Robots in Love… or at least one of them!

Check out BME employee Phil Barbosa‘s new tattoo designed by IAM:killmylovekill and done here in La Paz, Mexico at Sadofilia. Click the dancing toes below to see a day old photo of it (sorry, it’s hard to get a good photo of a day old tattoo), and if you’d like to see the painting it’s based on, click here.

Phil says to mention that his feet (well, the right one anyway) are still a bit messed up since the accident (which explains why blue robot is not as good a dancer as red robot). He did however clean his toenails!

Assorted Tattoos

Sorry I haven’t updated much in the past few days. We’ve had a guest down here in La Paz so Rachel and I have been busier than usual, and Jordan’s internet connection is out… Anyway, I’ll start off with a cut-out heart tattoo that I really like even though it’s pretty over the top emo, and which I have no doubt will start being copied a day or two after this entry goes up.

For the record, this original (?) piece is by Ron Aytes of Three D Oils and Ink in Valparaiso, Indiana. Here’s another one I like, this one by Brett Osborne (IAM:bretticus) of Pure Body Arts in Brooklyn…

Live to Squeak, Squeak to Live

I get tattoo pictures of snakes daily, and every time I get one I think how much better of a tattoo it would be if there were some ladders thrown in. Well, thanks again to Brett (see above), my wish was answered.

Next, on IAM:nuclearsummer, vagina monsters go to war with a flying penis… tattoo courtesy of Dave Knight at Tattoo Mania in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. As far as I can tell the penis monster is winning, but war is a sticky thing and penises tend to blow up unexpectedly, so the outcum is anyone’s guess.

How about an assortment of Volkswagen tattoos? VW pride!

Yes, the last one is on his nutsack.

Finally, this slogan tattoo wouldn’t even make me look twice if I saw it on the street here in Mexico, or even in the US. However, this piece actually hails all the way from Planet Tattoo in Kiev, Ukraine, by Dmitry Mitsik… I suppose Latin Spirit is everywhere?

ONANISME MANU MILTARI II by Lukas Zpira [The BME Book Review]



Click here to order ONANISME MANU MILTARI by LUKAS ZPIRA now!

A review by Shannon Larratt

Lukas Zpira, as a person, is extremely stylish and fashionable, and this book, intended to capture his artistic vision, mirrors that aesthetic. But I must be honest with you. I’m not a stylish or fashionable guy, and it’s probably fair to say that I am actively unfashionable in fact. Not only that, but I don’t care much for modern art, and less for the explanations artists use to justify it — so much so that it makes it difficult for me to relate to this book, and for that I apologize.

An enormous amount of effort has been done on processing and manipulating the photos and layout. In some ways this is good, because it captures the feel of Lukas Zpira as an artist, but, on the other hand, it also distorts the images so much that what most of us perceive as Lukas’s actual art, contained in the photos, is difficult to make out and is no longer able to speak for itself. Rather than presenting the pieces as they were created, the book retells them not as the world sees them, but as Lukas Zpira sees them. One could also argue that nearly all of the photos in the book have already been published online in a far clearer and more effective way.

The text of the book I feel makes the same presentation error (or success), although I’m sure a great deal is lost in the translation (it is written with both English and the original French). Most of the writing is highly philosophical, abstract, and arty, and in some ways feels like it’s “trying” to be so. For me, body art is a very down to earth subject, and personally I like seeing it presented in terms that are honest and tangible. Since I couldn’t relate to most of the text, I found myself seeing it as boring, shallow, and misleading. Maybe I’m missing the point, or maybe other people are fooling themselves into thinking there’s a point a la The Emperor Wears No Clothes. I have no idea.

While I do believe that this limited edition book is an essential addition to any body modification and body art library, I worry that Lukas Zpira has perhaps limited himself by presenting such a pure expression of his art — of himself — rather than opening a clearer channel for the uninitiated — or those like me with different tastes — to understand it. Or perhaps those people will never understand the core of what Lukas Zpira is saying — it’s not as if I’ve gotten better at choosing clothes that match as I’ve aged. If anything, I’ve gotten worse.

But really, I’m looking at and reviewing the book in entirely the wrong way. It’s not a portfolio of Lukas’s work. It’s not a grounded discussion of scarification, piercing, and surgical body modification, nor is it supposed to be. If you’re looking for that, you won’t enjoy or find meaning in the book. But if you come into the experience looking to discover the essence of Lukas Zpira’s vision, independent of the corporal aspect of his work, you’ll find it. ONANISME MANU MILITARI II exists separate from the scalpels and the spatulas, and even separate from the skin that adorns its pages — it is a work of art in and of itself.

    – Shannon Larratt

A Review by Jordan Ginsberg

To give credit where it’s due, few artists in the body modification community have propelled themselves to “rock star” status quite like Lukas Zpira has. Really, he’s like the U2 of body artists: From day one, he’s made himself out to be the biggest, most interesting and important thing out there, and has done so with no apologies. Initially making a name for himself as a world-class scarification artist, Zpira quickly began winning crowds over with his sideshow-cum-fetish performance art group, ART KOR, which fused suspension and bloodletting with more traditional fetishistic aspects — such as Japanese rope bondage — in a far more sexual manner than many other performers were embracing at the time. Thanks to the uniqueness of his work, his larger-than-life attitude about himself, and his relentless touring schedule — taking his act and his art all over the world many times over — Lukas quickly reached veritable celebrity status.

More than just a showman though, Zpira has always emphasized the philosophical backing behind the work that he does and the lifestyle he espouses, a body of thought that he’s dubbed “Hacktivism.” Rather than following the path of the modern primitives, Zpira’s Hacktivism seems to be the modus operandi of the cyberpunk-fakir — a methodology based on how these rites of the flesh relate to the future rather than their tribal histories.

Onanisme Manu Militari II, Zpira’s new Hors-Editions book, is an unfortunate misfire in several respects, particularly due to its attempts to be too many things at once; unsure of whether it wants to be a photography-based coffee table book or a philosophical guide, the result is a messy synthesis of the two.

The book is not an absolute disappointment, of course. Primarily a photo-based work, shots from a variety of photographers — including Zpira himself — are included, and by and large it’s all top-notch. Bright, brilliantly saturated colors contrasted with heavy shadows bring out the best in the subjects, whether they’re clients of Lukas’ bearing scars or implants he’s performed, or occasionally even Lukas himself. As a showcase of his work, the book works extremely well; Lukas is undoubtedly highly skilled, and brings to the table an exciting, unique style of scarification, as well as fresh takes on implant designs and other pseudo-surgical procedures such as ear-pointing and tongue-splitting, all of which get their time in the spotlight in the book. Often augmented with distressed filters and scorched backgrounds, the images themselves are generally striking and fascinating; sadly, they suffer from the book’s small format. Presented on standard 8.5 by 11” paper, high-quality glossy as it may be, photos such as these would have benefited far more from being published in a larger format, more traditional coffee-table book size. With shots as busy and full as these, each one should be treated more like an event than as just another page in a book, so to speak.

Where the wheels really begin to come off, however, is the textual content. Again, Zpira is markedly philosophic in his background, and I wouldn’t suggest that he’s anything but authentic in his beliefs; that said, the written portions of the book largely come off as little more than pretension masking an absence of viable content. Though the text is limited to a handful of short essays — printed in both English and French — that are seldom longer than a single page, they’re as distracting as they are difficult to concentrate on. Now, this is not to put it all on Lukas — there are a number of authors featured in addition to Zpira, though their segments are essentially limited to discussing their (very, very similar) takes on Lukas himself, rarely reaching beyond fellatious back-slapping and sophomoric musings on any number of “cyber”-based compound words.

Now, while not written by Lukas, the inclusion of these passages speaks as little more than blatant self-aggrandizement, which is not necessarily out of place altogether, but the extent of its presence here is somewhat suspect. Zpira’s portions, while marginally more substantial, are unfortunately disappointing as well—because they often suggest that there is more to the story than he chose to share. Ranging from the autobiographical and the political to the poetic and apocalyptic, the topics covered are broad in scope, yet all coalesce at a similar yet borderline incoherent point; south of “Be what you want to be,” but just north of “Evolve or die!”

Zpira’s philosophy is almost transhumanist in some respects; not simply an acknowledgement that the human body is imperfect, it also embodies an effort to correct this biological error. Though, while transhumanists typically seek more medical and scientific-related fixes, the Hacktivist revolution is ostensibly an aesthetic one; a method of reinventing one’s self by reshaping one’s image and identity; better living through keloids, if you will. And of course, this is not to discount it, but to see it propped up as a grand calling of the future is mostly disingenuous, and tragically overblown.

Finally, clocking in at a brisk 126 pages, the 40-Euro (roughly $50 USD) price tag is quite steep. Were it in a larger format and maybe 100 pages longer, focusing more on the photography and less on pretentious techno-babble, such a cost may be justifiable. It’s well produced, with a sturdy hardcover and unquestionably high-quality images, but the presentation simply does not do the art justice. While this is without question a must-have for admirers of Lukas and his work, those with little attachment or knowledge of him would likely be better off checking out his web site before spending the money on this book.

    – Jordan Ginsberg

Click here to order ONANISME MANU MILTARI by LUKAS ZPIRA now!

This page and its contents are © 2005 Shannon Larratt – Reproduced under license by LLC. All rights reserved. Requests to reprint must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purpose this review was published September 16th, 2005 in La Paz, BCS, Mexico.

If You Can’t Go… We’ll Bring it to You. The All-Grrls Suscon 2005 [Guest Column – Stepping Back]

“It is the mind which creates the world about us, and even though we stand side by side in the same meadow, my eyes will never see what is beheld by yours, my heart will never stir to the emotions with which yours is touched.”

George Gissing

On August 20, 2005 I went to my first Suscon: the second annual All Grrls suspension convention. Outside of the article I’d written several months earlier about last year’s event and only ever seeing my first suspension eight weeks earlier, I didn’t know what to expect. Through conducting interviews with last year’s attendees and hearing entirely positive feedback, I knew the day would be special.

The event was held in Toronto in a cozy, dimly-lit room with wooden floors and brick walls. The twenty-five attendees had travelled from all over the United States and Canada to be there. Rachel (IAM:tigertante) and Jill (IAM:feisty) were the organizers and wonderful hosts. They, along with the other staff, were competent, knowledgeable and organized.

The absence of men felt somehow natural, but then again, I had nothing to compare it to. The girls who were nervous about being pierced or going up always had someone by their side; some supportive friends went the extra step and laid on the floor below the table while the hooks were being inserted, breathing deeply with them and holding their hands. Everyone was sensitive to the girls’ needs; allowing them to take their time if necessary, never pressuring them into staying up longer than they wanted to or coming down sooner than they were ready to.

When the first article about the All Grrls Suscon was published, it sparked a lot of controversy. Some saw the event as discriminatory towards men, while others saw it as a proactive step towards getting more women involved in the suspension community. Regardless of people’s opinion about this event, no one can deny that it offers a safe and comfortable place for the experienced and inexperienced alike to hang.

The thing that surprised me the most was the overwhelming emotion that hung heavy in the air. Excitement, nervousness, anxiety, intimidation, happiness, relief… although they were mixed feelings, they all felt warm. It was intense.

It may be one of those things where you’d really have to be there in order to appreciate it… but then again, maybe not.

To the tune of Svefn-G-Englar by Sigur Ros is a video of the the day— highlighting the emotions of the girl’s experiences— the thing that had the most impact on me.

2005 All-Grrls SusCon Video Report (9 minutes)
Download links (right-click and save the files):

Windows Media Player
High quality WMV (64 MB)
Low quality WMV (28 MB)
    Apple Quicktime
High quality QT/MOV (67 MB)
Low quality QT/MOV (25 MB)

— Gillian Hyde (IAM:typealice)

Gillian Hyde (IAM:typealice) is a vagabond, though her roots run deep into Nova Scotian soil. She’s lived and worked on three continents since 2001, and has never lived anywhere for longer than eight months since the age of 16. She loves fonts, puns, being barefoot, and office supplies. Calm to her is the roar of the ocean.

Online presentation copyright © 2005 LLC. Clips of swinging superwoman suspension from iam:bonita80. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published online, August 25th, 2005 by LLC from La Paz, BCS, Mexico.

The Modern History of Tongue Splitting [The Lizardman]

The Lizardman’s split tongue, in 1997 and in 2004.

The Modern History of Tongue Splitting

“Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character had abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigour, and courage which it contained.”

– John Stuart Mill

Eight years ago, in July 1997 (on the 18th to be exact), I walked into the office of Dr. Lawrence Busino with one tongue and emerged under an hour later with two. There was no media coverage and apart from a couple emails and a posting on rec.arts.bodyart not many people even knew this was happening. Of course, this would all change and an amazing and unforeseeable chain of events would be set into motion.

I was not the first person to have my tongue split, anyone who has paid attention to my comments about it will have noticed that I refer to myself as ‘one of the first’. My best guess is that I was probably the third bifurcation but the first to be done surgically using a biopsy laser. In fact, the first actual split tongue that I knew of was on BME just prior to my own procedure in 1997. An Italian man sent in notes and then pictures of his split created by cutting and silver nitrate cauterization. The notes can be found here, there are also six images early in the gallery with a June 1997 date stamp (for time received and posted, not taken).

The first known pictures of a modern tongue splitting (Italy, 1996/7)

When I first approached Dr. Busino I brought along printouts of those translated notes, by the time the pictures were online I had already scheduled my appointment for surgery. It was not until after my own procedure that I eventually found out about Dustin (covered in Body Play #16, I think) who had used a tie off method to split her tongue earlier. It seems that 1997 was the year for tongue splitting to happen. Within a very short span of time three people, unconnected and nearly unknown to one another, all split their tongues using three different methods.

Up until this time, modern tongue splitting was all but a myth. There were theories and vague references but no one could provide any documentation — it was always a friend of friend saw this guy/girl, etc. BME included a theoretical method reference for stretching multiple center tongue piercings and then cutting between them but this was just speculative. Some people made historical references but again the documentation was questionable. Even some of the more reliable sources citing a cutting the tongue in half do not specify a bifurcation and strong arguments could be made that they are talking about an amputation cutting in half as punishment or torture from side to side rather than from the tip back. The BME Tongue Splitting FAQ contains references to some of these historical practices. Personally, I find these less than compelling but I do not entirely dismiss the possibility since it only seems even more unlikely that someone had not tried it before. What can be said with good authority is that the idea and image of the split tongue is a powerful one that has played a major role across cultures and around the world. With the advent of modern tongue splitting, it was poised to do so again.

Dustin’s self-split tongue

Over the next two years tongue splitting would grow slowly but steadily. As word of my surgery and Dustin’s successful split began to spread (I have never heard anything further on the Italian), more and more people became interested or realized their own fantasies could now come true. I introduced a number of people to Dr. Busino as well as hosting many of them at my apartment in Albany (including our own Shannon Larratt who detailed his experience here) so they could come to town and get the surgery done by one of the only willing and experienced doctors in the country. Dr. Busino was very accepting, if not enthusiastic, about body modification and loved discussing various modifications and possible procedures. With each patient he continued to refine the procedure, especially the suturing which helped to prevent re-growth and provided a more natural rounded look to the interior of the split. At one point he even commented on how the laser machinery could be transported fairly easily to conventions or meetings where he would be able to potentially do many bifurcations were the demand to continue. Meanwhile other individuals and practitioners worked with the tie off method and experimented with scalpeling.

Early tongue splits on Shannon Larratt (left, center),
and Essie (right, one of the many people hosted by the Lizardman and introduced to Dr. Busino).

At the first Modcon in 1999 my split tongue was a novelty and, as I recall, the only one present other than Shannon’s. Between hosting many of the splits at my house and Shannon’s network of people and practitioners via BME we could say that at that time we probably knew personally or could at least name most of the split tongues in the world. This would soon change.

At the 2000 Modcon a number of split tongues were present. Online, BME was seeing a significant increase in photos and experiences. Due to my unabashed media whoring, my own tongues had appeared in Time magazine, on several television shows (such as Ripley’s), and even on a billboard in NYC. Split tongues were suddenly very visible. An increasing number of practitioners were offering the procedure and it became much easier for people to find someone near them to do it. Also, a number of people performed the procedure themselves. However, there would be a cost for this visibility.

Early tongue splitting on Tim Cridland (The Torture King), Allen Falkner, and by Patrick Bartholomew.

Almost certainly due to the increased exposure and references to him in stories about tongue splitting, Dr. Busino found himself under unwanted scrutiny. As a result, of what I and others suspect was pressure brought on him by colleagues who found tongue splitting to be distasteful, Busino was soon refusing to do the procedure and even going so far as to deny having ever performed it. I last spoke with him 2000 before these problems arose. He was the model of an open minded professional when I knew him and it is a shame that the prejudices of others came to so bear on him. And, as bad as this was, the potential more even worse loomed ahead in the form of government legislation.

By 2001 split tongues were common as surgical modifications go, being one of, if not the, most popular ‘heavy’ modification. Keep in mind that’s not really common at all in terms of the world population or even just the US. In fact more people in the US get their ears pierced each day by underpaid, under trained employees in unhygienic mall stores often improperly using equipment and jewelry that even when used properly is at best barely adequate for the job than the entire collected world population of split tongues. Or to put it another way, if you had a dollar for every split tongue in the world you would not have enough money to buy a decent used car or pay the yearly rent on slum apartment in most cities for a year. Even though it sometimes seems like they are common within our modified community, they are still rare in the world.

More recently done tongue splittings.

Despite so many other prominent problems and looming dangers in the world, in 2003, some state legislators began to think that the tongue splitting “trend” required new laws. As a result, a number of laws have been passed which have limited the context in which the procedure may be performed. Most of these are redundant to existing laws and serve no real purpose beyond soothing the prejudiced positions of those who introduce the bills but they are preferable to the total bans they often start out as. This senseless waste of government time, effort, and money was the subject of my first official column for BME and can be found here. I continue to write and debate lawmakers across the country as they follow suit.

Due largely to these laws and the unwillingness of most doctors to perform the procedure a significant number of split tongues are now self done. The method of choice for them and the limited number of practitioners offering the procedure is scalpeling. Scalpeling the tongue is quite bloody, as many of the photos on BME will attest. However, it is at once the simplest and probably best method available. In my observations and from talking to subjects, it appears that scalpeling is on par with laser surgery for speed, if not faster, and results in far less swelling due to the lack of cauterization. When combined with proper suturing it results in some of the best looking, fastest healing splits with the least amount of re-growth between the forks. The only significant problem being that people doing it themselves or even having it done by most practitioners do not have the benefits at hand in case of problems or emergency that would be available in a professional surgical setting.

To date, the modern history of tongue splitting is an overall positive one. We have come to discover that it is not only possible but than many of the anticipated dangers or consequences such as difficulty speaking or eating are complete myths. Contrary to expectations the real problem seems to lay with reversing the procedure. This has happened once, to my knowledge, and was not voluntary or the result of any complication or dissatisfaction. No, the story of the only reversal is far darker and can be found on BME here. In fact, I do not, nor has anyone else I have spoken with know of anyone voluntarily reversing their split. It is this case that I think now points to the direction for the future.

Forced tongue split reversal

The first tongue splittings were done for personal reasons of satisfaction and fulfillment. As a result others were able to do the same, likely for similar personal motivations. Now, as split tongues have become visible to the world it becomes time to establish their place within it. That is the work to be done. To cultivate the view and understanding that a split tongue is simply another way in which a person can — and should not be restricted from doing — shape their own image.

Erik Sprague

because the world NEEDS freaks…

Former doctoral candidate and philosophy degree holder Erik Sprague, the Lizardman (iam), is known around the world for his amazing transformation from man to lizard as well as his modern sideshow performance art. Need I say more?

Copyright © 2005 LLC and Erik Sprague / The Lizardman. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published July 26th, 2005 by LLC in La Paz, BCS, Mexico..

No Boys Allowed! Introducing the All-Grrls Suscon [Guest Column – Stepping Back]

“Love and respect woman. Look to her not only for comfort, but for strength and inspiration and the doubling of your intellectual and moral powers. Blot out from your mind any idea of superiority; you have none.”

Giuseppe Mazzini

There is something special about a group of women. There’s a particular vibe, an energy. Together, women are gentle, honest, open and sensitive. We easily comfort each other, we’re attentive and supportive. Topics of conversation, body language, our voices are different, and the presence of even one man can change everything. There is a connection that goes beyond our anatomy, beyond any common interests or friendships. Women don’t even have to like one another in order to feel the bond. We are different than men. No better, no worse, just different.

With this knowledge and their love of suspension, Jill (IAM:feisty) and Rachel (IAM:tigertante) created and hosted the first All-Grrls Suscon last year, and it was a success. It was so successful, in fact, that they’re at it again!

This year’s event will be held in August in Toronto. Suspensions cost $100 and pulls cost $50, and any woman, experienced or not, is welcome to come. The exact location is still to-be-announced, so keep your eye on the All-Grrls Suscon event page. To reiterate: there are NO BOYS ALLOWED!

As smoothly as last year’s event went, the idea of a women-only Suscon did stir up some controversy. There were a few members of the suspension community who felt it was unfair to exclude men. Jill and Rachel want to emphasize that this is not anti-men, but rather pro-women. They had been frustrated by the way they’d been treated by men at other events when they first entered into the community, and wanted to show themselves and others that women are just as capable as organizing, setting up, and suspending as their counterparts. They surpassed their goal, proving to everyone that an All-Grrl’s Suscon wasn’t just a great idea, it was great in practice too.

Jill and Rachel working at last year’s All-Grrls Suscon.

BME:  Hi girls! Can you tell me a little about yourselves?
JILL:  I grew up in Belleville which is a small Ontario town, with my mom and brother. I left when I was eighteen to move to the greater Toronto area for college. I’m twenty-seven years old, and am currently working at one of the largest bike stores in Canada. I am part of a trio of wimmin who publish SMUT Magazine, which is a quarterly, pansexual and erotic magazine. It’s featured many BME members like Rachel, Phil (IAM:PhilipBarbosa), Joel (IAM::Hooch). I also am the owner of a promotions and event production company, Feisty Productions. Rachel has been a key component to all of my shows, and the shows wouldn’t have had the same caliber if it wasn’t for her many talents like fire spinning and suspension..
RACHEL:  I am a dual Canadian/American citizen— I was born outside of Seattle and grew up all around the States. I finished high school in Berlin, Germany and have been living in Canada since starting university in 1996. I did a Bachelors degree at the University of Guelph in Biological Science and have just completed a Masters of Science specializing in developmental genetics at the University of Ottawa. I’ll probably do a PhD next year, though I’ve also been working my way towards medical school for the past five years. My newest hobby is running marathons— including Berlin last year and Boston this year— and riding motorcycles. I’m also a classically trained cellist with eighteen years experience and have performed in Canada, the United States, Germany and England with various bands, dancers, and theatre groups. I’m also twenty-seven.
BME:  How did you two meet?
JILL:  I was living in Toronto in the spring of 2002, after returning from living in Australia and was working in an outdoor store when she walked in looking for climbing equipment. After asking what the supplies were for, she and her friend, Philip Barbosa, told me that it was for a suspension performance that evening and I should check it out.
RACHEL:  Yup, and we totally hit it off as friends from the very beginning. Both Phil and Jill are incredibly chatty types, so that day Jill got the whole scoop on what we did and she mentioned that she was interested in getting involved with our rigging projects. Our friendship has really developed into something very strong, loving and deeply respectful over the past few years.
Jill and Rachel. Friends through the ages.
BME:  Jill, did you have any experience with suspensions before meeting Rachel?
JILL:  None at all. After meeting her, I hosted an event where I had iwascured (IWC) perform, and then I headed down to the 2003 Rites of Passage (ROP) Suscon where I was the Canadian rigger for the weekend. I was there to replace Jon (IAM:wild zero), which are some pretty huge shoes to fill. I felt honoured and everyone welcomed me with open arms because both Rachel and Phil believed in my skill level and the other staff took an instant shining to me. I think I proved myself that weekend by rigging a human zip line that Rachel went down on hooks. We’ve been told that it was the highlight of some people’s weekend.
BME:  Rachel, what is your experience with suspensions and pullings?
RACHEL:  I first became involved in suspension through iwascured in March 2001 when I saw Martini’s (IAM::martini) torture with huge bent bar-b-q skewers as hooks. After that experience I was hooked (ha! ha!) and immersed myself in helping out with shows at BME events, like the one in Shannon’s (IAM:glider) backyard in Toronto as a piercer, rigger and performer. I’ve performed a number of times in Toronto with IWC at various clubs and at BMEfest in Tweed. I attended the first Dallas Suscon, some ROP Suscons in Massachusetts, and the Rhode Island ROP Suscons consistently for the past three years and worked closely with the ROP, Traumatic Stress Discipline (TSD), and IHUNG crews.
BME:  How long have you been in the body modification scene?
JILL:  I have had piercings and tattoos since the mid 90’s, but wouldn’t say that I have been involved in the modification industry until I met Rachel. She opened my eyes to a world of incredible people.
RACHEL:  I’ve never really considered myself part of a scene, but before joining IAM in January of 2001, I got my first tattoo and piercing when I was eighteen (other than my lobes, which were done at age five). I have really downsized my modifications in the past year but I’ve got several piercings, scarification, and four tattoos. My most recent body ritual is fasting. It’s a mental and physical challenge, much like training for my marathons. I don’t get to suspend very often because I can’t afford the time it would take for my body to heal from one and because I’m scared my body might go into overload. Preparing for a marathon takes a lot of discipline, training and recovering.
Rachel doing a couple of her own suspensions at previous events.
BME:  Off the topic a little, but I noticed you spell “women” and “girl” differently, why is that?
RACHEL:  Basically it creates words not based on “man” or “men.” Similar to not using “he” as a general term supposedly encompassing all, but instead he/she or one. Grrl is just a fun way to spell “girl.” It looks more tough and in your face.
BME:  Okay, fair enough. Onward.
Last year, you two hosted the first All-Grrl’s Suscon, and it was a success! Whose idea was it?
JILL:  The day that I met Rachel in my store she mentioned wanting to do an all wimmins suspension event. I told her that I would be glad to help her out if she needed it, which she did. A year later, we were executing the first ever All-Grrls Suscon. I was glad to help her bring one of her dreams to reality.
RACHEL:  I had thought about doing an All-Grrl suspension event/team when I was just getting involved in the suspension community. Around November 2001, Carrie (IAM:alisinwonderland) and I attended the first Dallas Suscon as part of the IWC team. It was there that we realized we were practically the only females within the suspension groups attending who actually participated in getting people off the ground. Our attempts to jump in and help were met with at lot of resistance like, “You can hold stuff when our hands get full.”
BME:  How did you deal with that at the time?
RACHEL:  I almost didn’t go back the second day because I was so unimpressed and I felt totally powerless. I got the impression that the boys were having trouble realizing we weren’t just someone’s girlfriend watching from the sidelines. My first response was to get fuming mad and storm off but I knew that wouldn’t help anything. Instead, Carrie and I took that energy and transformed it into something good: she and I decided to create a space that would be more womyn-positive, and the idea for the All-Grrls Suscon was born.

That event ended up being an incredibly amazing experience as the IWC crew was really supportive of us as crew members. Some members of the TSD briefed us on some rigging techniques, and so began our beautiful friendship with those wonderful Texans! I believe that since then a lot has changed in terms of women’s involvement in the suspension community. There are definitely lots more women participating in suspension events and crews on all levels.

BME:  What do you think changed that made women more “accepted” in the events?
RACHEL:  I believe that because of the increase in women suspending at events has helped. When grrls come to the events and see other women suspending, piercing, rigging, and performing it boosts their self-confidence in that, “hey if she can do it, I can too” way. It was very inspiring for me to see women suspending at a BME bar-b-q. I also think that a lot of the core members of crews like TSD, ROP, IHUNG, and of course IWC have been accepting of wimmin working within their group, and some of the negativity we experience may come from the periphery.
JILL:  I agree. The more wimmin suspend, the more we’re able to let the men know that we can do things just as well as them.
BME:  Do you feel the need to “prove” yourself at mixed-gender events?
JILL:  I think women have had to prove themselves in every aspect of society, and it’s no different with suspensions. Personally, I had to walk in to an already-established community and introduce myself as part of IWC and just start rigging. I think I earned their respect right away when they all realized I knew what I was doing, and like I said, Rachel helped me ease into the scene because she was already established within that group.
RACHEL:  I’ve only really felt that I need to prove myself once, at the first Dallas Suscon. It’s possible that our entire group was kind of under the microscope considering it was a TSD-run event and they had never worked with us. Since then, I think our reputation has somewhat preceded us and I haven’t felt any need to prove myself, though I still run myself ragged at Suscons. I’m not good with just standing around because there’s always something that needs to be done!
BME:  What were the steps from taking the All-Grrls idea to an actual Suscon?
JILL:  Finding a location was the hard part. We only wanted wimmin there— there were to be no boys involved at all, so it was very hard to find somewhere that’s suspension-friendly and men-free. We decided to hold it at my business partner’s yard, which turned out to be an incredible location because it was outside and the weather was amazing. We had to get our own supplies which are quite costly, and devise a free-standing unit that we could use to suspend from. Because there were no trees that we could use in the yard, I had to make a huge rig designed for two suspensions beside each other at one time.

The other important factor to make the event a success was finding staff. The wimmin we knew that were qualified were from all over North America. Getting them all into my yard was the trick. We decided to hold the event on the weekend of BMEfest of last year because we figured that a lot of wimmin would be coming for that already, so it was a perfect opportunity.

As for running the actual event, Rachel and I had no problems. Many people helped with the prep work and the set up of the event. Rachel’s experience with suspension and my experience running events, it just sort of happened. Flawlessly I might add.

BME:  How many girls attended?
RACHEL:  I believe there were about twenty-five people who attended (including staff) from all over the world including England, Australia, US and Western Canada…
JILL:  …and we did about nine suspensions and two pulls. We put out juice and water and food for the staff and the day went by smoothly. Rachel and I started the prep at around 8:00am, and the staff started showing up at 9am. Our first suspension started by 11:00am or so, and we continued until just after 6:00pm. All of the suspensions were suicide, and we even had a couple go up at the same time. It was really amazing. They had a really profound experience.
BME:  Why was it profound for them?
JILL:  The grrls had wanted to suspend together since they met me a year earlier. One of the most influential wimmin to them was Liz Spencer, who I’d suspended a year earlier. Once they saw that suspension and how it changed Liz’s life, they wanted to suspend together. Liz was supposed to be there for their experience, but sadly, she passed away that spring and didn’t get to see them. I was happy to have helped in give her that experience and then share it with two of her friends.
BME:  Did you notice any difference in the atmosphere? Certainly girls act differently when they’re with just girls, so was it the same sort of thing at the event?
JILL:  Of course it was. A group of wimmin is just different. It’s an emotional thing, an estrogen thing. It was just a really nice calm atmosphere.
RACHEL:  It was totally different. I found it was a more peaceful and calm environment. Everything ran really smoothly— like clockwork. There was no running around or stressing about who was going up next. Maybe it was because it was a smaller event than most Suscons, but I didn’t sense any hesitation from the suspendees when it was their turn. There was no competition or feeling that you had to put a show on for anyone. There is an inexplicable comfort that comes with working in an all-wimmin’s space.
BME:  What types of girls did you attract at the event? Was it people who’d never suspended or pulled before? Do you a lot of women came specifically because there were no men present?
JILL:  I don’t think that any of the participants were against men being there but they were definitely excited that it was only going to be only wimmin there. None of the staff are anti-male. But we all wanted to have a positive female environment. Wimmin and men are different. No matter what you say, they are different creatures. So, when you get only females at an event, it just feels different. There’s less ego and more mental energy, plus, there’s no testosterone.

We had wimmin who had never suspended or pulled before and we also had ones that had, and the general consensus was that the vibe was great! I know many who couldn’t make it last year are making it a priority this year. I think lots of grrls were just happy to have a venue to be able to let go of any inhibitions.

I don’t really think there was a specific type of person who came to our event. I assume that the wimmin wanted to try suspending in an all-grrl environment, whether it was because they wanted to be in the company of females or because they specifically didn’t want men to be there, I have no idea. It was never about excluding men, but rather about including wimmin.
Jill with IAM:stumbleine
BME:  What are some common inhibitions that women feel at a cross-gender event?
JILL:  I think that most people don’t like to suspend for the first time in a large group because it’s something that’s so potentially emotional. It’s a proven fact that wimmin and men act differently. When wimmin are around men, sometimes they feel like they have to prove themselves and when you take men out of the equation they can just be themselves because there’s nobody to impress. Plus, it’s easier to suspend without a shirt on and many wimmin aren’t comfortable enough to take their shirt off at a mixed event. The All-Grrls Suscon is not for everyone, but the ones who appreciate it are the ones we hold it for.
RACHEL:  Jill’s right: I often feel compelled to put on a show or prove how tough I am at cross-gender events and it makes me feel self-conscious. If the suspension requires me to be scantily clad, I’m more aware of my nudity and how attractive I look to others. I think other wimmin are also afraid to “fail” in front of such a crowd— whether it’s not being able to suspend as long as everyone else, or being unable to fulfill some other goal they feel they need to achieve to have a “successful” suspension. I think some grrls are preoccupied with being sexy or attractive, and these things may take a bit of focus away from themselves and the experience their body is going through.
BME:  For people thinking about going this year— whether it’ll be their first time attending or their second time— why should people attend your event?
JILL:  “Why shouldn’t they?” is a better question. An All-Grrls Suscon is a really nice experience, especially for those who’ve never suspended before. It’s not going to be for every female out there, but I know a lot of grrls find it comfortable and welcoming. Wimmin can connect with each other on a level that men can’t. That doesn’t make us any better than men, but it certainly gives us the opportunity to empathize with each other and what we are feeling.
RACHEL:  Plus, for the same reasons why people would attend any other suscon-type event— to hang!
BME:  What has your feedback been from men about this event?
JILL:  The feedback was great. I think there were a bunch of men that couldn’t believe that we actually did this. We sure showed them! The men in both Rachel’s and my life are very supportive and they respect us for what we do. They know we are highly skilled in suspension and rigging collectively and put on a great, successful event. We definitely had a bunch of grief from men out there that don’t think there are enough trained wimmin out there to work the suscon.


I had to talk to the men who disagreed with the idea, and I found two who were willing to speak out. Cere (IAM:Cere), a member of the ROP (but whose opinions don’t represent anyone’s but his own) admits that his point of view is very unpopular, but he does not like the idea of the All-Grrl’s Suscon. Rachel, Jill and Cere are all very good friends, but his opinion differs dramatically from theirs.


Cere: Simply put, I am completely against the idea of it. I understand the idea that a woman might be more comfortable around other woman suspending and the idea that at a large event that might have a woman suspending topless or nude may bring gawkers from the male gender. I call bullshit on it. You are just as likely to have a bisexual or lesbian woman admire a naked girl as you would a guy. Also at every single event that we have thrown there has been nudity or toplessness and we have never had a problem with someone being rude or leering. If you are uncomfortable with your body, set up something private.

The main reason is though is the hypocrisy behind it. If I were to throw an All-White suscon or a No-Minority suscon, everyone would be up in arms screaming about it. But it’s okay that an entire gender is being discriminated against in a community that is supposed to celebrate the oneness of humanity? Fuck that.

That said though, I love Rachel and Jill, and they are awesome friends of mine. I hope their next event goes off without a hitch and I hope that everyone who hangs there has an amazing experience and gets the most out of their suspension.

IAM:Code Zero

Code Zero: I personally didn’t feel like any one-gender event is fair or just. I understand that these women feel more comfortable without any guys there, but I’m a larger guy and I don’t necessarily feel comfortable with a ton of strangers around, but if I had a “Fat guy only” event, it would get protested by women and men alike. The whole BME/IAM scene is about acceptance and togetherness, and this event felt like a slap in the face. Having an invite-only event is one thing because it prevents having people come just to gawk, like the highly secretive MODCON, but to exclude someone based on nothing other than gender, it’s not right. It’s sexist.

Do you think it would be okay for someone to organize a “Blacks Only” Suscon if they felt that black people would be more comfortable doing suspensions without anyone else around? It may not sound like the same thing, but at its core, it’s exactly the same thing.

BME:  What would you like to say to people who view this as an “anti-men” event, instead of how you intended it: a “pro-women” event?
JILL:  I know some people don’t understand why men can’t be there, but this is all about being pro-wimmin. There is an emotional and physical difference between men and wimmin, and if you can’t get that, you have bigger problems than just not being allowed in to our event. I have spoken to many men who will outright laugh at other men who don’t understand the difference between men and wimmin. Many men know that this is an important and necessary event. I had men tell me last year that the only difference between men and wimmin was our genitals. Pardon me as I stop laughing. A few guys retaliated with comments like, “Well, what if there was an all male suscon?” I think, up until a few years ago, the events were an all-male Suscon. Wimmin are just starting to become more prominent in the suspension community. The All-Grrl Suscon is an event where wimmin can feel free to be themselves and not worry about what the men think.
RACHEL:  To them it’s all about us hating men, which is strange considering that these comments come from men we know and love and who know and love us. As much as some of us hate to admit it, our society is still deeply infected with patriarchy, sexism and misogyny. What Cere fails to notice is that every day is white, heterosexual male day. My god, wimmin weren’t even able to vote until 1920, whereas Blacks had the right fifty years prior. I think that speaks miles about North America’s views on wimmin in society. Not to mention wimmin still face a substantial economic inequality. I think that although gender equality is definitely ideal, we’re still working on it, and there is still a need for wimmin to create empowering spaces for themselves. I think it’s difficult for a lot of men to understand that.

Cere suggested that we create a private event, and that’s exactly what we’ve done! I too, have never seen blatant gawking at a suspension convention, however I think one would be hard pressed to find a man who does not consider nudity in wimmin to be a highly sexually charged thing. I think it is difficult for men to look at wimmin’s bodies and not regard them in a sexual context. A breast is never just regarded as any other non-sexed part of the body such as an arm or a leg. I disagree that wimmin who are sexually attracted to other wimmin lack the same discretion. I feel that a wimmin’s only space allows grrls to reveal their bodies in a non-sexual manner.

The majority of the feedback we’ve heard from men has been positive and supportive, which is really great. Of course a few people have their knickers in a knot over the concept of a wimmin-only event and there has been a little backlash, but from what I’ve heard the feedback is primarily positive.


As Jill said, there are men who completely agree with the ideals behind the All-Grrls Suscon.

Graham Wilson (IAM:[tan])

[tan]: Without a doubt, I believe it’s important to have an All-Grrls Suscon. Men dominate the suspension and the modification community in general. Any chance for a minority in a community to get together and share ideas, knowledge and experience can only enhance equality. It may be difficult for some women to be half undressed in front of men (who may or may not care), which can add another mental hurdle that would encourage them to turn away from suspension. Suspension is difficult enough as it is and for first time suspenders feeling self-conscious it is not going to help at all.

Frankly, there are currently very few women staffers. Men throw the hooks, men hang from hooks, and men hold the knowledge. Suspension has become a male dominated experience and if you dispute this, have a look at the suspension galleries and experiences on BME. There is a lack of a female voice and knowledge.

Let’s ask women what they want. If women want to suspend with other women, brilliant, let them go ahead and do it without feeling like they are harming the suspension/modification community. The more people that feel free, comfortable and safe to suspend, the better!

George (IAM:Useless) is a member
of the NY ROP chapter.

Useless: In a way, I think it is good to have an All-Grrls Suscon. There definitely aren’t enough women in the suspension community, so this is a good opportunity for people who want to learn. I’m a bit concerned about the staff, because there are only a few female suspension artists that I trust. I understand how this event is a pro-women but to some extent I do understand how the men (boys?) can see this as an anti-men event. It’s a bit of a tricky situation, but if this can help some females learn more about suspensions, then I’m all for it.

Of all the BBQs, shows and Suscons I’ve been to, I don’t think the female suspension artists have been treated any differently. I have worked side by side with females and felt just as comfortable with working with them as I do a male. I know that people aren’t randomly chosen like a lottery to join these suspension teams; it’s a lot about trust. To the few females that will be working this event, I know they will use their skills and best judgment to make this event a memorable one. Just like the entire suspension community does for every event.

PhilipBarbosa: It’s about time this happened! The suspension community needs to have more well trained practitioners and a much stronger female presence. It’s an asset to what we do! I agree, for too long much of the community has been male dominated, but as time has gone on there has been a growing population of really amazing wimmin with drive, dedication and tough fucking skin! It’s really nice to see, and I’m proud and really just very happy that there is such a positive response to this project.

Occasionally, I tire of being involved in this community, mostly when I encounter apathy, but its events like this one that really make me think about how powerful an experience like this really is and what amazing things we can all do.

That said, I also believe that tigertante is one of the most skilled and best trained suspension practitioners I have ever had the pleasure of working with and I trust her with my life. Following through with her commitment to make an event will certainly do amazing things, not only for the suspension community but for your selves as well. We need new blood to pump into what we are all trying to establish. A stronger female presence is exactly what the community needs right now!

BME:  What if someone has a boyfriend that they really want to go with them, can he come?

RACHEL:  Nope, no exceptions.
JILL:  I think that there are tons of people out there who want their partner to be present when they suspend. Unfortunately, the All-Grrl Suscon is exactly that. All wimmin. There are many other Suscons where everyone can go, and all we’re trying to do with this one is offer something a bit different. If it doesn’t fit into what your ideal experience is, then maybe it isn’t’ the event for you. We know it’s not for everyone. But those who came last year enjoyed it.
BME:  Rachel, last year you said “I’m sick and tired of sausage-fest Suscons and would love to help create a safe, friendly space for wimmin out there who want to suspend but are possibly uncomfortable at boy-dominated events to step out and experience a pull or suspension themselves!” Do you still feel as though Suscons are “sausage-fests”?
Jill: Do you share her opinion on this?
RACHEL:  I think that comment stems from the my experience at the Dallas Suscon, but in the past several years, since working with both ROP and IHUNG crews, the environment has changed into one that’s much friendlier toward wimmin. Thanks to them, I no longer consider Suscons “sausage-fests.”
JILL:  Suscons are, or at least have been, sausage fests. It is a very male dominated community. First off, there aren’t as many wimmin out there that are interested, and wimmin tend to be a bit more timid than men when getting involved in something like suspension. The men that we know are extremely talented at what they do, but not everyone tends to be totally accepting of wimmin in “their” space. Now that there’s an All-Grrls Suscon and more wimmin attending mixed-gender events, I do see a positive change in the community.
BME:  What are you doing differently at this year’s All-Grrl Suscon in comparison to last year’s?

JILL:  We’re going to make small improvements so that more wimmin can go up and stay up longer if they want to, so we’re hopefully going to have more than two stations and more staff. We haven’t decided on a particular spot to host it, but we know it’s going to be bigger. I’m really excited about the great atmosphere it will be. Last year people only wanted to do suicide suspensions, so we’d really like to see different styles at this year’s because I think it’s good to see people try a variety of different things.
BME:  Why was that the only kind done last year?
RACHEL:  I think the fact that it was a lot of these grrls’ first time had a lot to do with the domination of the suicide suspension. The suicide position is definitely the most common style attempted. I believe most people think it’s the “easiest” method because there are a minimal number of hooks and the suspendee can’t see them, which make a lot of people feel more at ease, even though fewer hooks means more weight on each hook. It’s also a relatively comfortable vertical position so people can feel free to spin and swing around.
BME:  What were you most surprised about with last year’s event?
JILL:  How smoothly it went.
RACHEL:  I was probably most surprised with the incredible atmosphere that we created during the event. It was so amazing to be working with an all-grrl team. It ended up being a really heartwarming, positive experience.
BME:  Did you hear back from any of the girls after they left the event? What was the general feeling about the event?
JILL:  I know people can’t wait till this year’s event.
RACHEL:  I heard back from a number of grrls saying how much they enjoyed the experience and thanking us for putting it on. I think I heard from way more grrls saying how much they hated to miss it and to tell them when the next one is coming around! But in general, everyone was incredibly positive about how the event ran.


They’re right, the feedback from the women who attended was extremely positive. I spoke to a few of them about their experiences.

IAM:LilFunky1 (right) and Sandy
hard at work.

LilFunky1: I was a staff member at last year’s All-Grrls Suscon in the bleed-out area and was responsible for removing the air out of the girls that had finished their suspension or pulls, as well as photo-documenting. I was really excited to work at the Suscon because it was the first of its kind, so I jumped at the chance to become a part of history.

I found the atmosphere really calm, friendly and very relaxed. There was no rudeness, attitudes or egos and no one was showing off. The experienced people were really open with their feelings and knowledge about suspending and pulling which was important because the majority of the participants were new to it, and I was new to working at a Suscon. I was comfortable talking about my experiences suspending to anyone who was interested, which surprised me considering I had just met a lot of the people there, but was willing to share a lot that I thought I would never be able to tell anyone.

There was no specific schedule to adhere to because many of the participants had never suspended or pulled before and the staff did not want to push people to go up, but rather to let them go at their own pace. The comfort level was definitely raised because there was no one who might make an ill-timed or inappropriate comment on purpose or by accident. No one seemed self-conscious at all about their clothing choices and they generally seemed very happy at the idea of “girl power” and just being at such a special event.

Badcat: I arrived with a friend of mine, only knowing Rachel and no one else. I initially wanted to try a pull, but by the time it was my turn, I’d changed my mind and wanted to do a suspension instead. It was a very comfortable atmosphere with really friendly and positive attendees, and there wasn’t a competitive aura. I felt a lot of support and acceptance about the girls’ preferences about doing pulls compared to a suspension, and how they were to be done (number of hooks, etc). I was impressed with how safe and health-conscious everything was arranged. They had food, juice and water for people to prepare their bodies with and there was even a hammock to recoup in!

The rig was set up in a private backyard with grass below your dangling feet, the fresh perfume from the flower gardens teasing your senses, and the warm sun on your skin. I couldn’t have felt more secure with my surroundings and it was one of the most spiritual experiences I’ve had. I was dealing with a rough relationship and had been very stressed in the month leading up to the suspension. Once I did mine, I felt crystal clear and very cleansed. I’ve never experienced anything like that before with such intensity. I can’t wait to do it again at this year’s event!

IAM:Alyssa Jane doing her first back pull
with IAM:Dyzcordia.

Alyssa Jane: That day I decided to do my first pull. The atmosphere was a lot different than any other event I have ever attended. There was a general feeling of support in the air even though I had never met any of the other attendees; they made me feel as though I had known them for years and it really put my mind at ease. There were no gawky onlookers, no pressure to act tough or to perform. It’s wasn’t necessarily more “comfortable,” but I did notice a completely different atmosphere than at other events and because of it, I felt very calm. One thing that sticks out is that it was the most organized event I’ve ever seen. If I didn’t live so far away, I’d be at this year’s, for sure!


vampy: I had travelled from England and didn’t know anyone at the event, but I immediately felt welcomed. It was a very relaxed atmosphere and all the girls were walking around talking to each other. I’m not the sort of girl who tends to seek out, or feel more comfortable in the company of women. I do have female friends, but the majority of my friends tend to be male. I felt relaxed and had fun chatting to people, just as I did the next day at BMEfest where there were men around. I didn’t suspend because I need to know someone very well before I can feel comfortable enough for them to suspend me, but if I had, I think the all girls rule would have been more of a hindrance than a help. While I would have been happy suspending in front of all of the people there, I like to have my close friends around when I am suspending, and most of them are male.

In the piercing tent, the atmosphere was very different than what I was used to. Previously, I had only worked alone or alongside men while piercing for suspensions. The atmosphere was a lot more open and relaxed. In my experience, I have felt that when offering a different opinion to male piercers (something like “don’t you think she’d be more comfortable if we lower the marks half an inch?”) they instantly see this as criticism and get defensive. I felt a lot more like everyone was working together for the benefit of the suspendee, and there was much less ego involved. At one point one of the organizers came over and asked me if there was anything we did differently to them and why; I’ve never felt that my opinion was respected as much at an event with male piercers, even by those with less experience than me.

After returning home, I did a small suspension event with another female piercer and mostly girls helping out (though there were a few men around). I found exactly the same thing while working; that we seemed to get along better as a team, and there was continual communication about what had been done and what needed to be done. Having said that, I did another event shortly after where I got to work alongside a wonderful male piercer. I found exactly the same thing working with him, so it’s not exclusively women I enjoy working with, but I do think that in general women accept constructive criticism as it is meant, and pay more attention to the needs of the suspendee.


Dyzcordia: This was my first suspension event and I did a chest pull. I wanted to go because it seemed as though it would be a smaller event than a lot of the others, so I thought I’d feel more comfortable. It was in Toronto, where I live, and it came at a time when I was craving the influence of female energy. I think there is something very different about being in a group of just girls, and it’s as much about how women are different with each other when there are no men around as it is about not having to interact with men.

There was an aura of excitement, that kind of eager anticipation that can be almost tangible. I felt that it was very well organized, but not overly so either. There was no sense of disorganization, but rather a lot of room for flexibility. It didn’t seem like there was any set order that people were suspending in, each person just seemed to go when they were ready. Everything seemed to just flow well. I am planning to go to this year’s event and am pretty excited about it.

I know that there was a lot of controversy surrounding the issue of whether or not excluding men was a negative action, but I don’t feel that the point was to exclude men, but to just focus on women. I can’t imagine how my first experience could possibly have been more positive, and I don’t know if that’s primarily because it was an all female event; I just know that the event was the perfect thing for me and I came away from it totally satisfied.


Having an All-Grrl’s Suscon is a wonderful idea. Women have a strong presence when we’re together, and when you add something as empowering as suspensions and pulls, our bond is strengthened. I wish Jill and Rachel the best of luck with this year’s event, and I hope they’ll continue it in the future, and I’ll see them in August!

— Gillian Hyde (IAM:typealice)

Gillian Hyde (IAM:typealice) is a vagabond, though her roots run deep into Nova Scotian soil. She’s lived and worked on three continents since 2001, and has never lived anywhere for longer than eight months since the age of 16. She loves fonts, puns, being barefoot, and office supplies. Calm to her is the roar of the ocean.

Online presentation copyright © LLC. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published online, 2005 by LLC from La Paz, BCS, Mexico.

Brutal Beauty: One’s Quest for Altered States [Guest Column – Stepping Back]

Brutal Beauty: One's Quest for Altered States

“I assess the power of a will by how much resistance, pain, and torture it endures and knows how to turn to its advantage.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

For some people, probably most people, there is a longing to explore various levels of consciousness. There are many means to achieve different states, whether it being through meditation, drugs, dreaming (especially lucid dreaming), and some can even discover them through listening to music and dancing, which is often seen at raves. This is not a new quest; it’s something that people have been doing for millions of years, all over the globe.

Those in the body modification community, especially people who are active in suspensions or pulls are examples of those who actively seek out different levels of consciousness. For many, these activities allow them to easily achieve altered states. Such rituals allow people to learn about the relationship between the mind and the body.

IAM:Inza, a 23 year old film student, has been on a quest for altered states of consciousness since she was a young girl. In her mid-teens she started experimenting with cutting because she wanted to know more about pain and body sensations. She got her first piercing at age fifteen, and she currently has over fifty body piercings, and both of her arms, her back and her head tattooed. She also has an implant in her chest, her tongue is split, and scarification on various places on her body. She’s done several types of suspensions, including coma, chest, and suicide. Never wanting to be stagnant in her life, she says that she needs to be progressing in everything that she does, and this includes her body. Body modification allows her to change, play and be creative with her physical self — something that’s very important to her and she hopes to never give up. Inza combines different types of pain and modifications to enhance her experiences, something rarely seen in this community. After she was comfortable with normal suspension, she added facial play piercings and then body play piercings to her suspensions — something she wasn’t sure she could handle at first, but it ended up being a wonderful experience for her.

She says that the idea to conform and find comfort in being at a standstill, something that’s so inherent to human nature repels her. I talked to Inza about her lifelong quest for the unordinary, and the steps she’s taken to get to know her body and its limits.

Inza, portraits by Raphaelle Duplay


BME:  Have you always felt different from other people?
INZA:  Even as a child I asked myself, “Who am I?” I have always wanted to find my genuine self, and as a child, I knew that my family, school and society were intending to create me as a personality and it had nothing to do with who I really was and wanted to be. I felt like a stranger who didn’t belong to this reality, and I felt the same pressure with the way that I looked: people pushed their desire for me to look natural, but it never felt right — it didn’t correspond to my true personality and the way I saw myself. Instead I wanted to create a look according to my inner self and my notions of beauty. These were off-beat and freaky looks that I found amazingly beautiful since a very early age, and this fascination was so strong that it’s possibly innate. I’ve always played around with clothes and heavy makeup and different hair styles — something that I still do today!
BME:  You do have a very unique look; where does it come from?
INZA:  Thank you, but I don’t consider my look to be unique. I haven’t invented anything, and all the elements of my look are not original — it’s the way I combine them that can create the impression of originality. The sources of my aesthetic inspiration vary from 80’s punk, post-punk and new wave to different indigenous cultures.

My passion for eccentricity goes back to early childhood. Even as a small child, I was greatly unsatisfied with the ordinary reality, and though at that age I couldn’t fully realize how vile the world is, I already found it senseless and dull. At the same time, I was very much attracted to visual eccentricity. I clearly remember that when I saw unconventional looking people, I thought they were fantastic creatures who lived in a totally different, wonderful and exciting reality. I immediately knew that this was what I wanted to be. Obviously, I’m not nearly as romantic about it now as I was at the age of five, but I’ve carried that fascination throughout my life.

BME:  Along with your physical need to be different, you’ve also been interested in achieving altered states of consciousness since you were much younger. Now that you’re an adult, you can take part in suspensions and other body rituals, but how did you achieve that goal before you found these methods?
INZA:  I was interested in meditation and self-hypnosis, but what I often tried were psychedelics, like LSD. I don’t do any at the present time, but would like to try them again. It’s not that body modification replaced the need for them — for me they are a totally different experience, and one can’t substitute for the other. I have an enormous respect for psychedelic substances — they had a deep effect on my life and my personality, and I’m grateful to them for opening my eyes on so many things.
BME:  How did your fascination with body modification start?
INZA:  Like a lot of people I was highly influenced by the Modern Primitives book, which I discovered at the age of sixteen. There was really something extraordinary about the effect it had on me and I remember before reading the actual book, I read an article about it in a counter culture magazine. Even reading this article and seeing few pictures shook me to the core and I started searching for the book. When I eventually found it, it had a tremendous impact on me.
BME:  What kind of impact, and do you remember any of the pictures that influenced you the most?
INZA:  The ones that had the most effect were the images of Fakir Musafar.

I already had quite a lot of piercings and I was a cutter, but I was really confused because cutting was always viewed as something negative and associated with masochism and depression, and I knew I had a totally different reason for doing it. Reading the book confirmed my belief that what I was doing was not something negative and self-destructive, but a wish to explore the effect that pain and body sensations have on the mind.

Also, at the time I was in search of an alternative spirituality. I don’t want to say I’m a spiritual person, but I always felt the need to have it in my life. Modern Primitives made me understand that body modification and body rituals can be a spiritual thing, and I can use my own body for spiritual growth, and that’s what I’m trying to do.

Suffice to say that for several years I was totally into this book. But as I grew older and as I re-read the book over and over again, I started to disagree with a lot of things written in it and my general opinion on it changed, but I still feel grateful for the huge impact it had on my life. It really expanded my horizons.

BME:  What were some of the things that you disagreed with?
INZA:  Though it’s been a while since I’ve read it, one of the major things I disagreed with was the idealized and romanticized vision of tribal cultures that the book gives. When I first read it, I got a view on tribal cultures, but it was only when I learned more about them through reading and watching documentaries that I realized that the social structures that existed in most of them were highly oppressive and incompatible with my strong individualist beliefs.

I’m still very much into indigenous cultures, but I separate aesthetics and spirituality from social order and the way of life that existed in them.

I feel that some people who were interviewed in the book were being conservative and almost close-minded because of their fixation on tribal cultures, criticizing certain types of modifications that were not practiced in them.

And finally, I don’t like the idea of putting all people who do body modifications under one tag — “Modern Primitives” or any other, as a lot of them wouldn’t identify themselves as such.

Inza’s first suspension.

BME:  When was your first suspension?
INZA:  It was about two years ago, in 2003. I wanted to do it several years before, but I didn’t have an opportunity as suspensions were not practiced in the area I lived in. I did a suicide suspension and it was one of the most beautiful, ecstatic and ground-breaking events in my life! I remember thinking that it was not as painful as I had expected it to be. Piercing and inserting the hooks was more painful than the suspension itself.

When I was up in the air, I was totally amazed and astonished by what I felt: there was hardly any pain (or rather, I found it easy to ignore), and I had an out-of-body sensation and the feeling of floating. I always pay lots of attention to the environment where I do my body rituals, and for my first suspension, I chose the seashore and I could feel a positive energy around me. At some point during the suspension, I started to think of different problems and hardships I had in that period of my life, but these thoughts were replaced by the certitude of me being able to live through them. I was surprised by how staggering and deep the experience was: I hadn’t expected that doing a suspension could get me into such an altered state of mind. I felt very strong and full of hope. My first suspension was pure joy!

BME:  Because you were able to overcome your negative thoughts, and in a way, heal because of your suspension, would you consider it “therapy”?

INZA:  No, not at all. For me the word “therapy” implies the presence of some kind of sickness or mental problem, but the problems I thought of during that suspension were not from the inside, and had nothing to do with my mental state, but with the highly oppressive environment I lived in at the time. I was wondering if I could survive the enormous pressure from the outside world, staying true to myself and keep devotion to the things I love and believe in. The answer I had then was “yes.” The experience wasn’t therapy, but rather something that filled me with strength and reinforced my will, along with giving me one of those rare moments of ecstasy and bliss that are so precious.
BME:  You’ve now done several types of suspensions — have you been able to reach an altered state with each experience? Do you find any differences with each type of suspension?
INZA:  When I do suspensions, it’s rather a question of getting into an altered state or failing to do so. I view suspensions as a tool for this, but the experience I have once I’ve achieved them doesn’t really depend on the type of suspension. The only time I failed to achieve it was with a chest suspension: I was able to deal with the pain, but it was extremely difficult to breathe. Plus there were a lot of people around, including a TV crew, and it made me feel very uncomfortable.

By far, I found it easiest to transcend the pain in a suicide suspension. It was a bit harder during my coma suspension, but I enjoyed it a lot. What I really love about suicide suspension is the movement is less restricted and you can swing. I like to swing a lot and it strengthens the sensation of floating.

I still haven’t done all types of suspension: I still have a knee and superman to try, and I hope to be able to do them soon.

BME:  What other types of body rituals or body modifications have you done?
INZA:  I have always been interested in play piercings and my first experience with it was mouth sewing, but facial ones have always attracted me the most. I’m totally fascinated by how my face is changed because of it and when I see my play pierced face, it has a very strong impact on me. Large gauge needles alter the traits and expression of my face which produces a peculiar, almost creature-like, non-human look only facial play piercing can give. I think every person’s perception of self is strongly connected with the visual image of oneself, so for me, seeing my face transformed by play piercing is really mind-blowing.
BME:  Lip sewing is not often the first choice when someone wants to experiment, so how did you get into it?
INZA:  It happened quite spontaneously. I wanted to try play piercing, and since I’m very bad at piercing, I had been looking for a piercer who would be interested in doing it for me. I knew someone who was organizing an exhibition, and he said that a piercer who was a friend of his wanted to do a performance and that I should speak with him about doing something together. So I talked to him, he proposed that we do a mouth sewing that day! I hadn’t expected to be asked to do it so soon, but because I wanted to try play piercing really badly, and I couldn’t find any other piercers who would be willing to do it, I agreed. It was the first and the last time I did a of body ritual as a public performance. We didn’t use thread — instead we used large gauge needles going through both of my lips.

I don’t have particularly good feelings about that experience, but it remains important because it was the first time I did a play piercing, and because of it, I immediately knew it was something I wanted to continue to explore.

Large gauge facial play piercings.

BME:  How often do you practice facial play piercings?
INZA:  I don’t do facial play piercings on a regular basis, as it depends on whether I feel like I’m in the right mood and state of mind to do them. It’s physically exhausting and because I use large gauge needles I bleed quite a lot, and it takes about two weeks for the swelling to go down and bruises to heal, and about a month for marks to disappear, if they do at all. So far, I’ve done facial play piercings six times, and five of those times have been done with large gauge needles.
BME:  What gauge do you usually do use?
INZA:  Lots of people ask me but I really don’t know! I just take the biggest I see. I never care about gauges, I don’t even know the size of my ear plugs.
BME:  How do you choose the people who do your play piercings for you? Has anything ever gone wrong?
INZA:  People who have done it for me have been both professional piercers and close friends. I prefer to do it with my friends, but as facial play piercing isn’t the safest thing to do, it’s important that I choose people who have a lot of experience and knowledge about piercing. Once during a facial play piercing session, a needle struck a vein in my forehead, and after taking out the needle, we couldn’t stop the bleeding. We had to call an ambulance and get a paramedic’s help in order to get it to stop. Since then, I’ve been extremely careful about the way facial play piercing is done.
BME:  Next you combined facial play piercings with suspensions. What made you decided to do that?
INZA:  I’m the kind of person that pushes oneself further and further with most of the things I do. I viewed doing play piercing and suspension together as a new step in my exploration of body rituals and the mind/body relationship. I don’t like being stagnant, so doing both together was a way of progressing and developing.

To be honest, before doing play piercing and suspension together for the first time, I didn’t know if I would be able to handle it. So in a way, it was quite a challenge for me to explore my limits. It was a wonderful experience and I got more confident in my potential and the next time I added chest play piercing to facial play piercing and suicide suspension. With body play piercings it’s the sensation of the piercing that makes the strongest impact, and though it’s an important part of facial play piercings as well, it’s surely the visual result that is the most striking.

BME:  How does suspension alone compare with suspension combined with play piercing? Are your senses heightened even more?
INZA:  Obviously, suspension combined with play piercing is much more intense in terms of physical sensations and pain than suspension alone. It’s more difficult to transcend the pain and I need to concentrate in order to do it, so through having these experiences I have brought my knowledge of mind control over pain further, and the ability to transform and use it as a method for mind expansion to go to the next level.
Inza’s combination suspension and play piercing rituals.

BME:  What is your implant? Was there any specific reason why you wanted to get one?
INZA:  It’s a steel ring in my upper chest, made by IAM:Jussi. There wasn’t a specific reason for getting it, just that I had wanted an implant since the first time I heard about them. I thought I would love the sensation of having an object under my skin, and I was right: I enjoy the way it feels even more than the way it looks.
BME:  Where does the design of your arm tattoo come from?
INZA:  The designs on my left arm are traditional Iban designs which opens me up for criticism for having traditional tattoos, but I don’t care. Even if I don’t know their exact meaning and I don’t belong to these cultures, I felt attracted to these designs on a primal, intuitive level, and that’s enough of a reason for me to get them.

My right arm tattoo design just came into my mind at some point, quite spontaneously. Because it’s a smile design, I had no problem explaining my idea to the tattoo artist, whose name is Yann, and who does some very original and stunning blackwork.

BME:  To match your tattoo, you had Emilio Gonzales do scarification on your arm. Why did you have that done?
INZA:  The idea of that scarification came to me at about the same time as the tattoo design. I wanted a massive scar going parallel to the tattoo and emphasizing it, and I’m happy with the results. The healing process was very inconsistent, but because it covers quite a large area all around my arm, it doesn’t bother me at all. There is a kind of brutal beauty about it, which I really like.

I’m a person that needs to be progressing in things I do. The same goes for my body: I really enjoy changing, modifying and playing with it, and not doing it makes me feel like I’m stagnant. I’ve always had an urge for creativity, and body modification is one of the ways I can be creative with my Self. I can’t predict the future, but I really hope I will never loose this urge and will never stop transforming, or in a way, creating myself.

Inza’s arm tattoo and scarification project
BME:  Do you have a lot of friends or peers that partake in these experiences, or is it a solo adventure?
INZA:  I’ve never met anyone who can really share my experiences, nor have I met anyone who has encouraged me to go further with them. Some people that I’ve had deep and close relationships with have nothing to do with body modification, but have given me enormous support on a personal level. They’ve been quite accepting of my body rituals because they know it’s important to me, and they can understand my reasons for doing what I do and what I get from doing it.

In the body modification scene, most of the people I meet don’t understand nor care about the ideas and motivation that are behind the things I do, and I’ve had some disappointing experiences when body modifications artists lose interest in helping me when they find out that I’m not going to do performances. I’m not a performer, and I find it really upsetting that so many people in the scene can’t imagine things like facial play piercing done not as performances.

BME:  Have you influenced anyone or taught anyone about your methods of reaching altered states?
INZA:  I really don’t know if I have influenced anyone or not, as it’s not a goal of mine. The older I get, the more I turn inwards and the less I care about spreading my ideas and having impact on people. When I was a teenager, I was very concerned about propagating the things I believed in, but with age, I’ve learned that I should concentrate on my inner development and growth. There are too many people who want to change the world and these same people run around without working on and changing themselves first.

I perceive myself as a seeker and not a teacher because there are too many self-proclaimed “gurus” who don’t practice what they preach. I’m not even close the spiritual level I hope to be at someday for me to consider being a teacher to anybody, and honestly, it doesn’t really interest me. Plus, speaking specifically about body modification and body rituals, I think there are some things that are impossible to teach. For example, I often meet people who are very scared of pain, and it’s hard for them to understand that not everyone feels the same way as them. I don’t think they can be taught by anybody else but themselves not to have this fear. I think that the ability to explore, control and transcend intentional physical pain is something you naturally have or don’t have and it cannot be taught or discovered by somebody else — they have to learn about it themselves.

But I’m always willing to share, not teach, the things that I know in terms of body rituals and altered states if I see that people are really interested.

Though Inza isn’t interested nor driven to teach people about her road to self-discovery, there’s no question that she is an inspiration. The need to find one’s Self is something that most people will experience in their life and knowing that someone can find out more about the relationship between the mind and body through these rituals is comforting. For those who are open to suspension, pulling, or anything else that will push your body’s limits, try it, and maybe you’ll learn something. People who’ve already participated in these things — keep doing it if it works for you. For those of you who aren’t open to these things, I really recommend the alternatives; meditate, dream, dance. Do anything that will open your mind and let you take a look into your Self. It’s time to stop playing it safe, and find out who you really are.

– Gillian Hyde (IAM:typealice)

Gillian Hyde (IAM:typealice) is a vagabond, though her roots run deep into Nova Scotian soil. She’s lived and worked on three continents since 2001, and has never lived anywhere for longer than eight months since the age of 16. She loves fonts, puns, being barefoot, and office supplies. Calm to her is the roar of the ocean.

Online presentation copyright © 2005 LLC. Images of Inza’s scarification © Emilio Gonsalez. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published online May 30, 2005 by LLC from La Paz, BCS, Mexico.

Overdone v2.0: Why do people get wing tattoos? [Guest Column – Stepping Back]

Overdone v2.o:
Why Do People Get Wing Tattoos?

“There shall be wings! If the accomplishment be not for me, ’tis for some other.”

Leonardo da Vinci

In late 2004, Shannon (IAM:glider) published an article on why people get star tattoos, allowing each person to explain why they made the decision to get stars. We know that there are a lot of other popular themed tattoos — butterflies, hearts, tribal designs, skulls, kanji, flowers, and cartoon characters are all widespread designs, peppered through different cultures, religions, and locations around the globe.

I wanted to explore why people get wings (most often) on their backs. Are they the type of people who’ve always longed to fly? Do they do it for religious or spiritual reasons — designed after the wings of an angel? Do they love nature and want to have the colours and design of a butterfly? No one will disagree that wings are a popular subject for tattoos, even Nicole Richie has wings… not that she’s the final say on things that are popular… by any means.


I spoke with the one of the first people to ever get full-back angel wings — if not the first — Elayne Angel, who got them in 1986 by Bob Roberts. She is renowned as one of the pioneers of professional body piercing in the United States and she founded Rings of Desire Inc. Body Piercing, in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1993. Angel served two terms on the Board of the Association of Professional Piercers (APP) and her wings are the first and only tattoo that’s ever held a registration from the U.S. Patent and Trademark office.

Elayne Angel’s Service Marked tattoo, and one of the first full-back wing tattoos in existence.


BME:  A lot of people get tattoos inspired by other people’s work, but I don’t know of anyone getting a full-back wing tattoo before you, so where did the idea come from?
ANGEL:  Actually, from a t-shirt at a restaurant in Los Angeles! They were very abstracted wings though — with just a few lines and they were quite small. But the idea was planted and it grew from there. As soon as the concept occurred to me, I knew someday I would have angel wings even though I hadn’t ever gotten tattooed before.

In the early 80s, I had met a woman who had a beautiful full-back tattoo of a huge dragon. There were no flames, no water, no secondary design — just an enormous dragon. I hadn’t seen many heavily tattooed women, and certainly none with a large image like hers. I was captivated, and I decided I wanted a single-image, full-back piece of my own. I started to think about possible designs and when the idea came to me, I spent a year thinking about it (every day!) before I went ahead with it.

BME:  What do your wings symbolize, and how did you decide on a style?
ANGEL:  I’ve always had flying dreams, which are the always the most fantastic dreams, and the wings tie into that. Also, it was about providing myself with a positive guiding influence. Wearing angel wings is an external manifestation of my desire to be a “good” person and it helped to develop my priorities, ethics, and behavior accordingly as I’ve matured. My wings are also a little bit dark and thorny, too, so they represent both sides of my nature.

What I asked Bob for was, “full size, detailed neo-classical black-work angel wings that cover my whole back.” I wanted them to conform to my body and enhance my curvy, feminine shape. I think Bob really came through for me with both requests.

BME:  How long before you had them did you decide to service mark them?
ANGEL:  I’d had them over ten years by then, and it took about six years and numerous attempts to get the Registration approved. It was my attorney’s idea: he thought it would be a good idea on a business level because he felt that my wings were recognizable enough (in relation to me as a professional piercer) that protection was warranted, and I went along with it. At the time, he wasn’t sure it could be done because no human feature of any sort (including a tattoo) had ever been registered before. So it is a truly historical precedent and a positive step for body art to be recognizable as worthy of registration and legal protection like other forms of art.
BME:  So, legally people are technically “allowed” to get wings like yours (but of course, you’d prefer them not to), but your wings cannot be used in any promotions without your permission — is that correct?

ANGEL:  Specifically, the legal protection afforded by the Registration is that my wings (or any wings that resemble them or could be mistaken for mine) may not be used to promote a piercing business or studio other than Rings of Desire.
BME:  What do you think of people who copy your tattoo?
ANGEL:  I know imitation is supposed to be a form of flattery, but it honestly feels very strange to see my tattoo that I designed, on someone else. I know that other people have gotten their own original wings, too, which is totally cool, but I have tell you, I never thought that the wings tattoo thing would catch on the way it did. I’m pretty shocked really. Especially at the number of people who have brought my photo (of my personal, custom artwork) in to other studios to have “exact replicas” (or as close as the artist could get given their abilities or lack thereof). I never imagined anyone would do that, no less lots of someone’s…. I feel bad they’ve missed out on having a custom artwork of their own.

Original ideas and custom artwork are great, and there are lots of different winged creatures out there from which to derive inspiration. I guess as more people have more different styles of tattooed wings it will be harder to created original wings for your self. As long as someone is coming up with their own vision and it’s different from mine, I’m all for it.


So why get wings? Are people worried about any uniqueness being lost because of the popularity of wings? I spoke to several different people who allowed me to explore their tattoos with the hopes of teaching others that each person and tattoo is still unique, regardless of their popularity.

Kathryn is a 21 year old welder from Melbourne, Australia. She plays the cello and has been getting modified for the past four years.

I’ve always had a fascination with the human obsession with flying, which seems to have been going on for as long as we’ve kept any kind of written records. Da Vinci designed flying machines, we invent fairies for our children’s bedtime stories, the majority of our gods are considered to live in sky, and Greek myths and legends talk about Icarus and Hermes. Flying is considered the paramount and unobtainable freedom.

I designed my wings myself, and have always described them as “vaguely tribalish fairy-wings.” I think they’re unique, so it doesn’t bother me that other people have the same theme for a tattoo. I chose this specific design because I didn’t want anything particularly complicated that would make me spend hours in the chair, and I wanted a simple design so that when I’m older it doesn’t look awful.

I haven’t gotten any negative feedback from people on my wings, probably because those people who think they’re passé have had the good sense to keep their thoughts to themselves.

Désirée Fawn Kretschmar (IAM:givmewings) is a 19 year old from Peterborough, Ontario where she attends Trent University in their Cultural Studies program. She has a deathly fear of anything medical, like needles, doctors and nurses, and once she punched a nurse who was trying to take blood. That fear, however, does not enter into the body modification spectrum and she is comfortable with piercing and tattoo needles.

I got my wings on August 1st 2004: the end of the summer, my last year of high school and in the next month my life was going to change. I’d be starting university, all my friends were going their separate ways and I was having a really hard time coping. My summer job was stressing me out to the point of tears every morning and night and I was going through relationship problems too. I decided I needed to quit being such a baby about all these problems, face the changes, and change myself. Earlier that year I’d gotten my labret done, and thought about getting another mod of some sort. However, piercings didn’t seem fulfilling enough, so I began thinking about tattoos. At the time, I thought I was going to cure pain with pain, and wings seemed the most appropriate symbol. I thought if someone gave me wings I could fly away and everything would be fine. Call it corny, call it cliché, call it whatever, but I call it freedom, expression. and it’s what I love.

A year or so before, I’d seen lots of pictures and read articles on BME about people with wing tattoos and I’d always found them gorgeous and fascinating. On the evening before my appointment, I sat up the entire night drawing out designs. I knew I didn’t want my tattoo to be picked off a wall, or out of a book, I wanted it to be completely my own creation. I finally came up with a simple design that I fell in love with.

After getting my tattoo, I was happy with the way they’d turned out, but a few months later I realized that they were done terribly, and I was really upset. They were uneven, the red shading was much brighter than I’d anticipated. I knew I needed to have them redone, so a little while later, I went with a friend who was getting a tattooed by a woman named Tammy. I was so impressed with her work that I got her to check out my back to see if she could salvage them. She ended up working on them, and now I have wings that I am truly proud of.

I had such a feeling of euphoria after having them worked on both times. They really helped me get through my year. I feel like my wings are a huge part of who I am right now. To me they are beautiful no matter what other people may think about them. They are also the most feminine thing about me apart from my anatomy. I’m a bit of a tomboy, my friends are 99% male, and I’ve always been considered “one of the guys.” For me, they let me express my femininity without being outwardly “girly’ which I loathe.

Some people have commented that they’re common and trendy, but c’mon guys! What mod is there that doesn’t go through some kind of “trendy’ stage? Everything is popular at one time or another, and I don’t think I was following any fads by getting my wings.

Mike Johnson is a 45 year old self-described Aries/Rat who lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. By day he does layout and design work for a local newspaper, picking up freelance work when he can, from business cards to CD designs for local bands. By night he’s a drummer who plays in alternative, hard rock, punk, or gothic groups, depending on where his head is at the time.

As an artist, the idea of using the body as a personal “canvas” had appealed to me for a while before getting my tattoo. It seemed that the problem I had was actually coming up with an image that I’d watn to keep for the rest of my life. Two things came together that make me decide I wanted a wing tattoo: I tend to be a “guardian angel” to the people around me, as I’m a very loyal friend — always there for people to talk to and rely on, and I saw an advertisement which featured a great photograph of tattooed wings (of the feathered variety). With that, I finally had the basis for a design. Plus, wings look better than a wearing a superhero cape! I worked with my tattoo artist, and we came up with the idea of “flaming wings.” I went with this idea because, to me, it signifies the image of a fallen angel (after all, I’m not a perfect angel, by any means). Even though wings are popular, I took a different approach than most, and we also went with bold as opposed to detailed to give the art more impact.

Nicole is a preschool teacher from Orlando, Florida who’s been modified for the past five years. She says that road rage is her worst habit, and she strongly dislikes it when people watch her being tattooed.

Originally, I thought wings were just a representation of something beautiful, but the longer I waited to get them done, the more they ended up meaning to me. I waited two years to get them, going from artist to artist, looking for someone who I could trust to do such a large piece. After the passing of both of my grandmothers, the tattoo turned into a tribute piece. It gave me peace of mind knowing they’d always have my back. As for the style I chose, I wanted something light and flowy. Harsh lines were out of the question from the beginning. My wings are similar to those of an angel — as style I liked because angels are delicate.

Knowing people are getting wings more and more, I can get frustrated. I think I hold my tattoo on such a high pedestal that seeing them get popular almost demeans their worth.

Jenn (IAM:osiri) is a 23 year old from Surrey, British Columbia. She works in a customer relations job, and is pagan.

In October of 2003, I had a full spinal surgery to correct a 67 degree curve in my back. Before the surgery I had been told that there was only a 24% chance I would ever walk again, so when I woke up in the recovery room, the first thing I did was ask the doctor how I’d done. He looked down at me and said, “Well, let’s put it this way — you certainly earned your wings.

Strangely enough, even though my doctor’s words had stuck with me, I’d never seriously considered getting wings tattooed on myself. It was only when I was sketching aimlessly one day and came up with a design that I decided that I wanted to have as a tattoo. My drawing style is chiefly influenced by anime and manga designs, but the main reason why I chose my design was because I wanted something simplistic and almost childlike. My tattoo has a cartoon feel, which, to me at least, makes it fun and youthful. That was also the reason I chose to have it done in a teal-blue color rather than something darker — it was my way of making them a little more uplifting (pardon the pun).

I’ve always had a fascination with things with wings, and to me, having a pair was a way to sort of “fly away” from all the hardships and headaches caused by four years of abuse at the hands of an inept medical system. I’m pretty sure my doctor never thought he would plant the idea in my head, much less think it would stick while I was in a morphine induced vegetable-like state, but somehow it did — and as a result, I have the wings that I feel I rightfully earned.

Marisa Terres is from Lompoc, California and is a 21 year old student. She’s interested in contortionism and wants to be able to sit on her own head someday.

I got my wings as a symbol of a new stage of life, where before I felt like I was a caterpillar hidden and held back. My parents had gotten divorced and I got to live with my father, which was something I was very happy about. My mother had always made all my decisions for me, and treated me like and inferior, but my father was opposite: he always has allowed me figure things out for myself. I ultimately went from a person who did everything that everyone else told me to do, to a person that thinks for herself and has self worth. It felt like I was set free and I could do anything I wanted to, even fly. When I had this opportunity to change and set my real self free, it was as though I had become a butterfly and changed into a more beautiful person.

I designed the tattoo myself, and wanted to keep the colour scheme as realistic as possible, so I looked for four months before deciding on butterfly wings. I had initially wanted a full, but small, butterfly, but the more I thought about it, I decided I wanted a set of wings for myself.

Pops (IAM:y2k_Pops) is a 22 year old man from London, England. He has given up a possible career in media production because he wants to get into piercing and tattooing. He says that because of his bands, body modifications and character, he’s drawn a following in his area.

I had wanted a tattoo which would cover most of my back and I went through a few ideas, making sure that what I chose would be meaningful. One of the ideas was the Colossi of Rameses, because I really like ancient Egyptian history and it would have looked really good, but in the end, the idea of wings won out.

I suppose on some level wings could signify the presence of escapism in someone’s psyche, but in my case I see wings as a symbol of beauty and the beast. Wingscarry a certain amount of poetic beauty, but there is also raw power and something otherworldly about a physical appendage that can defy gravity. To me, it’s a combination of a gentle (angelic) beauty and unnatural (demonic) physical power which defies natural law.

The shape and form of my wings a traditional style: they look like the wings of a large bird or angel. They’re not completed yet, but when they are finished, they will have tribal style tattoos on each feather and smoky shading around them, to compliment the vampire mouth I have on the top of my spine. All of my tattoos follow a kind of demonic or vampirism style. I have a few designs that I did for my legs that are a bit different from demons and vampires, but they are all a bit “dark” and somewhat gothic. It’s not that I am a massive vampire fan, but I do like the ethos of so called “demonic” beliefs like sex, sensuality, darkness of character and so forth.

Most of the responses from people upon seeing my tattoo have been about the pain I must have endured while getting it. I haven’t actually had a negative comment yet. As for the popularity of the theme, I don’t really care about it. I hadn’t even thought about other people’s wing tattoos until I booked the appointment with my tattoo artist. After that, I went through the BME and a few tattoo magazines to find other wing tattoos and it was at that point that I truly realized how popular wings are.

I just hope these wings will carry the memory of me becoming a piercer and tattooist: spreading my metaphorical wings and committing my life to a career I have always wanted.

Emily (IAM:XxdoodlexX) is from DeKalb, Illinois where she works at a Podiatry center as a doctor’s assistant and secretary. She gets her modifications because she likes to be noticed.

Although I’m not a very religious person, I’ve always wanted a spiritual tattoo. After looking around BME for tattoo ideas, I went to my tattoo artist and we worked together on the idea of wings. I was dismayed at first, because all of the drawings I had showed unrealistic looking wings, and I knew I didn’t want a butterfly or fairy design. When he came up with an angel wing concept, I was really excited because they were so different than anything I’d seen before. I have never seen another pair of wings that look like mine, and that’s what I wanted. My tattoo symbolizes my belief that there is always an angel with me, and in some ways, I am even an angel.

When people see my tattoo, they say the expected stuff like, “What are you going to do when you are older?” “Why would you want something like that permanently on your body?” I tell them that if thought I’d end up being ashamed of them I wouldn’t have gotten them in the first place. I have no regrets, and they have significant meaning to me.

On the other hand, sometimes the popularity of wing tattoos bothers me. I think some people are just getting them just because they think it looks cool. Angel wings are very spiritual and symbolic, and should have a meaning or purpose behind them.

Sandra O’Conner (IAM:Sandron) is a 19 year old who comes from Irish and Malaysian roots. She’s been all over the world because her father works for a large oil company. She has lived in The Netherlands, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippians, and she’s currently studying in Sydney, Australia.

The initial reason for getting this specific tattoo was the result of being expelled from boarding school in Singapore. I’d gotten in trouble at school many times, and when they did a drug test on me, the results proved positive for MDMA. I was then told that it’d be best if I left the school, so I packed up all of my stuff, and the next day I was on a plane to the Philippines where my family was living.

I worked really hard at school in the Philippines, graduated high school with an IB degree, and was then accepted into a university in Australia. The wings stem from my life as a traveler — I hope someday I’ll be able to make a permanent home somewhere, and the wings are there as a memo that I’m looking for the place I’ll be able to call home. They’re also reminiscent of the places I’ve lived, the countless cultures that have influenced me (being in international schools my whole life, I’ve been exposed to a myriad of cultures and nationalities), and at the same time they represent my urge to continue travelling.

My wings are designed with Celtic knots in them, so as to match one of my previous tattoos. Being half Irish and never having lived there, it was one of those desperate attempts to grasp onto whatever culture I thought I was entitled to. I don’t mind that my tattoo is a popular theme, because they’re versatile to so many different emotions and inclinations — each set of wings on each person is going to mean something different to each person wearing them.

Each one of these people has a different motivation for getting their wings, so if you see them, or anyone bearing this type of tattoo, don’t automatically regard them as trendy; they chose that design because it’s a symbol for an important belief or event in their lives, and wings are a beautiful way to express these things. If you don’t like their tattoo, look past the it and into the reason behind getting it. If you’re considering getting your own set of wings, I ask one thing of you: make your design unique. No one likes to spend time, energy and money working on a one-of-a-kind tattoo for it to be ultimately copied and lose that quality. Imitation is not a form of flattery when it comes to tattoos — it’s an insult.

– Gillian Hyde (IAM:typealice)

Gillian Hyde (IAM:typealice) is a vagabond, though her roots run deep into Nova Scotian soil. She’s lived and worked on three continents since 2001, and has never lived anywhere for longer than eight months since the age of 16. She loves fonts, puns, being barefoot, and office supplies. Calm to her is the roar of the ocean.

Online presentation copyright © 2005 LLC. Photo of Elyane Angel by Buck Angel. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published online May 27th, 2005 by LLC from La Paz, BCS, Mexico.

Quilt of Life [Guest Column – Stepping Back]

Quilt of Life

“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

Albert Einstein
Modifications allow some people to reclaim their bodies. Tired of letting other people take advantage of them, whether through sexual or physical abuse, the victims can take charge and alter and use their bodies in a way that they decide. Such is the case for Amy S. (IAM:piercednpainted) who, after years of hardships, is finally seeing who she really is — with help from her piercings and tattoos.

Amy grew up in the small town of Bloomington, Illinois. Her abuse started at age eleven, in 1971, and continued until she was twenty-five. In 1972, she was kidnapped and raped for 24 hours by someone she didn’t know. After escaping, she ran away to the Los Angeles area and was kidnapped again and held hostage for four months by a BDSM group. At about age thirteen, her mother put her in a mental ward because she was disobedient, and she was, again, molested — this time by other patients. For fourteen years, there were uncountable rapes and abusive situations carried out by family members, friends and strangers. She was married to an alcoholic at age sixteen, and was a mother before her eighteenth birthday. The abuse is something that’s extremely difficult for Amy to talk about, but is something that has shaped her into the person she is today.

At first glance, you may not think that Amy is heavily modified. She works in an office where she wears collared shirts and long skirts. She removes her septum and labret piercing every day before going to work out of respect for her employers. She’s forty-four years old, now happily married, and is a mother of two and a grandmother of one. She lives a simple life with her husband, cats, and dogs.

Her skin tells a different story though. Under her clothing lays design after design, brightly coloured in different styles, every tattoo telling a unique story or life lesson, each having a different meaning. She’s named it her “Quilt of Life,” and she’s been modifying her body for more than 25 years, and with each piece, she says she feels more like “herself.”

BME:  Let’s start at the beginning… when you were nine years old, you got your first piercings: standard lobes. This was in 1969, long before piercing studios existed, so how was it done?
AMY:  Well, I remember being totally fascinated with women who wore hoops in their ears. I asked my mother if I could get my ears pierced, and in an attempt to deter me, she told me that the only way I would be allowed was if I cut my beloved long, blonde hair. The thing she didn’t know was how much I wanted those earrings, and so I reluctantly agreed to the compromise.

After the traumatic haircut, we went to the doctor’s office (because that was the only option back then — there weren’t even piercing guns). I was very nervous as he asked me to lie down on the exam table and he placed a small cork behind my ear, then he took the eighteen gauge needle and he shoved it through my lobe. He then slipped in the gold stud that my mother had brought, as a small flow of tears slipped down my face as I braved myself for the next ear. Again the doctor put a cork behind the second ear and shoved the needle through. When I finally sat up and saw my new earrings, I knew the haircut and the pain was worth it. Even now, many years later, I think about that sacrifice whenever I get pierced.

BME:  You waited until you were of age to get your first tattoo though…
AMY:  Well, I can remember wanting tattoos and piercings ever since I was a tiny girl when I saw them in National Geographic. I lived in a very small town, and there weren’t very many tattoo artists in the area. Everybody knew everybody, and if they knew you were under twenty-one, they wouldn’t tattoo you — so as soon as I turned twenty-one, I got a little rose done on my wrist. After that, I just kind of held back on anything more because I just didn’t know where my life was going to take me. It turned out that for the next fifteen years or so, my life was about being a mother.
BME:  You got another tattoo when you were twenty-five, but it wasn’t until you were twenty-eight that you decided that little tattoos weren’t right for you anymore. After the divorce from your first husband, you got your biggest piece and one of the first official pieces of your Quilt of Life.
AMY:  Yes, when we divorced I decided that I wanted a body suit and I would start it with the “old school” style of two dragons fighting on my back. This symbolized the fight between good and evil. It was the total essence of my life living with an alcoholic. I topped off the top of my back piece with a bit of filigree tribal with two dragonflies. This was to signify that in the end, even though most my life was happy, it can disappear and change within hours, since the life span of most dragonflies is about 24 hours.

I have several tattoos signifying my current marriage. There’s a dragonfly on my thigh which represents my life with my husband and the freedom to be me, of being light and air, love and security, beauty and acceptance.

BME:  What exactly is your “Quilt of Life”?
AMY:  My Quilt of Life is the story of my life or maybe just the story of women in general. When something major happens, I mark it by getting tattooed. It makes me feel better physically and emotionally. I honestly think it releases something, like a hormone I’m missing that makes me feel better. Typically I get tattooed every three months if I can afford it. If I can’t, I am prone to bouts of depression and crying. All of my tattoos have some spiritual meaning and they show the stepping stones of my life. My goal is a body suit including facial ink. On my face, I want a lot of lines, rainbows and dots, mostly on my forehead, chin, and the sides of my eyes. Of course I won’t be able to do that until I retire. I’m a working woman, so unfortunately my arms and face will have to wait. It gives me something to look forward to, because I could be in a rush and get it all done quickly, but I want to be able to document my entire life.
BME:  There have been several main events in your life that you’ve documented on your body with your tattoos. Your first large piece was the one symbolizing the divorce from your alcoholic husband. Next there was…
AMY:  …the pelvic belt of Celtic knots, runic circle, yin yang, eye of Odin and a dragon head. This was a symbol of my study of different religions and the reclaiming of my spirit and soul. Most of that tattoo is very Norse oriented. For my whole life I have felt like an outsider. When I was very young I had Christianity forced on me, but when I was about ten-years-old my uncles came back from visiting India, and they taught me all about Maher Baba. He is a spin-off of Hindu/Buddhism, which was ultimately the religion that influenced me throughout my life.

BME:  Next you got tattooed on your feet, to symbolize an illness you suffer from. Can you explain those tattoos?
AMY:  Back in 1995, I started having extreme pain in my feet and legs. I was diagnosed with Sensory Neuropathy, which means the nerves in my extremities are dying. I decided to have tattoos at the tops of both my feet, one with an evil skull with flames and the other foot has a dragon skull. These tattoos symbolize all the pain and suffering in my life due to neuropathy.

BME:  You met Guy Atchison and fell in love with his work because you think it’s bright, lifelike and three-dimensional. You try to get a piece done by him every year. Which tattoos of yours did he do?
AMY:  Well, we started with a small tattoo because it’s often hard for me to come up with a lot of cash for a big piece. I had him do a seahorse and a comical fish from a Dr. Seuss book on my hips to fill in a couple spaces in between my pelvic belt pieces.

After I graduated with my AA (Associate in Arts — Liberal Science) degree, which I’d been working on for ten years, I wanted something very special, so I got Guy to do some bright “new school” tattoos on my shoulders and arms: one side is a lotus blossom with an eyeball in the center, and the other side is an abstract tentacle blossom with another eyeball in the middle. To me, this symbolizes that no matter what, someone is always watching over me keeping me safe.

Once I got Guy to do my chest piece, which included another eyeball, the meaning behind the eyeballs transformed slightly. Now I see them representing the past, present and future and how they all watch over me. The way I look at it, during all the abuse, things could have been worse: I could have been murdered as well. Something or someone is always watching over me and helping me live.

BME:  There’s one tattoo that I especially like, and its meaning brings us into other parts of your body modification experiences. You have a tattoo on your thigh of a woman in bondage. Can you explain her?

AMY:  My bondage lady is being held by a gray work dragon, which symbolizes how women are held in bondage by their hormones and their youth. When I was younger, I felt bonded to my youth and beauty: I was cute and thin, perky and sexy, and guys liked me. Then, getting older, just like other women, your hormones deplete, you wrinkle, you gain weight, your metabolism slows down, your skin texture changes, your sex drive goes down, and you become menopausal, it can be sad to see all of those changes.
BME:  But you went through menopause at a very early age — when you were thirty-two, that’s very young to go through menopause.
AMY:  My uterus was in a precancerous stage and I had to get a hysterectomy when I was thirty-five. I went though everything, hot flashes, bitchiness, and weird periods. Since they did the hysterectomy, I haven’t felt like I’m a woman.
BME:  You got your outer labia pierced, partially for sexual reasons, but also because you’ve heard that many girls get labia piercings to take back control of their bodies after abuse.
AMY:  I always wondered why they felt this way, and now I know. It came as somewhat of a surprise, but after having it done I realized it also made me change the way I viewed my menopause and I actually started feeling like a woman again. I knew that I had some issues I had to work through, but didn’t truly realize it until I got these piercings.

BME:  You were pierced by Leon (IAM:Abyss Piercer), with a six-gauge needle, and you bled a lot, there was even a walnut-sized blood clot morning after the piercing. For a lot of people, that would be a bad experience, but for you, it was opposite — the blood ended up having a wonderful effect on you.
AMY:  I’m telling you, I honestly thought, “Am I going to die?” because of the amount of blood. The feeling of the blood was so amazing because it reminded me of my period. I hadn’t had a period in almost ten years due to my hysterectomy, and it made me feel like a woman again, even though I was bleeding from my outer labia and not my uterus. Maybe it’s because a male did my hysterectomy, I don’t know, but it was like I took back control of my body. I felt that the bleeding was cleansing me of all the negativity in my life. It brought a peace within me that I had never attained before from the abuse. So yes, now I know what the girls mean when they say this piercing has helped them take back control of their bodies.

And they feel good too. After the operation, and for ten years, I had no sexual drive. That is until I got the piercings. Almost immediately, I noticed that I was thinking about sex and that I had the warm feeling “down there” that most women get when they are sexually excited. I really feel that the healing process awakened my sexual drive again. Although it was short-lived, the sensation was so amazing that it made me consider getting more genital modifications. After four years of researching it and thinking about it, I decided to split my hood.

BME:  And you did it yourself! What made you decide to split your hood?
AMY:  I heard about it, of course, on BME, and I talked to a lot of girls who have done it. I did it because the girls said that you get more sensitive, and that it was easier to orgasm. I’ve never had sensitivity; I’ve never been one to orgasm at all, with anyone, ever. I think I’m shaped funny, that the skin of my hood is twirled all around my clitoris, and there just isn’t enough exposure.
BME:  Can you explain the splitting process?
AMY:  I got a vertical hood piercing five years ago, and I had it for about six months, but it wouldn’t heal, so I took it out. I had been reading about other girls’ experiences, and they said it was easier if you had the vertical hood piercing, so about two months ago, I tried to put the barbell back in the hole, and it worked! It slid right in!
BME:  Even after five years? It slid in the same hole?
AMY:  Yep! There was a little tingle on the exit, where the clitoris is, but that was it. It was 14 gauge jewelry, and then I stretched to 10 about two weeks later. I got my supplies, EMLA cream [a numbing agent] from BMEshop, surgical scissors, non-stick gauze, rubber gloves, everything.

I put the EMLA on, spread it around the jewelry and put it in the hole so that both sides were covered. I was a bit nervous and wondered if I was going to be able to go through with it. I had decided that a scalpel wasn’t right for me, because from reading other experiences, the girls had to cut four or five times to get through the skin, and I wasn’t up for that. The quickest, smartest way for me was with a pair of surgical scissors.

After ten minutes, I wiped off the EMLA cream, because you can’t leave it on mucus membranes for any longer than that. So I took it and I snipped, and I thought, “is this even going through?” and I looked and it was bleeding, and I’m like, “oh shit” and so I snipped a little bit further, and that’s when I could feel the pinch, and I said “okay, you have do it, you’re halfway there.” Another snip, and I was done.

(Click thumbnails to zoom in)
Tools, Before, and with EMLA
After doing the split
The first day of healing
Five days later
After doing the second split
BME:  And that was it?
AMY:  And that was it.
BME:  Did you have problems with bleeding this time?
AMY:  I did bleed, but not much. I put the non-stick gauze between the two sides of the split hood to try to stop the bleeding. I probably bled for ten hours, but it wasn’t heavy. The next day, it was almost healed. It was just a bit scabbed, but it didn’t bother me at all.
BME:  You’ve said that the cut isn’t deep enough yet, and a couple of weeks after your first splitting session, you did another one. Is it deep enough yet?
AMY:  No, not yet. I’m going to cut it as close as I can go. I tried to use the scissors again and they worked okay, but it’s not a smooth cut; it’s a bit jagged, and they didn’t cut as deep as I had wanted. I’m going to need a scalpel to get through the scar tissue left from my vertical hood piercing. I have a lot more hood than average woman, but I know I need some protection down there, so that’s why I’m going to leave the split skin instead of slicing it all off.
BME:  Was splitting your hood primarily for sexual purposes?
AMY:  Not entirely. This modification also made me feel like I had control of my body. It was spiritual and cleansing and so because of that I’m looking forward to splitting it again.

On the other hand, after doing the split I definitely have more feeling down there, so I’m happy with the outcome for that reason too.

BME:  Do you think that modifications have made you a stronger person? Have they made it easier to accept your, I suppose, new body (after the hysterectomy)?
AMY:  Yeah, that’s very true. My modifications make me feel beautiful, like a woman again, they make me feel like me. I’ve always felt like I was not me when I was growing up. I never fit in a crowd, I never fit in a clique, and I just went from group to group. I never found myself until I started modifying my body. So now I’m evolving into me. Though I don’t get modified because of the things that have happened in my past, they do help me overcome the negativity from bad experiences and allow me to feel that I have control of my body, physically and psychologically.

Tattoos and piercings obviously give different people different things, whether it’s simply for aesthetic reasons, fitting in or standing out, and in this case, healing. I can’t think of a better reason to get modified.

Amy is an extremely strong woman who gains her strength from a pretty unconventional method. It’s a tried and true way for Amy to deal with her negative emotions; it’s a way for her to never forget the events that have shaped her into who she is today. Her past is now etched into her body with colourful symbols, and what’s most important about it is that she feels like herself. She’s the one who’s in complete control of her body and her life — and she’s doing something to her physical self that no one can ever take away from her.

“I look at myself and I still see bare spots. I don’t feel heavily modified, I just feel like I’m me.”

– Gillian Hyde (IAM:typealice)

Gillian Hyde (IAM:typealice) is a vagabond, though her roots run deep into Nova Scotian soil. She’s lived and worked on three continents since 2001, and has never lived anywhere for longer than eight months since the age of sixteen. She loves fonts, puns, being barefoot, and office supplies. Calm to her is the roar of the ocean.

Online presentation copyright © 2005 LLC. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published online May 13, 2005 by LLC from La Paz, BCS, Mexico.

Kivaka: Bedside Manner like a Nun [Guest Column – Stepping Back]

“Bedside Manner like a Nun

“Passion is in all great searches and is necessary to all creative endeavors.”

W. Eugene Smith

You can tell when someone loves their job. You can feel their passion and their excitement, and because of that, you know that they’re going to do the best job that they can. Loving your job makes you want to perfect your tasks, you care about every detail, and you want to learn everything you can about it. IAM:Kivaka loves what he does, and it shows. I’ve read a lot of experiences on BME, and I have to say that there are very few piercers that compare with Kivaka on the amount of positive feedback contained within those experiences. People literally rave about him. Now, I’m not saying that other piercers aren’t as qualified to pierce, or don’t love it as much as Kivaka does, all I’m saying is that his passion for piercing is evident to anyone that comes into contact with him. Just look at these testimonials:

“Kivaka did a perfect job setting up for the procedure. He methodically set out of the tools he would need (similar to when I set up for surgical procedures on animals at work). He also frequently changed his gloves (possibly more than most piercers do) which scored even more points with me. Kivaka was an exceptional artist. Not only did he know a large amount of information about the scientific portion of body piecing, he was very professional. I do not feel that I can properly express in words how impressed I am with his work. Also, he did everything possible to make everything as clean and as sterile as possible. I could also tell he was genuinely concerned wit his client’s safety.

“He was also a very good natured person. He was the kind of person that is rare to encounter these days. When we were ready to start he explained the procedure to me through each step (another quality I really liked). The gentle technique he used when he put the clamps on and when he inserted the needle was AMAZING. The way he pierced my septum was done so precisely and gently it was reminiscent of a surgeon working on a patient. It was like nothing I had ever encountered before while getting a piercing. The procedure was not nearly as painful as I had envisioned — in fact it was rather enjoyable — and I think this has to do with having a skilled artist.” — Bothrops [1]

“This guy is super cool, he’s really calm, knows his stuff, and makes the entire experience comfortable.” — Franke

“If anyone is undecided where they want to get pierced from, Kivaka is the guy to do it. I think he is the best. He knows his stuff and he will not bullshit you either.” — Kevin

“Kivaka impressed me while I was sitting waiting for my friend. He was talking to potential customers who walked into the shop. He really knows about body piercing and is very confidant in himself and his skills. I’ve been to other piercers before and Kivaka is by far the nicest and best piercer out there.” — James

“I refuse to go to anyone but Kivaka, and when my girlfriend decides to get her piercings, nose or whatever I convince her to do, she’s not going anywhere else either.” — Anonymous


David Klaus Pavin Jr. is known as Kivaka (pronounced key-vee-ka) to everyone except his mother and a few close friends. He’s been exposed to tattooing since he was a young boy and got his first tattoo at age ten by a friend of his, in what he describes as a “jailhouse method” with soot and pushpins. He’s been piercing for nearly fifteen years and is extremely passionate about it.

In 2004, he was ranked the third highest person on BME for photo submissions, and while he’s unsure of how many he does in comparison to other piercers, he does a lot of genital piercings.

Kivaka and his friend and business partner Tim (IAM:inkdrtim) are opening a new tattoo and piercing studio in Joliet, Illinois. Tim met Kivaka while he was tattooing at Lake Geneva Tattoo, in Wisconsin. When he decided to open a shop of his own, he asked Kivaka to join him in his endeavor, knowing that he’s a hard worker and that he has “a bedside manner like a nun.” Building it nearly from the ground up, Advanced Studios will have their grand opening on June 1, 2005. The shop will offer quality tattoos and piercings with fair and honest prices, a great atmosphere and love. Kivaka fully admits to putting his heart into his work and says that the difference between a good piercer and a bad piercer depends on two things: “First, The piercer should love what they do and not do it to be cool, and second, they care about the person and not the money.”

Tim and Kivaka painting their new shop: Advanced Studios

I had the privilege of interviewing Kivaka on the phone for nearly an hour, where we talked about his career, the steps he’s taken to make piercings safe for people in the state of Wisconsin, and the ups and downs of being a piercer.


BME:  When did your professional piercing career start?
KIVAKA:  When I was fifteen or sixteen I lived in California and I would hang out in the tattoo shop around where my dad used to live. I told the tattoo artist, a really nice guy named Sam, that I wanted to learn how to do piercings. He’d let me work after school, cleaning his shop and learning how to pierce. When the school year ended, I moved back to Wisconsin to live with my mom and started piercing around the Kenosha area.
BME:  Age sixteen? That’s pretty young.
KIVAKA:  I wouldn’t say I was professional back then, really. I was just some kid piercing, taught by some guy. It takes a while to become a professional. There’s a lot of piercings that are extreme that I’ve never done, but now I think I have a professional attitude and a good bedside manner.
BME:  You’ve done a lot in your career so far, like your guest spots around the country?
KIVAKA:  I used to own a tattoo shop in Illinois with my buddy, but we had to sell it. I’d always wanted to travel around and visit different tattoo shops and learn how to do different piercings. I have done guest spots at Tattoo Jans and Inspired by Ink out of Columbus, Ohio; Carnel Graphix in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Heart of America Tattoo Co. & Body Piercing in Burlington, Iowa, and in several other places around the country.
BME:  You’ve also helped with piercing laws for the state of Wisconsin, creating the questions for the exams so piercers can be certified?
KIVAKA:  About three years ago, I was working at Lake Geneva Tattoo, and a friend of mine was on the State committee and he asked if I wanted to join it with him. I’d never done anything like that, and thought it would be a great experience. We went to meetings and wrote exam questions so that when you want to be a piercer, you’ll have to pass a test in order to be licensed. A lot of states don’t regulate piercings, like in Illinois. The city of Chicago is regulated, but the state’s not.

It’s really sad and I shouldn’t be saying it, but I don’t really care: a lot of people pierce as a hobby, and some people just do it for the money. Then again, even if they’re really, really bad, they’re still learning and they’re trying, so I’m not going to knock them.

Laws are good because it means that piercers will learn what kind of tools to use, and what an autoclave is and other important things. It’s unreal what some piercers don’t know. There are a lot of states that do have regulations and lot of them are tough, too.

When I was on the state committee, I was dating this girl who had two kids, and I thought it would be a good idea to help make it safer for them when they get older and want piercings or tattoos. I wanted to make sure that if I ever have kids, piercing is going to be safe for them: these laws will ensure that if they don’t want me to pierce them, they can go to someone else who’s qualified and knows what they’re doing.

This piercing was featured in the publication Midwest Tattoo News.

BME:  You’ve done a lot of genital piercings on girls. Is there something in the water around where you live? Or…
KIVAKA:  I hope it’s not the water, I’ll bottle that up and put “Kivaka” on it.
BME:  Why do you think you do so many genital piercings in comparison to other piercers? You were talking to another piercer and you asked him how many genital piercings he did a year, and he said he did ten. You usually do around 300 a year, that’s a big difference.
KIVAKA:  Yeah, well, I guess some piercers don’t do that many, I don’t know. I’m nice, I guess, girls like me apparently.
BME:  But is that enough reason for so many girls to get genital piercings from you?

KIVAKA:  I think it’s the photos in my portfolio and my reputation. If someone comes in, I’m not going to be a dick to them. They’re sometimes dicks to me though, and I don’t understand why, I mean, I’m going to take a needle and put it through your flesh, and you’re going to be mean to me? I just smile and take it. I understand that they’re scared — I’d be scared too if I was going to have something shoved though my genital area.
BME:  Do you sell the idea to them? Do they come in for a nose piercing and leave with a hood piercing?
KIVAKA:  No, not at all. They usually come in for me. I don’t like to sell piercings. I’ll turn down piercings if I don’t want to do them. I don’t know why I do it — a lot of other piercers tell me I’m a fool. Some people will come in with a certain tongue and I don’t feel comfortable doing it so I won’t do it — point blank — I will not do it. I’m not going to try to convince them to get another piercing, I just tell them to take their time and think about getting something else.
BME:  Do you do more hood piercings than any other piercings?
KIVAKA:  I do a lot of piercings in general. I never really counted all the genital piercings compared to the other ones. I know I’ve done a ton of genital piercings though.
BME:  It seems like you’ve done a lot of them, you post a lot of pictures on your page.
KIVAKA:  When I do them I usually post the pictures because I think a lot of people like to look at the photos I take, not just the piercings ones, but the other ones.
A couple of hood piercings by Kivaka.

BME:  You’re a very talented photographer.
KIVAKA:  I’d love to take photos for a living, but then I’d have to stop piercing, so that’d be a bummer. I don’t want to stop piercing. I love piercing to death.
BME:  Why?
KIVAKA:  The first time I got pierced, I was about 16, and I got my nipple done by this guy who was apprenticing under a man named Joe, who ran the shop and had been piercing for a long time.

I got my nipple done, and wow do you want to talk about pure pain. He couldn’t get the needle in, even after three tries. Bam, took it out, bam, took it out, bam, took it out. I was sitting there with a Budweiser can in my hand, and was like, “what the fuck are you doing?!” I had gotten tattoos before, but this hurt! Joe came in and he ended up doing it for me instead. It was painful, but it made me want to do piercings and make it a good experience for somebody.

If you come in to my shop and get pierced, I don’t want you to have a bad experience because that’s a memory. I mean, you don’t want to mess with someone’s memories. That’s all you really got in the long run: if you’re a vegetable and you can’t talk or anything, all you’ve got are your memories, so I don’t want to mess with that.

I’d pierce for free, but then I couldn’t afford to eat. I’d love to spend my life going fishing, taking photos and piercing people for free — that’s what I’d do if I could, but I can’t. I’ve got to pay my rent, my internet bills…

BME:  Do you see piercing as a lifelong career?
KIVAKA:  I think I’ll probably pierce for a long, long time. I grew up around tattoo artists, I’m going to pretty much die around a tattoo shop. Once I get all old and my hands are brittle, and I can’t hold a cork or needle or jewelry, I’ll get a pond or an island and just fish.
BME:  Well, with anybody with as much passion with you, I’d hope that you’d continue for a long time.
KIVAKA:  Yeah, I’ve been doing it for a long time, off and on. I took a tattoo apprentice when I was 18 or so, but I was like, “screw that.” I like piercing, it’s fun. It can be hell sometimes, and there are things that can suck about it, but that’s life.
BME:  Every job has its downsides.
KIVAKA:  What a lot of people don’t know is how many weird downsides there are —
BME:  Weird downsides?
KIVAKA:  Say you get some little kid who wants to learn how to be a piercer when they’re still in high school, and they’re thinking that they’re going to be able to do it wherever they want to. They don’t realize that there aren’t many tattoo artists or piercers — you can’t get a job wherever you want — that’s why I think it’s odd when people come in and tell me they’re going to be a piercer. I let them know that they should really think about it, and they sometimes think I’m trying to talk them out of it. I just want to make sure they really know what they want to do. It’s not for everybody.
Various piercings by Kivaka.

BME:  You seem to have gotten a lot of strange things as tips. Easter candy, pierced stuffed animals, cookies, pot brownies…
KIVAKA:  I think it’s adorable and sometimes it’s a little weird. I get some strange stuff. I recently got a mask from the Ivory Coast and it’s really cool. I’ve gotten numerous other masks, money, gift certificates, and even a car — a little beater, like a $400 car. If people want to give me tip, that’s fine, but I don’t really look for them. Have a good time, tell your friends about me, and take care of your piercing.

I’ve also had some weird offers for sex. I don’t really like to get sex like that. I’m not like that. I get really offended if I’m at work and someone tries to grab my nuts and says, “Hey, after this, let’s go.”

BME:  Maybe it’s their adrenaline or something like that, that gets the better of them and messes with their judgment.
KIVAKA:  I don’t know what it is, it’s just odd.
BME:  Am I missing something? Where else could it happen and people get away with it? Maybe it happens in other professions, I don’t know —
KIVAKA:  I don’t know either. Once I was doing this one girl’s belly button, and all of a sudden, she reaches over and grabs my nuts. It’s just not cool, you just don’t do that. That’s sexual harassment. I’m a private person, I’m really quite shy — people just shouldn’t do that to me. It’s not like I’m a stripper or something, though I feel like it sometimes. The girls are cool though, they’re just having fun, I think.
BME:  It’s strange to have that reaction on people.
KIVAKA:  I can’t decide who’s worse — the girls or the guys… some of the guys are ruthless, just brutal. Some of the girls are like, “hey” and they may grab me, but some of the guys just say, “Hey, do you want to fuck?” and I’m like, “Dude! What are you talking about? No, I’m not going to do that.”

I think it’s flattering to an extent. Once, a friend of mine wanted his nipples done, but then decided on a PA instead. Before I pierced him, he said, “Hey I need to ask you a question before you poke me, are you straight or gay, because I want to take you out to dinner.” And he knew I was dating a girl at the time. I like females, they’re soft and cuddly and warm, and they have woo-woos.

I really think it’d be cool to get married. That’d be a cool tip: as long as I say that I want to get married, instead of them telling me that they’re going to marry me.

Kivaka’s tattoo: a physical commitment to his job.

With passion as evident as Kivaka’s, he’ll be sure to have a long, happy career. I wish he and Tim the best of luck with the opening of their new shop.

In addition to his pictures on BME, see more of Kivaka’s work at

— Gillian Hyde (IAM:typealice)

Gillian Hyde (IAM:typealice) is a vagabond, though her roots run deep into Nova Scotian soil. She’s lived and worked on three continents since 2001, and has never lived anywhere for longer than eight months since the age of 16. She loves fonts, puns, being barefoot, and office supplies. Calm to her is the roar of the ocean.

Online presentation copyright © 2005 LLC. All photographs © Kivaka. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published online May 9th, 2005 by LLC from La Paz, BCS, Mexico.