Happy Birthday Jim Ward!


It’s impossible to think of the world of body piercing without thinking of Jim Ward. His contributions to our community are legendary; opening the first retail body piercing shop (Gauntlet) in the 1970s, editing and publishing the first piercing only magazine (PFIQ) and helping to form the APP, Ward has been one of the biggest driving forces in the popularization of piercing as more than just a sexual curiosity.

Today is Jim’s birthday. I was lucky enough to have been at the APP Conference Banquent a few years back to celebrate his birthday which is where the photo above originates. Ever the pioneer, Jim took the traditional birthday spanking and made it something much more…



Happy birthday Jim; you’re an inspiration to us all!
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SPC: APP2013 and the Best of Intentions

You know what they say about the road to hell.
I had planned to ‘cover’ APP for you folks who couldn’t attend. Photos, video interviews and live updates from the Conference and Expo floor. Then I got to Vegas, found my luggage literally saturated with water (SWA Baggage Handler left it out in a rainstorm) and got to the hotel already feeling a summer cold taking hold of me…

My APP experience this year was NOT ideal, Modblog Readers.
That said- it was one of the best Conferences I’ve attended. For some, it’s a yearly Bacchanal; a chance to leave the studio and real life behind for a week, stay up till dawn drinking (and then some) and debauching and oh yeah, maybe buy some jewelry and take a few of the classes we paid for. But this year saw a large upswing in first time attendees, with classes packed with people who saved all year to attend and to improve their craft. The vibe, if you will, was much different than I expected.
matteapp001 copyThis year I found myself getting up at 6:45am (which was roughly when I used to ‘call it a night’ in previous years) to join the rest of the early risers who agreed to join my running group, taking a two mile jog down the Las Vegas strip instead of seeing how much we could drink and still maintain the appearance of sobriety. Instead of heading out to the shooting range I found myself in Paul King’s class “The Grieving Body- Does Body Modification Injure or Heal the Psyche” which for my money was his best to date, taking notes and being humbled by Paul and Kendra’s research and commitment to our community.
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SPC: APP 2013 Roll call!


Hey Folks!
I’ll be heading out early Monday morning for the annual APP Conference in sunny Las Vegas Nevada!

Conference is always a good time; learning, checking out new jewelry from our favorite companies, lazing in the sun and meeting up every night at the ‘splash bar’..  this year I’m going to be covering it live for you good folks who read modblog with ‘instant updates’ as well as shooting video interviews with anyone who’d like to sit down and talk.

So if you’re going to be in Vegas, look me up and you could end up here on Modblog!


Surface Anchors, Punches, and Legislation Issues


(Editor’s note: These articles were first published in The Point, the publication of the Association of Professional Piercers. Since part of BME’s mandate is to create as comprehensive and well rounded an archive of body modification as possible, we feel these are important additions.

Jim Weber and David Vidra, the article’s authors, have given BME permission to publish this article for the continued education of professionals and body art enthusiasts. Enjoy.)

After Luis Garcia’s article, titled Surface Anchor Legislation Issues, was published in the last issue of The Point (#48), many questions have been raised about the information presented, specifically regarding statements about the legality of using punches to install jewelry.

As an organization, the Association of Professional Piercers has historically declined to address the use of punches by piercers. Their use has always been considered outside of the scope of body piercing—much the same way the organization has viewed branding, scarification, and tattooing. But recent legal regulations, interpretations, and determinations about the use of punches with surface anchors have made continuing this position untenable.

From the APP’s position as an educational organization, it has become obvious that many piercers in our industry are in need of education on this subject. This is not to imply there is currently a willful ignorance among piercers, but simply that there is not an educated dialogue taking place in our industry on this topic. Recently, several states have prohibited the installation of surface anchors by body art practitioners. These legal prohibitions are, in many ways, a reaction by local medical and health boards to a procedure without a convincing record of safety. But several of these determinations are a direct result of what many medical and health boards consider the indiscriminate use of punches by our industry.

In his article, Luis stated punches are “illegal to use if the practitioner is not a licensed medical professional.” While this is true, this issue is much more complicated than this short statement explains.

Currently, dermal punches are classified, but not regulated by the FDA. They are class 1 devices, for use by medical professionals only. State medical boards determine who can use each classification of products, and what level of certification, education and/or competency testing each user must have. Unless your local health department or medical board specifically allows the use of class 1 devices by body art practitioners, the use of punches by body art practitioners is prohibited.

So what does this mean for those of us who are using punches to install surface anchors and other types of body jewelry? The answer, again, is not so simple.

State medical boards have the authority to decide who can use certain devices based on FDA classification. As of this writing, state medical boards have determined—based on their classification and intended use—to specifically prohibit the use of punches by our industry in Nevada, New Jersey, and Florida. When speaking with several health inspectors and medical board members about the issue, the reason many gave for the prohibition was the concern over the indiscriminate use of dermal punches in installing jewelry—as evidenced by videos of piercers they had seen on YouTube. Currently, the biggest problem with the increased popularization of the use of punches is not their legal status, but that in several states their wanton—and very public—use has contributed to the prohibition of surface anchors and other body art procedures.

In Nevada, not only is dermal punching and performing single-point piercings specifically prohibited, but also suspension, branding, scarification, and implants. In Florida, a determination by the Florida Board of Medicine stated dermal punching constituted the practice of medicine. Suspension is similarly categorized, as is branding, tongue splitting, implantation, and labia reduction. In New Jersey, the same medical board determination that specifically prohibited the use of punches by our industry—and classified surface anchors as implants—also prohibits branding and scarification if performed by a body art practitioner.

Other states that do not currently address their use by our industry will almost undoubtedly be doing so after prohibitions are in place in other states. Anyone who is familiar with legislation knows that, quite often, states adopt other state regulations—often word-for-word—after the first state has done the work writing them. As a piercer and body modification artist, the debate on whether to use punches to install jewelry is not as simple as what will be better for healing. There are legal implications, and these extend far past the relationship between you and your client; all piercers should be fully aware or the ramifications and possible repercussions of their decision to use punches.

In response to this, there are many among us who loudly proclaim, “It’s my right to use punches!” There is not an argument—at least from us—against it being our ethical right. But unfortunately, in most states, it is clearly not our legal right to use them. There is a big difference.

There are also those who argue for the punch as being an “industry standard.” Unfortunately, this argument doesn’t carry much weight, as needles have been the industry standard for the insertion of jewelry since the beginning of modern piercing. Admittedly, there is a history of punches being used, but not as the predominant instrument of choice. (And to many legislators, our industry simply didn’t exist before about twelve years ago—around 1997—which is when the first regulations on body art went into effect in Ohio and Oregon.)

Lastly, few responsible piercers will offer their services to clients without first securing liability insurance to protect themselves and their studio, both legally and financially. While both Professional Program Insurance Brokerage (PPIB) and National Insurance Professionals Corporation (NIPC) offer liability insurance that covers surface piercings and surface anchors, their coverage does not extend to procedures where the jewelry is installed with punches. (Western States Insurance does not specifically exclude coverage of anchors inserted with punches, but the company representative I spoke to stated the coverage is not valid if the instrument used for the procedure—or the procedure itself—is prohibited by local or federal law.) If no other argument affects a practitioner’s personal decision on whether to use punches, this one should.

In closing, we urge all body art practitioners to carefully consider every side of this debate when choosing what tools to use when installing surface anchors on their clients. All of us should be aware of the legal ramifications, for not only yourself and your clients, but for the rest of the industry.

And if you choose to use punches, please—for all our sakes—don’t post the videos on YouTube.

[This article is intended to start a discussion on the use of punches and the implication their use has on legislation. It is not to be considered the definitive argument for or against their use, but simply an effort to educate all industry professionals on some of the possible legal repercussions this use may bring to our industry. A lot of help went into researching this article. We would like to thank Jonny Needles and Luis Garcia for their help with New Jersey legislation, Maria Pinto from Industrial Strength Needles for her help with FDA questions, and the various members of health and medical boards who were able to clarify their state’s position on punches and surface anchors.

Anyone who has comments or corrections about information contained in this article, or has information about similar legislation issues in other states, is invited to e-mail us.]

Legislation Links




On 10-5-2002, a determination by the Florida Board of Medicine stated dermal punching constituted the practice of medicine. The practice of suspension is similarly categorized, as is branding, tongue splitting, implantation, and labia reduction. While the Medical Board has prohibited the use of punches by body artists, the authority to enforce this prohibition has not been granted to the Florida Health Board. As the Health Board oversees inspection and licensing (not the medical board) this leaves the enforcement of this determination in question.



Dermal punching and single-point piercings are specifically prohibited, as is suspension, branding, scarification, and the implantation of jewelry under the skin.” The Nevada Board of Medical Examiners determined surface anchors are to be categorized as implants, therefore prohibiting their being performed by body art practitioners. The Nevada Health Board then enforces this prohibition.

[I was fortunate to speak to Jamie Hulbert, an Environmental Health Specialist for the Southern Nevada Health District, at the annual American Public Health Association conference in Philadelphia in early November. She stated the concern of the Health Board was about the risk of anaerobic bacteria with surface anchors, and listed this as one of the reasons for classifying them with implants. She said there was currently no discussion about repealing the ban.]

New Jersey:


Earlier this year, the Director of the Health Department approached the New Jersey Health Board with questions regarding surface anchors. The Health Board then contacted the Medical Board, and was advised that surface anchors are to be considered implants, and are therefore prohibited under New Jersey Administrative Code 8:27-2.6. As stated in the preceding article, this same determination prohibited the use of punches by body art practitioners, in addition to implants, branding and scarification.

[Jonny Needles, of Dynasty Tattoo and Body Piercing in Newfield NJ, has been in conversation with Tim Smith, New Jersey Public Health Sanitation and Safety Program Manger and Head of the NJ Body Art Department in Trenton. Together with Luis Garcia (former APP Board member), they have been working to repeal the prohibition on surface anchors. According to Jonny, Mr. Smith has stated the intention of the NJ Health Board was to start a pilot program. This program, starting before the year’s end, would give an as-yet-undetermined number of piercers the authority to perform surface anchor piercings. Jewelry quality will be specified, client numbers are to be monitored, and clients will be provided a number to directly contact the Health Board to report complications. If this program is considered a success at its completion, other piercers can apply for the authority to perform this piercing. This program is to be open to all piercers who have 3 or more years of experience.

Both Jonny Needles and Luis Garcia are optimistic that the two groups can come to an agreement on the best way to allow this procedure while still looking out for the public interest.]

Author Bios:

David A. Vidra started in the piercing community in the 1980s. He opened northern Ohio’s first piercing studio, Body Work Productions, in 1993, and it remained in operation for more than 15 years. David founded Health Educators, the first industry-specific health education company for the body modification industry, with its focus on OSHA guidelines and all health and safety issues related to body modification. He has been honored by many organizations including the APP, the Society for Permanent Cosmetic Professionals (SPCP), and BME for his efforts in the educational arena and in legislation. He has worked as a nurse for more than 20 years, has recently completed his certification in wound care, and is celebrating his 15th year teaching Bloodborne Pathogens.

Started in California in 1994, the Association of Professional Piercers is an international non-profit organization that is committed to the dissemination of vital health and safety information about body piercing to the piercing community, health care professionals, legislators, and the general public. The APP holds its annual Conference each year in Vas Vegas, Nevada in the first week in May. More information, including free PDFs of The Point, can be found at safepiercing.org.

Nipple Piercings, Male and Female

(Editor’s note: These articles were first published in The Point, the publication of the Association of Professional Piercers. Since part of BME’s mandate is to create as comprehensive and well rounded an archive of body modification as possible, we feel these are important additions.

Paul King, the article’s author, has given BME permission to publish a series of articles he wrote for The Point that explore the anthropological history behind many modern piercings. This is another in that series. This time, however, we are combining two of his articles — male and female nipple piercings — into one general nipple piercing–related column. Enjoy.)


Dear Readers,

It may seem odd at first glance that I have chosen to separate the history of nipple piercing, a shared anatomical piercing, into two topics. The reason is twofold. Until modern times, males and females within a culture have not shared this custom, and because of the volume on this topic, the articles work best broken up.

First of all, Roman Centurions did not have their nipples pierced. Over the years it has been my great pleasure (and fortune) to have had many long discussions with Jim Ward, Founder of Gauntlet, PFIQ and longtime friend of Richard Simonton (a.k.a Doug Malloy). Jim has told me the genesis behind this urban myth. It appears that Doug’s only evidence of the Romans having pierced nipples was a photograph of a baroque statue from Versailles. In the photo the statue is wearing a breastplate with rings for attaching a cape. When Jim conveyed his doubts about Doug’s rather stretched conclusions, Doug replied, “Well it makes a good story…”

It appears the Karankawa Native Americans, a now extinct nomadic people that previously inhabited the Gulf Coast of Texas, “pierced the nipples of each breast and the lower lip with small pieces of cane.” That they could heal these piercings is particularly interesting since they “smeared their bodies with a mixture of dirt and alligator or shark grease” to thwart mosquitoes.1

Both American and British sailors have passed on legends of getting pierced as an initiation for having passed an important latitude or longitude, (i.e. Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn or the International Date Line, etc.). There is enough folklore and photos to substantiate the old tales of “sailors with pierced nipples adding links each time the sailor crossed the equator.”2 However, the adding of links seems to be a lesser known practice. Additionally, there exists an abundance of sailor stories for earlobe piercing. Since the turn of the century, sailors such as Le Captain Ringman or The Great Omi, heavily tattooed and pierced, would sometimes reenter mainland society as sideshow human oddities.

The 1950s and ’60s were a time for self-exploration and sowed the seeds of the modern day body modification and S/M communities. Men such as Fakir Musafar (Rowland Loomis) and Jim Ward compelled to pierce their own nipples, bravely figured out their procedures in an information vacuum.3

Let’s count our blessings, times have changed!
1 The Handbook of Texas Online, by Carol A. Lipscomb at www.tsha.utekas.edu, her bibliography: Albert Gatschet, The Karankawa Indians, the Coast People of Texas, (1891), William Newcomb, The Indians of Texas, (1961), Richard Schaedel, The Karankawa of the Texas Gulf Coast, (1949).

2 PFIQ (Piercing Fans International Quarterly # 21)

3 Fakir pierced his nipples in 1956, Jim Ward in 1968

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The previous issue discussed the history of the male nipple piercing. As most of you know, I enjoy setting the record straight, debunking myths and documenting the facts. I thought this month I’d do the same thing. Instead, once again, I’ve gotten another of life’s lessons on expectations. Things are not always as simple as they would seem. What I’ve done this month is uncovered a quagmire of dead-end trails, shedding some new light on the history of female nipple piercing, with much still remaining in the dark.

Perhaps the oldest attribution of female nipple piercing comes from Eduard Fuchs. He was a German scholar, “sexologist” and writer from the early 1900s. To the best of my knowledge his work has never been translated. Unfortunately my understanding of the German language isn’t even rusty, it’s nonexistent. So I have to rely on quotes from his works that appear in various books and documents. It has been mentioned on the rec.arts.bodyart newsgroup that Fuch as well as an author named Pelham,1 “made extensive use of the same English source, one article in Society, a journal unavailable to me.”2 I, too, have been unable to find any record of this journal from the turn of the century. Perhaps some inquisitive and persistent English readers could help with further research through their local libraries.

Quoting Fuch’s writing as the source, Hans Peter Duerr’s book, Dreamtime,3 traces the earliest known practice of female nipple piercing to perhaps the Court of Queen Isabella of Bavaria. Her rule (1385 to 1417), though extravagant was rather short lived:

“Queen Isabella … introduced the ‘garments of the grand neckline,’ where the dress was open to the navel.4 This fashion eventually led to the application of rouge5 to freely display nipples, those ‘little apples of paradise’ to placing diamond-studded rings or small caps on them, even piercing them and passing gold chains through them decorated with diamonds, possibly to demonstrate the youthful resilience of the bosom.”6

I have included the entire section of text here with footnotes not normally quoted from Dreamtime in order to illustrate that though piercing of female nipples may have occurred during the Court of Queen Isabella, we cannot draw that conclusion from this passage as written. The paragraph was patched together by Mr. Duerr using three sources, some written over 60 years apart and in different languages. Until more research is done, one can only deduce that the fashion of the time led to a trend of piercing nipples at some unspecified later time, perhaps months or even years later. Some may say I’m splitting hairs here, but I would hate to see the female nipple piercing renamed the “Queen Isabella,” follow me?

Eduard Fuch is again quoted by author Stephen Kern, in Anatomy and Destiny. This time the reference is much later and from a different source. “In the late 1890s the ‘bosom ring’ came into fashion briefly and sold in expensive Parisian jewelry shops. These ‘anneaux de sein’ were inserted through the nipple, and some women wore one on either side linked with a delicate chain. The rings enlarged the breasts and kept them in a state of constant excitation.7 This provocative ornamentation was rare …”

Unfortunately things get even murkier from here. D.W. Jones, who seems to have done a fair amount of research, posts on rec.arts.bodyart, “In 1898 a single Bond Street jeweler is supposed to have performed the nipple-boring operation on forty English ladies and young girls … In fact many ladies, instead of rings, had small chains fastened from breast to breast, and a celebrated actress of the Gaiety Theatre wore a pearl chain with a bow at the end.”8 Unfortunately, this is not footnoted and as such will have to be treated as an urban myth until the source is traced. If anyone knows how to track down D.W. Jones, please tell him I’m looking for him …

The twentieth century brought a flurry of sensational books on erotica. Unfortunately most authors’ intent was more to titillate than to educate. It’s hard to find facts not steeped in the authors’ opinions, usually running to extreme. The necessity for footnotes or bibliographies was usually overlooked in these quasi-scientific books. A strong support for D.W. Jones’s post may be found in this following passage from a book of this lurid genre:

“No more perfect example of Victorian extremism can be found than the unbelievable breast piercing craze that swept London in the 1890s. This barbaric practice achieved fantastic popularity among seemingly sane, civilized Englishwomen, who submitted to the excruciating pain of having their nipples, pierced in order to insert decorative gold and jeweled rings. In an attempt to explain what had driven so many females to embrace such a crackpot fad, a fashionable London modeste wrote a letter to a popular magazine,9 which said in part, ‘For a long time I could not understand why I should consent to such a painful operation without sufficient reason. I soon, however, came to the conclusion that many ladies are ready to bare the passing passion for the sake of love. I found the breast that the ladies who wore rings were incomparably rounder and fuller developed than those who did not. My doubts were now at an end … So I had my nipples pierced, and when the wounds healed, I had rings inserted … With regard to the experience of wearing these rings, I can only say that they are not in the least uncomfortable or painful. On the contrary, the slight rubbing and slipping of the rings causes in me a titillating feeling, and all my colleagues to whom I have spoken on this subject have confirmed my opinion.’”10

Fuch’s French joined with Jones’s and Hurwood’s English references of the same period seem to support the notion of a brief but extraordinary fashion trend. It would be wonderful to someday discover in which country the trend started and by whom.

A piece of folklore I feel compelled to share was passed on to me by Jim Ward. However, please understand none of my research, in anyway substantiates this information appearing in World Medicine. “In the France of Louis XIV [1638-1715], the church condoned the extreme décolleté of ladies’ fashions only because the wearing of gold rings through the exposed nipples made them ‘dressed,’ not bare. The fashion spread across the Channel and a few haut ton [hauteur?] had gold rings inserted in their nipples. But as far as I can find out, the regular wearing of nipple rings has been common only among the Berber tribe of northern Algeria known in the mountains as the Kabyle.”11

Researching the Kabyle, I could find no anthropological references to female nipple piercing. It is near impossible to believe the women of the Kabyle-Berber society, would have nipple piercings when one considers:

a) Religiously, they’re fairly strict Muslim.
b) Culturally, they’re extremely subjugated and sexually repressed by Kabyle men, and,
c) Materially, they’re almost exclusively limited to silver and coral for jewelry adornment. Trying to heal a nipple piercing with silver seems rather hindering, if even possible.

It’s surprising that such a sensational article could appear in a medical journal without any annotation. But to quote Doug Malloy, “It makes for an interesting story anyways, doesn’t it?” If any reader has documentation to support any statements from the medical journal article, please come forth. I have been unable to track the article’s author.

After the 1890s, the female nipple piercing seems to go completely underground. I have been unable to trace any references or photos until the quite remarkable piercing legend, Ethel Granger. For those readers unfamiliar with Ms. Granger, she appeared in the first edition of Guinness Book of World Records. She was entered as the Smallest Waist in the world.12 With strong encouragement from her husband, Ethel started modifying her body when she got married in the 1920s. By World War II, she had both her nipples pierced and over ten ear piercings in each ear many of them stretched and or punched, including her conch. She had two piercings in her nostrils and one in her septum that she could connect by running a knitting needle from one nostril, through the septum and out the other nostril.13 Certainly there were more women secretly with adorned nipples, however material remains elusive.

In closing, having read both nipple articles, the reader will notice from the 1890s onward both men and women of European and American societies were having their nipples pierced. However it appears very early on, female nipple piercing was preformed within the fashion conscious affluent classes while male nipple piercing was practiced by the working class fringe, mostly sailors and carnies. While the stylish quickly dropped the practice, those finding significance in the ritual or ornamentation in their lifestyle, carried on the tradition. In the later half of the twentieth century, it appears not much has changed.

1 I am not familiar with the author Pelham or his work.

2 A website hosted by Anne Greenblaat, http://www.faqs.org/faqs/bodyart/piercing-faq/historical/, Article: “Titrings, a bit of History” by D.W. Jones, posting date May 2000

3 Dreamtime, Concerning the Boundary between Wilderness and Civilization, by Hans Peter Duerr, 1978, translated by Felicitas Goodman, 1985.

4 Dreamtime, pg 54, original text footnote #62, author K. Weinhold, Die deutschen Frauen in dem Mittelalter II, (Wein, 1882), pg. 276

5 Dreamtime, pg 54, original text footnote #63, author M. Garland, “The Changing Face of Beauty,” (London 1957), pg. 71

6 Dreamtime, pg. 55, original text footnote #64, author Eduard Fuchs, Die Frau in der Karikatur, (Muchen, 1925), pg. 179.

7 Anatomy & Destiny, Stephen Kern, (New York 1975), pg. 97, original text footnote # 8, author Eduard Fuchs, Illustrierte Sittengeschichte vom Mittelalter bis zur Gegenwart, Erganzungsband, (Munich 1912) pg. 68. Fuchs refers to an original article in Geschlecht und Gesellschaft, Bd. II, Heft. 3.

8 From the website hosted by Anne Greenblaat, http://www.faqs.org/faqs/bodyart/piercing-faq/historical/, Article: “Titrings, a bit of History” by D.W. Jones, posting date May 2000

9 Unfortunately no magazine title is given! Could this also be the illusive “Society” magazine?

10 The Golden Age of Erotica, Hurwood. 1965. pg. 305-306.

11 Those Little Perforations. Tim Healey, Radiologist. Article in World Medicine November 15, 1978.

12 Guinness has since changed the category to Smallest Waist on a Living Person. So unfortunately, Ethel has been displaced by a living, though larger, waist!

13 Piercing Fans International Quarterly (PFIQ), Issue #15, Interview by Fakir Musafar, Editor Jim Ward.

My usual disclaimer: I am not an anthropologist. From time to time, there will be errors. Please be understanding and forth coming if you have any information you would like to share.

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Labrets and Lip Piercings

(Editor’s note: This article was first published in The Point, the publication of the Association of Professional Piercers. Since part of BME’s mandate is to create as comprehensive and well rounded an archive of body modification as possible, we feel these are important additions.

Paul King, the article’s author, has given BME permission to publish a series of articles he wrote for The Point that explore the anthropological history behind many modern piercings. This is another in that series.)

Current Western piercing culture has defined the centered piercing just under the lower lip as a labret, though historically, anthropologists have referred to piercings anywhere around the mouth and cheek as labrets. For the sake of this article, consider piercings currently referred to as Monroe, Beauty Mark, Madonna, Philtrum, cheek and side lip as falling into the category of labret.

Fellow piercing geeks will enjoy knowing that contrary to popular urban myth, “labret” is not a French word. It is actually English, derived from Latin and created sometime in the nineteenth century.1 The “t” is to be pronounced, not silent. Labret (\La’ bret\) is formed by the compounding of the Latin word labrium, meaning “lip,”2 and –et, meaning “small” or “something worn on.”3 There is even an archaic form of the word, “labretifery,” which means, “the practice of wearing labrets.”4 How fancy is that? (OK, I’m a geek.)

After the 2003 APP conference in Amsterdam, I traveled to Berlin to visit the Babylonian exhibit at the famous Pergamon Museum. While wandering the halls of the Mesopotamian exhibits I stumbled across a stele from 671 B.C.E. of King Esahaddon of Assyria. The (approximately) six-foot-tall stone monument was excavated from the citadel of Sam ‘al Zinjirli. The carving depicts the king holding two ropes in his left hand that attach to rings in two prisoners’ lips. This is not my interpretation, but the museum curator’s description, listed on the artifact.

The book Marks of Civilization5 contains perhaps the best collective information on North American labrets. The wearing of labrets was widely practiced by the Eskimos and Aleuts of Alaska in prehistoric and early post-contact eras, yet disappeared within three generations due to intense efforts on the part of Christian missionaries. One essay lists the largest labret found measuring 11.9 cm and weighing seven ounces. The first European record reporting the Aleut labret dates back to 1741, though we know Russian fur traders had contact before that. The practice of wearing labrets varied all over Unalaska. In some areas only boys would get their lips pierced, while in others only girls. In some regions the custom was to pierce infants, while others were pierced at puberty. The reasons varied as well. For a boy it could be part of his induction into manhood, for a girl, part of her coming of marrying age, and for some tribes as part of the marriage ceremonies. Most of the indigenous people believed in animal reincarnation; this sympathetic association was revealed by the wearing of a whale-tail shaped labret or paired lateral labrets imitating a walrus’s tusks.

In South America only the boys of the Suya tribe have their lips pierced, and the lip plugs are painted red for confidence in speech, war, ideas, and so on. Both the boys and girls get their ears pierced once they reach adolescence. They are then expected to “listen” and act like adults, etc. The plugs are painted white for passivity and good listening.

Kichepo and Surma women of Southeastern Sudan in Africa have the largest lip piercings in the world; the elder, more respected women will sometimes have their lips stretched over ten inches in diameter! Some myths say it is to imitate birds, while other stories say it’s to eat less, and thus be less of a burden, or to gossip less, or possibly to be made less attractive to other tribes and slave traders to help prevent kidnapping.

In pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, the indigenous people would adorn their lips with expertly worked pieces of obsidian, semiprecious stone and gold. These lip piercings held great significance of both religious and social status and were considered objects of great beauty. The APP’s International Liaison, Alicia Cardenas [Ed. note: Alicia is no longer in this position] will be writing an article of greater depth into Mesoamerican lip piercing, including whether or not the Olmec — from 1100 B.C.E. to 200 C.E., the oldest known Mesoamerican advanced civilization — practiced lip piercing. If they did, the Olmec would be the oldest known people to engage in labretifery!

1 Collin’s English Dictionary, 2000.
2 Webster’s Dictionary, 1913.
3 American Heritage Dictionary 4th edition, 2000.
4 www.quinion.com
5 Marks of Civilization, Edited by Arnold Rubin, University of California, Los Angeles, 1992. ISBN 0-930741-12-9, Essays of interest: Labrets and Tattooing in Native Alaska by Joy Gritton and Women, Marriage, Mouths and Feasting: The Symbolism of Tlingit Labrets by Aldona Jonaitis.

My usual disclaimer: I am not an anthropologist. From time to time, there will be errors. Please be understanding and forth coming if you have any information you would like to share.

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

The Conch Piercing

(Editor’s note: This article was first published in The Point, the publication of the Association of Professional Piercers. Since part of BME’s mandate is to create as comprehensive and well rounded an archive of body modification as possible, we feel these are important additions.

Paul King, the article’s author, has given BME permission to publish a series of articles he wrote for The Point that explore the anthropological history behind many modern piercings. This is another in that series.)

In the piercing world we have come to call the piercing of the ear’s concha a “conch” piercing, pronouncing the ch softly, as in “church.” However, per Webster’s New World Dictionary, 2nd edition, the correct pronunciation of the ch should be hard, sounding like the letter “K.” I bring this up merely as a matter of curiosity or trivial fact; I am certainly not suggesting the piercing community should stray from tradition. Sometime in the early 1990s, the original Nomad body piercing shop in San Francisco, owned by Blake Perlingieri and Kristian White, started referring to this piercing as the “Sadhu,” a rather catchy name that has stuck to an extent, and which refers collectively to Indian Hindu holy men. “Incorrectly they are sometimes referred to as ‘Fakirs’ who were originally Moslem street magicians who adopted a few yogic techniques for their repertoires and used them solely for entertainment.”1 It is a particular subsect of these Sadhus, the Gorak Naths or Gorakhnathis, that have their conchae pierced.

There is little historical documentation of the conch piercing, and its practice seems sporadic within different cultures. Other than the Gorak Naths, I have only found the Mangebetu to have strong cultural ties to the perforation and adorning of the Concha.

The Mangebetu, sometimes spelled Mangbetu, are an African tribe found in the Republic of Zaire (previously known as Congo). The Mangebetu were formerly regarded for their sophisticated court and developed arts; it is the women of this tribe that can still be seen wearing the beautiful long pieces of ivory in their conchae. The conch perforations often “hold monkey bones which are used to part their hair,”2 though sometimes, the bones were simply for decoration. In the past when elongation of the skull was more widely practiced, and hair styles were worn high to accentuate the skull’s shape, the conch jewelry was used to support the hair. The woman’s hair was sometimes extended using hair from the dead of an enemy tribe.

It’s impossible, of course, to say when the conch piercing was practiced for the first time. The history of the Sadhus has been long debated. Some archeologists believe that asceticism was implicit in the teachings of the Rg-Veda, written in the Vedic language, what we know as “The Vedas”, holy texts which came to India with the “invasion” of the Nordic Aryan Tribes around 1500 B.C.E. These Aryan tribes became the upper castes, the Brahmans, in the Hindu society. The other camp believes that yogic ascetic and other shamanistic practices can be traced much further back to the Indus Valley Culture, already fully developed in 2500 B.C.E. As is usually the case in history, it’s probably a little of both.

“Almost nothing is known of the historical Gorakhnath. His personality was quickly distorted by myth and magical folklore … It seems he was an ascetic yogi who lived sometime around the ninth to 12th C.E. He established a new synthesis between Pasuhupata Shaivism, Tantra and the so-called Teachings of Siddhas. He was closely linked with Vajrayana (Tantric) Buddhism, and is also credited with the authorship of a lost treatise, called simply Hatha Yoga, and with the foundation of the movement of that same name. His teachings also involve the so-called “left-hand path” of Tantra, which involves sexual tantra with a partner, as opposed to simple visualization (the “right-hand” path).”3

“The main symbol that characterizes the Gorakhnathis, are huge earrings worn in split ears. Gorakhathis are also called Kanphatas or Kanphata Yogis (‘Kan’ meaning ear and ‘phat’ meaning split), because at the initiation ceremony the ears are split to insert enormous earrings. These earrings are commonly called yogi’s earrings and are made of agate, glass and various materials. Traditionally rhinoceros horn was a favorite because of its durability and because it is a sacred animal. Such rings covered with gold have been found. The wearing of the earrings is of great importance. If one is broken, another must be substituted before the yogi can eat, engage in conversation or carry out religious duties. Modern adherents claim this piercing the central hollow of the ears is a technique by which the acquisition of magical powers is promoted.”4

The piercing procedure is performed “with the double edge ‘Bhairavi knife’ (Bhairavi is a manifestation of Shiva). Before the operation, the Nath Babas are called Aughars — meaning ‘unfinished’ — and many will never reach the second stage.”5 It is not known at what point in the development of this subgroup of Sadhus, that they began piercing their conchae, if they originated the practice or if the practice existed in a previous sect. They have certainly been the only Hindu practitioners of this ritual for some time.

1. Shiva by Paula Fouce and Denise Tomecko, Tamarind Press, 1990, p 79
2. Africa Adorned by Angela Fisher, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishing, 1984, p 79
3. http://www.kheper.net/topics/natha_siddhas.html
4. http://www.philter.ucsm.ac.uk/encyclopedia/hindu/devot/gorak.html by Richard Shaw, Lancaster University, St Martin’s College.
5. Sadhus Holy Men of India by Dolf Martsuiker, Thames and Hudson 1993, p 35

My usual disclaimer: I am not an anthropologist. From time to time, there will be errors. Please be understanding and forth coming if you have any information you would like to share.

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Western History of Female Infibulation (Outer Labia Piercing)

(Editor’s note: This article was first published in The Point, the publication of the Association of Professional Piercers, on March 14, 2002. Since part of BME’s mandate is to create as comprehensive and well rounded an archive of body modification as possible, we feel these are important additions.

Paul King, the article’s author, has given BME permission to publish a series of articles he wrote for The Point that explore the anthropological history behind many modern piercings. This is another in that series.)

Female infibulation, as defined by this article, involves multiple piercings of the outer labia. It does not include excision of the clitoris, clitoral hood and/or labia minora. Most western women today who wear outer labia piercings do so by choice to increase both aesthetic and physical pleasure. In western fetish communities, in which outer labia piercings are performed for chastity play, the process is mutually consensual. Many piercers today find outer labia piercings heal quicker and with fewer problems by using barbells, curved or straight, instead of rings.

Historically, the piercing was often performed with a needle followed by thread until it healed, though sometimes the rings would be directly inserted after or as part of the piercing process. A single ring or suture would pass through both outer labia, pulling them together and obstructing access of the vagina.


“Roman reference in the fifth century B.C.E., Herodotus says Ethiopians performed infibulation freely on wives. Rhodius and Fabricius d’ Aquapendente refer to the use of infibulation for preservation of chastity. Celsus states that among Romans occasionally posterior piercing was performed to prevent access from the rear as well.”1

In 1737 in Leicester, England, George Baggerley was fined 20 schillings for sewing his wife’s outer labia together with needle and thread.2

“In some other tribes in Asia and Africa, they run a ring through the tips of the opposite nymph; and this ring is so encased in girls, that it can be removed only by filing it, or forcibly cutting it with scissors. We can imagine those shackles can be welded only by soldering, so as to unite the branches of the buckle after it has been sunk into the flesh; and this soldering can be performed only with a red-hot iron, which is laid on the buckle itself, in order to melt in the ore lead. As to the women they wear there an iron circle provided with a lock, the key of which the husband holds; for this tool supplies the place of seraglio and eunuchs, who require such expense and who cost so dear in Asia, that absolutely nobody but seigniors and princes have slaves trained for guarding other slaves; villains from among the population use those rings we have just spoken about.”3 Some writings, such as the previous passage, suggest that the rings were sometimes soldered shut, though an eyewitness account of this supposed process has remained elusive.

Fakir Musafar provides an Indian reference: “Tamil suitors used to demand the sewing up of the outer labia until marriage with the use of gold wire.”4

“It is not possible to conclude whether there was one origin or several independent origins. [Some] feel that there is sufficient evidence to assume that infibulation was practiced in ancient Egypt, and that perhaps it is there the custom originated. Or it could have been an old African puberty rite that came to Egypt by diffusion. (Infibulation is known in the Sudan as ‘Pharaonic circumcision’ and in Egypt it is referred to as ‘Sudanese circumcision.’)”5

This author is opposed to any form of nonconsensual genital mutilation, whether on infant boys in the U.S. or on women and young girls in some traditional African societies and extremist Muslim groups throughout the world. The practices of foreskin and clitoral hood circumcision, clitoridectomy, excision and abrasion of the vulva area followed by suturing together of both outer labia until the vaginal opening heals shut, are forced on hundreds of thousands of children today. For more information on these practices or to learn how you can help fight these human rights abuses please contact Minority Rights Group, UNESCO and World Health Organization.

1Chastity Safeguards, 1947, Haldeman-Julius, pub. Girard, Kansas.

2 Male Infibulation, Eric John Dingwall, pg. 59 (account from “The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Chronicle, 1737, vol. VII pp 250)

3 Recherches philosphiques sur les Americains, tome II p. 140 (Berlin 1779) author De Pauw, from Padlocks and Girdles of Chastity, 1928

4 Piercing Fans International Quarterly, Issue 11, Fakir Musafar

5 Female Circumcision, Excision and Infibulation, History, Minority Rights Groups, Marie Assaad, 1980

My usual disclaimer: I am not an anthropologist. From time to time, there will be errors. Please be understanding and forth coming if you have any information you would like to share.

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

Ampallangs and Apadravyas

(Editor’s note: This article was first published in The Point, the publication of the Association of Professional Piercers. Since part of BME’s mandate is to create as comprehensive and well rounded an archive of body modification as possible, we feel these are important additions.

Paul King, the article’s author, has given BME permission to publish a series of articles he wrote for The Point that explore the anthropological history behind many modern piercings. This is another in that series.)

In Sulawesi it was called Kambi or Kambiong; in the Philippines, Tugbuk. In southern Borneo it was called Kaleng and, while the Kenyah called it Aja, the Kayan called it Uttang or Oettang. A few anthropologists made the Iban’s name for it the most famous: Palang, or ampallang. An Indian scholar gives a description of it and calls it apadravya. First of all, the reader will come to know that what we have all called the ampallang and the apadravya piercings are, historically, one and the same. This article will cover origin, practices and mythology around this very extreme and ancient piercing.

As to the exact origin of this piercing, nobody knows. Scholars have devoted their careers to dissecting trade patterns, in particular in South and South East Asia. The complexities of trade influence over time can most simply be described as the overlapping of cultures, like waves crossing from different directions. Based on the knowledge that all known occurrences of this custom are recorded on the same trade routes and the intense nature of piercing and healing the glans of the penis, one can safely deduce that this piercing custom did not spontaneously originate in various locations, but was shared.

The only known reference of the apadravya is the sixth century Kama Sutra. I know of no other mention or art depictions of the piercing in India. If the practice survived until substantial European contact, in the seventeenth century, then surely there would have been some recording. One can only speculate that this piercing was probably neither widespread nor lasting in the Indian culture.

According to Vatsyayana, the author of the Kama Sutra, apadravyas are any one of a number of devices which a man

puts on or around the lingam (penis) to supplement its length or its thickness, so as to fit into the yoni (vagina). The people of the southern countries think that true sexual pleasure can not be obtained without perforating the lingam, and they therefore cause it to be pierced…now when a young man perforates his lingam he should pierce it with a sharp instrument, and then stand in water as long as blood continues to flow. At night he should engage in sexual intercourse, even with vigor, so as to clean the hole. After this he should continue to wash the hole with decoctions and increase the size by putting into it small pieces of cane… and thus gradually enlarging it.

There should be some debate on the definition of the term “southern countries” used in the Kama Sutra, It could mean Southern India or it could mean SE Asia. If it means SE Asia, again, this would argue that the origins of the piercing are probably not in India.

The first known depiction is on a bronze dog from SE Asia, fourth century. The earliest record in European literature of the piercing on a man is from 1588. The explorer, Cavendish, is said to have been to the island of Capul, Philippines. “Every man hath a nayle (nail) of Tynne (Tin) thrust quite through the head of his privie part (glans of his penis)…” 1

Though the Indian culture was extremely prolific, there is another good argument against Indian origins: Statuary predating Hindu influence in Bali depict possible penile piercings. One anthropologist has cited the visual influence of certain indigenous rodents and the rhinoceros on the island of Borneo (that naturally have barbed penises) as the original inspiration for the piercing.2

The only traditional practice of this piercing still known to exist is on Borneo, with the Kayan people believed to be the oldest practitioners of the Palang; all current tribes practicing the palang give credit to the Kayan. This is interesting, considering they are inland and thought by anthropologists to be the most isolated and oldest inhabitants. Current history dates the palang to other tribes only about 100 years.3

Just as interesting as the mysterious origins are the variations of materials, practice and mythology around this extreme piercing.

Other than the mention in the Kama Sutra, the oldest accounts of this piercing come from the Philippines. Popular in the region was a device called Sakra, which is believed to be a derivative of the Indian Sanskrit word chakra: a center of force or energy. The apparatus could be a round wheel with projecting points (like a spur held in place by a pin), stars, rings, fine twisted wire, pig bristles, bamboo shavings, seeds, horn, coral, agate, hornbill ivory, beads, broken glass and, in one case, an object that looked like a snake head. Quills, as well, were used as nonfunctional retainers. The early explanations from the Codex say the women insisted upon the piercings to discourage the men from sodomy. The Spanish quickly set about eradicating the behavior, referred to as “a custom invented by the devil.”4

Certainly the greatest volume of documentation for this piercing, however, is from the Iban in Borneo, who would sometimes tattoo a rosette (or, occasionally, a fishhook) to show they had a palang. Palang in Iban means “cross” or “cross bar,” and, in the region, the Pins would be made of gold or brass. Often, a sleeve insert to reduce friction (a “bushing”) was put in place so the pin could be removed as desired,5 with up to three palangs sometimes worn at a time.6 The Iban also refer to the ampallang as “burah palang” or “tanduh duri,” which translates to “spout thorn” or “point.” The ends of the pin could have been smooth, or may have been “little pins, coins, discs, brushes, rings/rowels.”7

On Borneo and Sulawesi, a splint is used to hold the penis for the actual piercing procedure. It varies in length from several inches to a foot, approximately a one-and-a-half inches thick with a hole in both sides.8 The slats are placed on either side of the penis and then tightly secured, flattening out the penis. After sufficient time has passed for the lack of blood and cold water to decrease sensation, the penis is pierced9 – sometimes, a pigeon’s feather anointed with oil would be inserted and taken out each day. The piercing takes about one month to heal.

There are many myths of origin for this piercing. The Kayan say a woman complained of a man’s penis size, saying it was no better than a rolled leaf used to give herself satisfaction, and the insulted male ran off to the woods and pierced himself. The Kelabit say a visiting Kayan warrior used his piercing on a woman causing her death, but she was so satisfied the Kelabit continued the practice.10 Another story goes11:

“The lady had various ways of indicating the size of the ampallang desired. She might hide in her husbands plate of rice a betel leaf rolled about a cigarette, or with the fingers of her right hand placed between her teeth she will five the measure of the one she aspires. The Dayak women have a right to insist upon the ampallang and if the man does not consent they may seek separation. They say that the embrace without this contrivance is plain rice; with it is rice with salt.”

In the mid 1970s, Doug Malloy labeled the vertical piercing of the glans an “apadravya” and a horizontal piercing “ampallang.” Doug passed this folklore onto Jim Ward, founder of Gauntlet and editor of Piercing Fans International, Quarterly.12 For posterity, it’s important that the piercing community knows the historical origins, however, continuing the practice of differentiating the same piercing as two, honors our own western traditions.

1 Male Infibulation by John Dingwall

2 Tom Harrison is an anthropologist from the 1950s and 60s. He wrote several articles, a book and collected artifacts on the Palang for the Sarawak Museum, Kuching, Malaysia. This author was able to go there and obtain photocopies of his work.

3 Tom Harrison

4 The Penis Inserts of Southeast Asia Donald E. Brown, James W. Edwards, and Ruth P. Moore

5 The Sexual Relations of Mankind (SRM, per researcher Von Graffin) by Montegazza

6 A Stroll through Borneo by James Barclay

7 Tom Harrison

8 Tom Harrison

9 SRM states they will sometimes leave the device on for eight to ten days. (!) An Iban personally told this author, “2-3 hours.”

10 Tom Harrison

11 SRM

12 Per telephone conversation with Jim Ward, August 3, 2002.

My usual disclaimer: I am not an anthropologist. From time to time, there will be errors. Please be understanding and forth coming if you have any information you would like to share.

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

ADHA and NEHA: A Travel Diary

(Editor’s note: In addition to Paul King, APP President James Weber will also be contributing to BME on what will hopefully be a regular basis. As a means of staying abreast of and maintaining healthy relationships with various spheres in the medical community, APP members can often be found at conventions and conferences that may not ostensibly relate directly to piercing itself. In this piece, James visits two such conferences.)

Thursday, June 19

6 a.m., Philadelphia, PA: My alarm goes off. My lover/ride-to-the-airport doesn’t even move. I have to get up now to make my 8:20 flight. I wonder why I agree to do these conferences.

8 a.m., Philadelphia International Airport (PHL): My flight is delayed one hour. Shit.

11:15 a.m., Tucson International Airport (TUS): Since my first flight was delayed, my one-hour layover is now a 15-minute layover. I grab a disgusting chicken sandwich from the only food counter without a line, grab a bottle of water and run to my flight. I’m so hungry I’m angry, and I’m really wondering why I do these conferences.

Photo credit: James Weber

2 p.m., Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ): I finally land. The chicken sandwich sits like a weight in my stomach; I managed to sleep very little on either of my flights; it feels wonderful to get off the plane. Crystal’s employee, Angela, picks me up at the airport, curbside. In her silver Honda Civic she has the huge box with the booth and a second large box with the art for the booth filling the back seat, pushing our seats forward. The trunk is filled with nine boxes of brochures, posters, magazines, pens, stickers and everything else needed to set up the APP booth. We have three hours to get to the convention center and set up everything for the exposition at the American Dental Hygienist’s Association (ADHA) conference, which starts tomorrow.

It’s hot as hell. It was light jacket weather when I left Philadelphia, and it’s in the mid-nineties here now. Angela and I drive around and finally find a place to unload. The boxes, while not too unwieldy in moderate weather, are unbearably heavy in the heat. I wait on the sidewalk in the hot sun with the boxes while Angela parks the car.

The booth set-up is easy; I’ve done it often enough, and air conditioning makes anything easier. We escape by about 4 p.m. and head to Evolution, where Crystal warmly greets me in the parking lot in back — I feel a lot better. We head to her house — it is very red — and then go out to eat. She goes out, and I stay at her apartment to check my email; I’m soon asleep on her sofa.

Photo credit: James Weber

Friday, June 20

6 a.m.: I’m awake. My body still thinks it’s in Philadelphia — actually, I don’t think my body knows where the hell it is.

9 a.m.: Crystal and I arrive — a little late — to the convention center. The expo is already overflowing with people as we make our way to the booth and hastily set up the APP material: brochures, including four new Spanish-language ones; posters; procedure manuals, both hard copy and disc; pens and stickers; and about ten different issues of The Point. (The back issues of The Point are always eye-catching, and make me very proud.) As we set up, we’re swamped with people asking questions, wanting information, thanking us for being there. I remember: this is why I love these conferences.

10 a.m.: As a representative from the ADHA introduces herself — thanking us once again for being there — a small gaggle of people slowly walks towards us, deferentially surrounding an old woman as she makes her way down the aisle. As she comes nearer, I am told, with a tone of reverence, that the woman making her way to us is the “Queen of the dental hygienists.” Before she could say more, the woman reaches us and is ushered behind our table and into our booth space. Evidently, the juxtaposition of a septuagenarian dental hygienist posing with two tattooed and pierced exhibiters is a photo opportunity not to be missed.

She poses, flanked by Crystal and I, while our picture is taken. After the first set of photos, she looks at the booth behind her to see where she is — not out of mental frailty, but as someone important enough that they were used to being shuttled from one photo opportunity to the next without having to concern herself with more than being diplomatic. We were motioned together for a second set of photos, and as my hand brushes against hers she grabs it and holds it tightly with the kind of clasp that can only come from someone older, someone who has no time for worrying about misunderstanding, who holds your hand as though there could be no other reason for that grip than pure warmth and understanding. I immediately know why everyone held her in such regard, why she commanded such respect. After the pictures are taken, she turns to me and says, simply but earnestly, “I don’t like tongue piercings.” She says it in such a way that I don’t hold it against her, as I know she doesn’t hold it against me.

She then slowly walks away, followed by her entourage, her court. This was my experience meeting Dr. Esther Wilkins.

Photo credit: James Weber

Saturday, June 21

10 a.m.: Crystal and I arrive just as the exposition hall opens on the second day.

From the several ADHA representatives that stop by the booth, we get information on attendance: There are approximately 1,300 attendees this year — the highest figure they’ve ever had, with 300 of those being students — up from about 100 last year.

The response we receive is amazing. It may have been the increase in attendance, the spike in the number of students, or the fact this is our second time exhibiting, but people are very enthusiastic about our presence there.

(It’s also worth noting that, with the huge booths from Colgate, Johnson and Johnson [makers of Listerine], Tom’s of Maine, etc., and dozens of other manufacturers selling everything from medical instruments to office lighting, we’re the only booth not selling anything — not anything besides information.)

The encouraging part of the day isn’t talking to new people — to people that haven’t heard of us — but to people who already have. Repeatedly, people come up and talk about how they had done a presentation on the topic of piercing for their school, for other students, at a local health conference, for the local health board; how they had been involved in education on some level and how invaluable our material was to them.

4 p.m.: Angela helps me break down the booth and pack up for the next leg of the trip — Tucson.

Photo credit: James Weber

Sunday, June 22

6:30 a.m.: As Crystal and I are driving to pick up the rental car we run out of gas. Completely. The car simply sputters and dies as we’re going down the road. It seems that Crystal has been hanging her ADHA badge on the steering column — over the fuel gauge — and she simply hasn’t noticed how little gas we had left. Luckily, the two-lane access road is deserted (it’s early Sunday morning) and the car comes to a stop at the curb about a quarter-mile from the rental car lot. While Crystal waits for her business partner/ex-husband to come with gas (we owe him a BIG favor), I hoof it to the lot and pick up the car. Crystal joins me shortly, we transfer the booth and boxes to the rental and I’m back on the road a little after 7 a.m.

12 p.m.: I’ve been barreling through the desert for five hours. My only stop was a Denny’s in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. My soundtrack so far has consisted of Hank Williams, the O’ Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack and Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited. Things are good — until I realize the fuel gauge is on “E.” Fuck — twice in one day. I hear Caitlin in my head: After I told her the drive would be an “adventure,” she replied that it’s only fun until you run out of gas on the highway 50 miles from anywhere in the hot sun and they find you dead on the side of the road, your corpse picked over by vultures. (Actually, she didn’t mention the vultures, but they were certainly implied.)

The last sign I remember seeing was a “Last Rest Stop For 78 Miles” sign. How long ago was that? I’m going a steady 90 mph now and sweating, a little from the nervousness but more from the fact that I’ve turned off the air to conserve gas, and it’s 105 degrees outside. And I have no cell phone reception out here.

I finally see a sign: “Wilcox — 10 miles.” Please let me make it. Please, please, please, please … I make it the 10 miles to the exit, and I see another sign: “Wilcox – 4 miles.” It seems it was 10 miles to the exit. Shit. I make it to what I assume is Main Street — Wilcox isn’t much more than a stop on the highway — and with great relief I roll into a gas station. Whew …

2 p.m.: I arrive at the Tucson airport as Didier’s plane from San Diego is landing. We have three hours to find the convention hotel and set up the booth.

3 p.m.: We find the convention hotel — it’s a huge Hilton “resort” — and we find the hotel where we are registered. They were supposed to be close, but are four miles apart. It’s now 110 degrees. We decide to hold on to the rental car.

4 p.m.: We arrive at the expo hall. The other exhibitors give us “the eye” as we set up. It’s the annual meeting of NEHA, the National Environmental Health Association, and the hall is full of health inspectors and others who deal with public health and policy. It’s the APP’s first time here, and we’re not quite sure what to expect. They don’t know what to make of us either. We quickly set up the booth and the table and high-tail it out of there. We have to be back for the expo opening and “party” at 6 p.m., and we’re already exhausted and drenched in sweat. It’s 112 degrees outside.

6 p.m.: Didier and I open the doors and walk into the expo hall, and it’s like the scene out of Animal House where they go to the bar in the “wrong” part of town: Conversation stops and all eyes are on us. (I imagine the silverware dropping and a needle going “scrrrrrrtt” over a record as the music stops.) It’s a long walk from the doors to the table …

We set ourselves up and wait. (We’re right in front of the door — you can’t overlook us.)
The attendees start to slowly trickle in, and then we are deluged with people. Everyone, it seems, is working on legislation/policy/protocol in their state/county/city dealing with body piercing. We give away the majority of our material in two hours. They love The Point. They grab handfuls of the brochures. They take the CD manuals like they’ve been handed the scriptures. (Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but they are incredibly appreciative.)

I meet a health inspector from Florida who I’ve previously talked to only by phone. I talk to inspectors from Colorado and Albuquerque that have already worked with APP representatives on policy. I talk to people who have never heard of us but promise to contact us — and they will.

It was absolutely amazing, and this was only the first three hours.

9 p.m.: The expo closes, and Didier and I grab our things and head back to our hotel, as the floor opens again on Monday at 8 a.m. It is a little cooler outside — only 103 degrees.

Photo credit: James Weber

Monday, June 23

8 a.m.: After a hurried breakfast at the hotel consisting of a precooked omelette and stale pastries, Didier and I arrive at the opening of the expo. Most other attendees are complaining about the early start time. I, however, am still on East Coast time; I was up at 4:30 a.m.

The second day is much less busy than opening night, but the people to whom Didier and I speak at length are no less appreciative of our presence or the work we do. We meet with representatives from Arizona, New Mexico, Florida, Alaska, Georgia, New Jersey, Washington DC, Utah, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Alabama, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Maryland, Ohio, Illinois, Nebraska, Colorado, Montana, British Colombia and Great Britain. (This may not be a complete list, but it’s what Didier and I could recall after brainstorming in our hotel room.) Many of these people are directly responsible for either the inspection of body art establishments or the policies or legislation that governs and informs those inspections.

The most memorable thing I hear comes from a woman from Montana, who talks about regulations and inspections in her state. She thanks us for our efforts as an organization and closes by saying, “We couldn’t have done it without your help,” which just about knocks me over.

The stated mission of the APP is to disseminate information about body piercing to piercers, health care professionals, legislators, and the general public. As piercers, we will most likely never all fly the same flag, and the crusade to educate the public is just at the beginning of a long and hard road. But health care professionals now know who we are and where to find us; my trips to the annual conferences of APHA (the American Public Health Association), ACHA (the American College Health Association), and ADHA (the American Dental Hygienists’ Association) have proven that to me. The reception that Didier and I received at NEHA showed that we are succeeding with legislators as well. “We couldn’t have done it without your help” speaks volumes.

2 p.m.: The expo closes, and Didier and I pack up the booth and load the car. (The temperature gauge in the car says 116 degrees; we can’t tell if that means outside or inside the car.) We head to the Post Office to ship what few supplies we have left to San Diego along with the booth in preparation for the APHA conference at the end of October, and then drive the hour to the airport for Didier to catch his flight. I don’t leave until tomorrow morning, so after dinner I head back to the hotel to finish my blog of the trip and prepare for an early bedtime. I will not be leaving the comfort of the room or the air conditioning again until I leave for the airport tomorrow morning — I have to return the rental car before 6 a.m., so I’ll be up at 4:30 yet again.

Photo credit: James Weber

While this may not be the typical experience manning the APP booth at health conferences, it’s certainly not unusual. As part of our outreach to the medical community, the APP has a yearly presence at the annual conferences for the American Public Health Association (APHA) and the American College Health Association (ACHA). As of last year we added attendance at the American Dental Health Association (ADHA) conference, and this year was our first time at the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) conference as well. While there is a significant time commitment involved in volunteering (and with my new duties as President I may not be able to attend as many in the future as I may have hoped) they are tremendously rewarding, for they give you the opportunity to talk face-to-face with people who are directly affected by the outreach we do, the material we provide, and the education we offer. Like most work on behalf of the APP, it can be incredibly hard, but the rewards more than make up for it. Many thanks to all who have helped represent the APP all over the country through the years, and thanks in advance to those set to do it in the future.]

Copyright © The Association of Professional Piercers. Reprinted on BME with permission. Articles in this column are published simultaneously in The Point: The Quarterly Journal of the Association of Professional Piercers. PDFs of back issues are available for free download at SafePiercing.org, and subscriptions are available by contacting the APP office at [email protected].

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