message boards in the pierced and tattooed community. I hope you will reconsider this discriminatory policy and I hope you will bring it to a hasty and mutually beneficial conclusion by fairly considering the merits of employees independent of how they choose to decorate their bodies.

Sincerely,
Frank Destad
Proud to be pierced and tattooed