SMUT: A Look Inside [Guest Column – Stepping Back]

“If I'm going to sing like someone else, then I don't need to sing at all.”
Billie Holiday

Do you have a necrophilia, fire, asphyxiation, bathroom or medical fetish? Do corsets turn you on? Feet? BDSM? How about menstruation? Uniforms? Clowns? Allow me to introduce, a place where you can find all of these things and much more. It’s the place for fetishes that no one wants to admit they have. started in late 2003, and has been growing ever since. Bella (IAM:BgirlyPrincapessa), owner of had been watching the “alternative porn” industry grow and was excited to see tattooed and pierced women being more involved with pornography, but she felt there wasn’t enough self-expression happening. Tired of seeing girls with lip rings getting naked in their dorm rooms and other porn clichés, she was interested in seeing the darker side of girls’ sexualities.

After much deliberation, she took the plunge into entrepreneurship and was born. It probably won’t come as a surprise, but Bella had a lot of problems launching her site. Primarily, she couldn’t find a billing company that would do business with her because of the content, which meant she couldn’t sell memberships. With help from BME’s own Rachel Larratt (IAM:Rachel), Bella was able to find a cooperative billing company and now the people of BellaVendetta are ready to show themselves to the world. Celebrating with a launch party on October 26, in Brooklyn, NY, and everyone’s invited!

One must wonder if the billing company problem is going to be the last of Bella’s problems. Bush’s War on Porn certainly poses a threat to the future of sites like Bella’s. Bush has enlisted the FBI’s help to try to stop pornographers— regular, run-of-the-mill pornographers— the ones who make porn for adults, featuring consenting adults. It’s all over the media, and it’s something to think about and in this case, rebel against.

Bella Vendetta offers a safe place for people to explore their kinkier side, and within its pages you’ll find some of the most controversial porn on the market. Let’s all welcome to the industry and wish them the best for the future; and especially with winning the fight against her own government’s goal to close websites like hers.

Bella Vendetta (IAM:BgirlyPrincapessa), portrait by Gina Wilk

BME:  What’s your background, Bella?
BELLA:  I’m twenty-four years old and I grew up all over the northeast of America. I didn’t graduate high school because I felt I was getting a better education by reading a lot and doing various apprenticeships with people I wanted to learn from. I eventually got my GED and went back to the high school I dropped out of and taught a creative writing and a film making course. For the past few years, I’ve done a lot of different things: I’ve travelled around the United States, ran an organic farm and restaurant, attended college, and done costume work for the Berkshire Opera Company and Shakespeare and Company. I own a fashion design company called MyOwnBrain Productions, and am an active member of the Rites of Passage suspension group.
BME:  How did (BV) start?
BELLA:  With the alternative porn boom a few years ago, I began submitting photos of myself to various sites but I didn’t get very good feedback: my sets were too extreme, they didn’t want me using real blood or they thought I looked too much like a skinhead. There were a few who accepted my photos, but I didn’t like the way they did business. I had always had the idea to start my own erotica site, but because it seemed like so much work I didn’t know if I should bother.

I had a boyfriend who didn’t want me to model, so I didn’t for a very long time. He and I eventually broke up, and around that same time I was watching my mother die of cancer. She died very young with many things unfinished and so many things she had wanted to do. I thought fuck it, the time is now, I need to just get on with this. My mother always pushed me to go for what I wanted, even if she didn’t agree with it.

BME:  Why didn’t your boyfriend like you posing nude? He ended up having a large part in BV, didn’t he?
BELLA:  He couldn’t understand how I could be comfortable flaunting my sexuality. One day I found out that he had lied and cheated on me. I wanted him to pay for what he had done, for making me feel cheap, for destroying my trust and for every injustice any female has ever suffered. As I yelled at him, I found myself hitting him over and over again. I imagined my fists going thru his skull and into the wall behind him. It was not a pretty scene; a pissed off little Italian girl in boots and braces who has a bit too much rum in her system. He was spitting up blood, blood was sprayed all over the kitchen walls, blood was all over my hands, and you know what? It was hot.

He told me I looked sexy covered in his blood, I agreed and hit him a few more times until he turned his head and I connected with the side of his skull. I felt my hand break and I got even more pissed off, so started kicking him. I didn’t stop until someone jumped in and stopped the fight. When we were done it looked like a murder scene.

I kept the blood-stained white tank top I had been wearing as a trophy. I wanted to write something on it, and one night it hit me: “BELLA VENDETTA”

It’s Italian for Beautiful Revenge.

Bella Vendetta became a good response to a lot of things after that. I wanted revenge for everything— for our society, our country, our culture. I wanted revenge from every magazine or website that’s rejected my pictures because they were too racy. I wanted revenge and I wanted it to be beautiful.

Medical fetish?
BME:  Do you regret hurting him?
BELLA:  No, not at all: he got what was coming to him. I wouldn’t tell everyone to go out and beat someone up who fucked them over, but I have always been a fan of vigilante justice. It was probably not the most adult way to handle things, but when love and passion are involved there’s not much room for ration. When I broke my hand, I had to quit my day job which pushed me to create BV so it really helped me in a lot of ways.
BME:  What did he say after it was all over?
BELLA:  He cried and ran away. But we’re friends now and he’s actually going to model for BV!
BME:  Who are the BV staff?
BELLA:  The original cast of characters for the Revenge Krew (both photographers and models) were all close friends of mine, who thought it was a great idea and were more than willing to help. I don’t often approach people that I don’t personally know to work for the site; most of the people on there who aren’t close friends of mine have approached me and wanted to shoot for the site. Every once in a while I’ll come across a really stunning model or photographer and I’ll ask them to participate, but I haven’t had very good luck with that.







Just a few of BV’s models.

BME:  Why do you think they aren’t interested in working with BV?
BELLA:  Generally when someone you don’t know writes you and says, “you’re pretty, you should model for my website but I can’t pay you” the response isn’t very good. Not that I would approach any model in those words anyway, but I understand and respect anyone feelings if they don’t want to model. The only time I get frustrated is when I approach a model and they say no without even going to the site, seeing what it’s about or hearing what I have to say. Some people hear the words “adult oriented” and immediately think they’re going to be exploited or taken advantage of.
BME:  No one on your site is paid?

BELLA:  No, nobody is paid! That’s part of the beauty of it. Everyone involved is doing it purely for the love of quality erotica. The only people who have been paid are web designers and programmers. Don’t get me wrong, I think people should be paid for their time and talent, so as soon as some money starts coming in from this project I definitely want to compensate people. But it’s been such a beautiful experience seeing people make art/porn/erotica because they really want to.

If I was able to pay models I think it’d make more people want to pose, but I don’t want anybody whose sole reason for posing is to make money. Anyone whose first question is “how much are you paying” is someone that probably won’t fit well into the site. My main concern with money right now is making back what I put into getting the site up. Once that happens I hope to make a little bit of profit, but I’m not trying to get rich off taking advantage of anybody.

BME:  You also have erotica writers, including yourself?
BELLA:  I do a lot of writing for the site. All the news updates are by me unless otherwise noted, all the descriptions of photosets are be written by me and I do a lot of the erotica writing. Writing is something I don’t even think about anymore, it’s just a part of me. The ability to create mental images and convey emotions with words has always fascinated me. It’s just something I need to do at this point. But what I love even more than writing is reading work, and doing performance poetry and slam competitions and things like that.
BME:  You’ve got a lot of writing experience, actually. You participate in a few other publications, can you tell me about those?
BELLA:  Day Xanadu is my personal zine that I’ve been doing for ten years. It’s about my life in general— sometimes there’s political stuff in it, sometimes reviews of others writing, poetry, rants, angry feminist musings and just about everything in between. I usually have one or two contributing artists and/or writers in each issue. It’s the one medium I have where there are no defining lines. It’s an incredibly personal publication. You’ll find things in there about me that I probably won’t even discuss in person, but it’s developed a pretty loyal per-zine following and I’ve grown completely comfortable saying anything and everything in there. I’ve been published in other zines around the world and my writing has also been featured in three spoken word cassettes, read by other people. Raped by a Poet, Best poems of 2001 and on the air of an Italian radio station.
BME:  How many models, writers and photographers do you have?
BELLA:  It’s constantly changing, but currently there are about twenty-eight models and forty photographers. I have a lot more waiting for paperwork and other legal nonsense to go through and a lot more models/photographers on my “dream” list that I’ll ask once the site is up and running.
BME:  How do people apply to be involved in the site? What kinds of things do you look for?
BELLA:  There are sections on the site where you can fill out an application to be a member of the Krew. You don’t need to have a professional portfolio, and you don’t have to be published anywhere else, but you do need to have a sample to share with us and let us know what you’re capable of doing. There’s no real formula for what we’re looking for because we have really diverse people involved. Some of the writers write for major publications, some have never published a story in their life. Some models are well established and some are trying this for the first time. The only thing that’s a must is creativity.

Laura (IAM:.onyx) is one of BV’s main writers.

“His arms pulled me into him, as I nuzzled the side of my face into his chest. His hands motioned down my back and over my ass, squeezing it softly. He slowly moved his hands over to my hips and began sliding them onto my inner thighs. Kissing my neck softly as the warm water fell down his scalp through his hair and onto my back. I turned around facing the corner of the shower reaching my hands up as far as I could reach, with my back arched and my bottom angled up I leaned into the wall…”

I’d never written erotica before BV. The closest thing I’d come to writing erotica was when I was thirteen and I’d write short stories about boys that I had crushes on— what I’d want to happen and what had happened. I’m not sure if that counts as erotica though. I know one of my English professors would be very surprised to hear that I was writing professionally— she had wanted me to go to an E.S.L. (English as a Secondary Language) office to get some help with my errors!

When I heard about BV, I wanted to help in any way I could. They needed writers, so I tried it out. Since I started writing I’ve had friends of mine suggest I write for gay and lesbian magazines or to start a book of my own consisting of my short stories. I write as often as I can. Every time I get an idea I start typing feverishly. I never have storyboards for my writing— it just comes out naturally. Thank god I’m a fast typer! So far I’ve donated eighteen stories, and the feedback is great.

I write the way I like to read erotica. For example, when I read romance novels I always search for the sex scenes and only read them. I like fewer introductions and buildup and instead just getting right into the good stuff. I expose what I’ve experienced, dreamt of and longed for. In the future, I’d like to do a little bit of modeling. My dream photo shoot involved lip sewing, but for now, I’ll leave everything racy to the written word.

Juicy (IAM:PiercedPuff) is a twenty-two year old from New Jersey and is one of BV’s star models.

When I was eighteen, I started taking pictures for fun to send into BME. They were mostly of play piercing sessions or BDSM play because that’s what I wanted to see on BME or in BME/Hard galleries. My style of modeling is somewhat paradoxical. I get anxious when I have to call to order pizza or talk to strangers, but I have naked pictures on the internet! One shoot I’ll feel like stepping on someone’s throat and spitting on them, and the next I’ll want to wear my Eeyore toe socks and cuddle with teddy bears. Modeling gives me a lot of self-confidence and has allowed me to come to terms with the things I don’t like about myself. I can now walk around without makeup on or wake up in the morning with my hair silhouetted around my face like a helmet and still feel beautiful.

I met Bella at a suspension convention and asked her if she’d like to take my picture. I’d modeled before; I’m on a few sites like and, and am even in a ModCon book. After meeting her, I modeled for her production company and she became one of my few close friends and a personal inspiration. She embodies so much that I want to be: I love that she makes me stand up for myself and she’s taught me that it’s okay to tell people who hurt me to fuck off.

You can currently see galleries featuring me in a carpentry porn set, catheter blood bath set, an emo love set with Bella, rooftop liquid latex, getting beaten on a boat by Bella and bowling alley porn with Bella. In the future, I want to do a set where my boyfriend kidnaps me with his van filled with Eeyores and candy, a daddy’s little girl scarification set, tons of play piercing shoots, and I’d love to take dirty pictures at my movie theater after hours, and a Star Wars porn set with light sabers.

I love posing for BV because I’m not conventional. “Alternative” photographers are sometimes not even into the stuff I am. Most people aren’t into real blood play and they’re not often into taking pictures of me when I’m really scared and crying. Bella is, and that’s one of the reasons why I love her. I’m only interested in modeling now when I can have fun with it. I don’t want to pretend to get tied up and have the cheesy look of surprise on my face for some porn site, I don’t want to get half naked and sit on some bed pretending to cry. I’m a creep and I want to take creepy pictures. I want to put my hair in pigtails and have Bella tie me up until my mascara is genuinely running down my cheeks and blinding my eyes, until my muscles are actually cramping because I can’t move and I am squirming, I want to be able to beg her to stop and honestly be scared when she laughs at me. Bella would never ask me to pretend to look scared, she’d make it happen. And that is why I love Bella Vendetta.

BME:  Can you give me a beginner’s guide to BV? What kinds of things can you find within its pages?
BELLA:  There’s about forty different kinks, and we’re still growing! Some of them are:

80s Trash: Roller-skates and prom dresses, leg warmers and cheap plastic jewelry.
Bathrooms: Public restrooms, bubble baths and shower scenes.
BDSM: Bondage, discipline, domination, submission, sadism and masochism.
Blood Sex: Play piercing, vampirism, and cutting. Currently all the blood play is real blood. Any sets involving special effects makeup or fake blood is in other categories.
Boots and Braces: Steel toes, suspenders, face smashing, shaved heads, white laces and bleached jeans.
Clowns: rubber chickens, face paint, clown shoes striped socks and big red noses.
Deprivation and Asphyxiation: Choking, strangulation, sensory deprivation of any kind, blindfolding and auto erotic asphyxiation.
Food: Food smearing licking, worshipping, insertion and cooking.
Foot Worship: Forced foot worship, foot portraits, cute toes, shoes, pedicures and foot bondage.
Genderfucking: Crossdressing, role playing, strap-ons, sissy boys in tutus and butchy women in suits.
Graveyards: Cemeteries, fucking gravestones and making imaginary love to the dead.
Menstrual art: This section is aimed to revolutionize menstruation. It’s revenge for any commercial girls have seen telling them their period is dirty and for any man who wouldn’t make love to them while they were on the rag.
Necro: Zombie porn, the undead, crime scene victims, sex where one partner plays dead and murder sets.
Pinups: Glamour shots, rockabilly kings and queens, classic beauty and cheesecake glam. Vintage girdles and nylons with backseams, fingerwaved hair and open toed pumps.
Smoking: Cigar, cigarette, blunt, joint, pipe, bong and gravity bong smoking.
Uniforms: Nazis, nurses, flight attendants, postal workers, military personnel, police officers, cheerleaders, waitresses and catholic school girl uniforms.
Water Sports: Golden showers, urination and women who can pee standing up.

(L to R) Age play, BDSM, smoking and menstruation kinks.
BME:  That’s a lot of different subjects. How did you come up with all of them?

BELLA:  I came up with about eighty-five percent of them, and they all turn me on and it’s the kind of smut I want to see. The rest have been ideas models have had or that fans have written in with. The main idea of the site is to show what gets the models off. No one is does anything they don’t want to do.
BME:  How do you avoid fake situations— how do you make sure that the girls kissing girls are actually attracted to each other, and that the blood play is real etc?

BELLA:  I believe that a key factor in anything being fake is money. Because there’s no money involved people are only doing things they actually want to do. There is some fake blood on the site, but we make sure to keep it separated from the real blood play. The girls kissing each other are actually into each other— they’re friends or lovers and they’ve planned to do a shoot on their own accord for no other reason than they think it will be hot. Nobody is paying anybody else to act like they’re interested.
BME:  What has been some of the feedback on the site?

BELLA:  People love it! Girls write and thank us for making a site they can look at and not feel bad about, and men write and say thank you for making the kind of site they’ve been dreaming about. Photographers and models tell us that they really like what we’re doing and often tell us that they’d love to be a part of it.
BME:  You have some very risky subjects though— you must get some negative comments.

BELLA:  Of course. Most of the hate mail I get is about the age play, necro fetish and substance abuse sections. There was also a message board that had a pretty heated discussion about how nasty the menstrual art section was. I just tell people that I’m sorry they have a problem with the content, but if they want some more vanilla pornography they should try (which I also model for) because it’s my favorite alternative porn site.
BME:  You seem to have tapped into an unseen market. Who do you see as your competitors? BME/Hard? Suicide Girls?
BELLA:  I don’t think that BME or Suicide Girls are competition actually. Both sites are doing completely different things than BV is. I can’t find any other site where there’s such an extensive collection of fetishes and hopefully this will help us succeed. One of the things I really love about the adult industry is that there is no competition because there’s room for everyone in the industry.
Bella, portrait by Gina Wilk.
BME:  You were very public with the problems you were having getting the site up and running. You were even considering taking down BV. What changed your mind, or what convinced you to keep going with the site?
  I was feeling very burnt out about the whole thing. I was working ten hours a day, every day, on the site and it felt like it was never going to be launched. I couldn’t find anyone to do the billing, models were flaking out left and right, I had an intern who was making my life more difficult instead of easier, I was chasing after people for paperwork and photos they had promised and the relationship I was in was completely falling apart because of out different stances on pornography and sexuality in general. It just didn’t feel worth it anymore. I started the site as a personal journey for myself, and in the process it felt really good to help other people explore themselves and feel accepted too. But at the time, it just felt like nobody really appreciated all the work that was going into everything. So I sent an email out to everyone in involved with the site and asked them if BV had done anything positive for them, and if so, what was it, and did they want to continue with the site and why. The response I got was overwhelming. Every single person wrote back with long explanations of how much they have learned through this whole process, how much they love the site and the community surrounding it. More than a few of the emails brought me to tears. I realized that just because people don’t always openly express their support and gratitude doesn’t mean it’s not there. Everyone had very long and complex explanations as to why they were involved in the site in the first place. The shortest response I got was from one of my models in France, and she said in her broken English, “I so sorry you have problems. Please do not give up, for me, Bella Vendetta is freedom!”

After all was said and done I felt like I really just needed to finish what I started. I’m not the type of person that gives up, I was just having a moment of weakness. But I think it was important for me to step back and reevaluate why I was doing this and figure out the direction I wanted the project to take. It always seems like just when you want to give up everything falls into place and a fresh opportunity presents itself.

BME:  Who came through for you at the end?
BELLA:  Everyone involved with the site came through in a big way, just being honest and sharing their experiences with me. On a personal level, the web designer, Mitcz, really came through for me, reminding me how important this was to me and all the work that had gone into it. Surprisingly enough, my sister and my aunt both thought I should keep the site and not give up, and it felt good to have some support from family members. Shannon and Rachel Larratt (IAM:glider) and (IAM:Rachel) also helped me a lot. I am forever indebted to them because of that. One of my new models really came through and helped me work really long days resizing photos and picking up where my flaky intern had left off.
BME:  Speaking of your web designer, for the launch of the site you did a complete overhaul on the site. It looks great.
BELLA:  The site design was completely redone by Reverend Mitcz (IAM:mitcz).A lot has changed since the original design. I went through a lot of people trying to get the right feel for the site and I had a really hard time finding a professional designer that understood what I was going for, and Mitcz has really done my vision justice. He’s been wonderful to work with on many levels. He’s a good friend, knows the porn business, marketing and design inside and out (he’s also the chief designer of and he’s got a seriously twisted mind. Our site isn’t quite ready to sell memberships yet because we’re having a hard time finding a billing provider that’s okay with our content. We’re working on it every single day, so as soon as we find one, we’ll be open for business.
BME:  You’re having a release party- who’s invited, who’s coming, what’s happening?
BELLA:  We’re having one hell of a celebration! Everyone is invited!!! Lots of the models and photographers will be there and some of the Krew members are coming all the way from Los Angeles to attend. Lots of the models are performing that evening; there will be a burlesque show, a rope bondage demonstration, a fire performance, a play piercing performance, a strip show, live band, a flesh hook pull raffles, giveaways, and merchandise for sale. It promises to be a fun filled action packed evening. It’s in Brooklyn, NY and I’d love to cram as many people as possible into this space to witness the insanity that I’m sure will ensue.
BME:  Back to the site. What do you think will be the most popular section?

BELLA:  Honestly, I have no idea. I think a lot of people come for the blood play because there aren’t many places you can find it. I hope that someone will come looking for a particular section and then discover they like looking at something they never considered sexy before.
BME:  What’s the best thing about running BV?

BELLA:  It’s fun! It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me honestly. My favorite thing is getting letters from fans, models and photographers thanking me for making a site that lets them be who they want to be, or for making a site filled with the kind of smut people actually want to see.
BELLA:  With the United States government cracking down on porn sites, in their War on Porn, BV is in danger. Are you worried about this? How much does this effect your decision to launch BV and how will you avoid being prosecuted for owning/operating BV?
BME:  Yes, I believe my site is in a lot of danger. Sites are getting shut down left, right and centre. All this legal nonsense recently definitely made me wonder if right now is a bad time to launch the site, but I think right now is actually the perfect time. This is what the world needs: people who aren’t ashamed and who aren’t afraid to push limits.

I don’t think I can fully avoid being prosecuted. I have to be prepared for at least some legal repercussions, and luckily all of my legal paperwork is in perfect order. Maybe what this industry needs right now is someone willing to stand up for what they believe in. Who is the US government to tell us what we are allowed to find sexy and what is “obscene.” I find it obscene and offensive that so many other “alternative” porn sites are altering the shoots they have up for fear of legal problems. I want to accurately represent this subculture, not hide behind a lot of pretty pictures, not tell my models that it’s wrong of them to have age play fantasies, etc. This is a community of consenting adults making art to share with the world, and I’ll stand by that 100%.

BME:  With that, what’s in the future for BV?

BELLA:  World domination. Straight up.
I want to change the way the adult industry is run. I want to make a safe place for people to show off their smutty side. And I also want to do a line of video and a lot of live performances. I can’t get into it too much because the details are surprises that I’m not ready to let out of the bag, but I see the live performances as a three ring circus but with nudity and the videos will be quality with actual story lines and amazing performances by our talented Krew.
BME:  What specific changes do you hope to see in the adult industry?

BELLA:  I’d like to see more realism and seeing women running things more often. It’s such a male dominated industry, which is funny to me, because it thrives on women. It’s all about what men want to see women doing, so I’d really like for people to become interested in what turns these women on. I think the majority of the adult industry is a lot of men telling women what to do because they think that’s what other men want to see. But I know plenty of men who don’t like blonde girls with cum on their faces. If that’s what turns you on, that’s great, do your thing, but that’s not what turns me on, and I know there’s a market for “intellectual” pornography, if you will. There’s a fine line between erotica/art/porn as it is already, so I’d like to see that blurred even more. I’d like to make people question themselves, “Wow, does this really turn me on?” There’s no thought process behind most porn: it’s penis and vagina and it’s meant to get you off as quickly as possible. What’s really refreshing to me about this whole alternative porn movement is that it’s actually making people think. BV is all about doing things differently. I’d like to kick things up a few notches.
Although enters into some of the “faux pas” subjects of pornography, it’s always done in a safe and responsible way. All of the models posing are of legal age, and most importantly— they’re doing it because they want to. No one is waving dollar bills in their faces and bribing them to do things that they don’t feel comfortable with. It may push people’s sexual limits, but does it in a harmless way. I wish Bella and her Krew luck and success with avoiding crack downs by the US Government and FBI, and hope they have a long and prosperous future in the real alternative porn industry.

— 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. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published online October 11th, 2005 by LLC from La Paz, BCS, Mexico.

Adiós! Gillian Hyde’s Last BME Article: Your Questions Answered [Guest Column – Stepping Back]

“I took the road less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.

—Robert Frost

Before working for BME I couldn’t bear to look at knee suspension pictures. Two weeks after working for BME, I was announcing to the world that I had bitten off my boyfriend’s ring finger at the same time he had bit off mine as an act of love. To say that my life has changed would be an understatement.

Sometime in November of 2004, BME advertised that they were going to be hiring their first official employee— a journalist who would be in charge of writing articles for BME/News and I immediately sent in my application. In early December Shannon sent me, along with seven other applicants, a message saying we’d made it to the second round. I was ecstatic.

The next step of the process was to write an article to prove that we could handle the responsibilities the job would entail. To be completely honest, I had no idea what I was doing. I’d never written an article before, never conducted an interview— I felt completely out of my element, but after a bit of encouragement and patience from Shannon and Rachel, my first article was published. Mothers with Mods, my interview with IAM:Orinda, and I got very good reviews in the comment forum accompanying the article, and on the poll on the main BME site asking the question, “Which of the writers do you think could do a good job as BME staffers?” I was winning with forty-six percent of the 2000 votes— twenty percent higher than the closest person behind me.

And then there were three. Jordan (IAM:snackninja) and Matt (IAM:volatile) were the other finalists, and up until that point, our identities were anonymous. It was nice to be exposed and take credit for our work. A few days later it was announced that Jordan (author of the Keith Alexander article) and I were both chosen to become interns.

In early March I sold my Vespa moped, broke my lease, left my boyfriend, friends and small mountain town in British Columbia and moved to Mexico.

It would turn out to be one of the most life-altering things I’ve ever done.

I’ve been lucky to talk to hundreds of new people because of my internship with BME and I decided that for my final article I’d let them ask me anything they want to know. I’ve been asking questions for six months, I think it’s time that I answered some.

Gillian Hyde

DREAM WEAVER Do you feel you were the best candidate for this internship given the other talented applicants and do you feel you’ve grown as a writer/journalist during this internship?
GILLIAN:  I think most of the candidates were talented and they could have done just a good of job as I, if not better, but yes, I believe I was one of the two best candidates. I felt a woman’s voice was lacking on BME, and I think I was able to fix that, if even for a little while. While Shannon enjoys exploring and exposing the really interesting “freaky” stuff, I think I contrasted that a little— I gave an educated “outsiders view” while still being involved in the industry and community.
SAVAGERABBIT Do you feel you gave the internship all you could? What would you have done differently?
GILLIAN:  If I could have done things differently, I would have changed my path about seven years ago when I graduated high school. A degree in English or Journalism probably would have helped me succeed at this job. I’m sure that attending some BME events or gotten more modifications, witnessed a suspension, seen a split tongue in person (none of which I’d done previous to getting the job) — generally gotten more involved with the community as a whole would have helped. I came into this position with my eyes wide open, but in some ways I felt more out of touch with the body modification scene than ever. I’d never heard of some of the most popular IAM members, I didn’t know what events were coming up and any BMEfest or Bar-B-Q stories were totally lost on me. I probably had Shannon and Rachel worried that they’d hired the wrong person when they noticed that I wasn’t following the conversation when it came to BME and IAM gossip or news. At the same time, I came into this position unbiased towards people and eager to learn without having preconceived notions about anything or anyone.
GOAT What did you not enjoy about working for BME?
GILLIAN:  The pressure was the hardest thing to deal with. I work with some very talented writers, and I came into this job never having interviewed someone before and never writing more than essays in university six years previous. gets millions and millions of hits a day, so there was always a lot of internal pressure to write about interesting things in an interesting way. I wanted to impress people and for the first couple of months I felt like I had no idea what I was doing, which was extremely frustrating. Now that my internship is over, I feel like I could easily continue— I’m pretty comfortable writing now, and for that reason, it’s a little sad that it’s coming to an end.
IMMORTAL BELOVED How did you choose the topics for your articles?
GILLIAN:  At the beginning of our internship, Shannon gave Jordan and I a list of about a hundred people that he was interested in featuring in an article. We scavenged that list and checked off the people that we wanted to do interviews with. If I found someone or something myself that I thought was article-worthy (the Taking it to the Next Level, Marked For Life: Tattoos Behind Bars, Quilt of Life, No Boys Allowed — Introducing the All Grrls Suscon and the All Grrls Suscon 2005 Video Report articles were my ideas), I would approach Shannon with the idea and he’d either approve or deny it.
ATHENA How did you go about research, building, editing and reworking a piece?
GILLIAN:  I was always working on at least three articles at a time. I loved researching. I’d usually start by talking to Shannon about the person or idea, and he’d suggest different things to ask and tell me a brief background of the person or topic. Once I had a bit of direction, I’d read as much as I could about it; if they had an IAM page, I’d read every diary entry and create questions around the information Shannon had given me and what they’ve told the online public. With the exception of Quilt of Life and Kivaka: Bedside Manner Like a Nun, as they were both phone interviews, I’d email an initial set of questions to get a feel for what direction the article would go in. I’d usually have an idea about how the article was going to go before writing the first set of questions, but generally I’d wait until I got back their answers to focus on one area. The email interview process would normally be composed of three different sets of questions and answers and depending on people’s schedules, they’d often take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to get back to me. Once all of the answers were in, I’d read everything over several times, write an intro and format the Q&A section so that it looked like we were having a conversation, which was very important because it added fluidity to the article. It involved rearranging, cutting up or combining answers and rephrasing questions or answers. After the article was complete, I’d put it into HTML and edit the photos and insert them into relevant parts of the final draft. Each article took anywhere from twenty hours and up, the most time consuming part (outside of waiting for answers) was proofreading and editing.
GLIDER What skills do you feel that you developed while writing/interviewing, and what skills do you feel didn’t develop as much as you’d have liked?
GILLIAN:  My ability to go into depth in my articles has improved. I had a hard time asking tough questions, or trying to push people out of their comfort level in order to get the whole story. It’s very difficult for me to pry, especially over email. I didn’t want to piss people off, so I ended up asking a lot of safe questions— which didn’t always work when people want to read about controversial topics. I think that my style of writing and chosen topics appealed to a certain demographic. Jordan, you (Shannon) and I all have very different techniques of writing, and we’re all interested in writing about different things. I think that a few of the people that I interviewed wouldn’t have been as comfortable talking to men about some of the topics as they were with me (Quilt of Life and No Boys Allowed — Introducing the All Grrls Suscon and the All Grrls Suscon 2005 Video Report would have been impossible, for example). I would have loved to be more of a versatile writer, but I am happy with who I spoke with and what I wrote.
GLIDER If BME runs another ‘Intern Search’ what advice would you have to people applying?
GILLIAN:  Stand out. Let Shannon and Rachel know how you’d like to see BME improve, and convince them that you’re the best person for that job.

Love the industry. Know as much as you can about the people, events and practices— anything that has to do with body modification.

Have an open mind at all times. Don’t be judgmental about anything body modification related. You don’t have to participate in it yourself, but you have to accept that other people may do it and it’s probably important to them.

Ask interesting questions. Don’t be afraid to push people’s limits.

Work independently and work hard. Shannon and Rachel work very hard on their responsibilities within BME, the last thing they want to do is to have to worry about whether or not their employees are doing their job. BME should be your life, just like it is theirs. Shannon and Rachel’s lives revolve around BME and have for over ten years, so they want people who will work just as hard as they do.

MONICA What is the “behind-the-scenes” at BME like?
GILLIAN:  Surprisingly normal and often boring! Most of the time that I lived in Mexico I spent ignoring Mexico and lived in my computer instead. Clive once said, “Working in Mexico is a lot different than vacationing in Mexico.” Working for BME required us to be online for the majority of the day. If any of us needed to talk, we’d be more likely to IM each other rather than call or visit the person. The entire BME family (Shannon, Rachel, Nefarious, Jon, Jordan, Clive, and I) would meet for dinner every night. We ate a lot of tacos. Occasionally we’d have chili, but ninety-nine percent of the time we’d eat tacos. You can tell there’s a good cook in the house when you can eat tacos every night and not get tired of them. Over dinner we’d gossip about IAM members or work on our ideas for articles, talk about current events or past experiences. Sometimes we’d drink and talk for hours.
PERK900 The All Girls Suscon article that you wrote seemed to be a heavily debated topic, both online and off. Did the fact that it would be a “controversial” topic make it more appealing to write? Did you find it difficult to “step back” writing this one specifically?
GILLIAN:  Both of the All-Grrl Suscon pieces were my favorite ones to do. I knew that they’d be controversial and it definitely made it more appealing to work on. I was able to “step back” while writing the first article because at the time I’d never seen a suspension before and I didn’t attend last year’s event. The fact that I am a woman could only take me so far in defending the event because I didn’t personally know how women were treated in the suspension community, but I really enjoyed being able to voice the opinion of some women who felt that they were being oppressed. I hope that the articles can bring a positive change to the community and allow men see that women don’t always feel like they’re treated like equals.

It was a lot harder to “step back” from my video-article because I specifically wrote it from my point of view as a first-time-Suscon-attendee. I went to the event hoping to capture the emotion and vulnerability that goes hand-in-hand with suspensions, and I think I accomplished that. I wanted to do a video of the day’s events so the people who felt excluded (men, specifically) would feel better about the event and so they could get a feel for the atmosphere when it’s just women involved.

HOLYJESUSBONER Did you ever (somehow) walk in on Shannon and Rachel naked? Did you try?
GILLIAN:  I’m happy to say that I’ve never seen Shannon or Rachel naked, but I didn’t live with them so it was fairly easy to avoid. I did live with Jordan however, but all of my plans to see him naked were foiled by my other roommate, Clive.
HOLYJESUSBONER Were you friends with Shannon or Rachel before the internship?
GILLIAN:  I’d never spoke to either of them on the phone, let alone met them previous to flying down to Mexico. I don’t think I ever spoke to Rachel online before the application process, and had only ever private messaged with Shannon a few times.
PERK900 What was the most rewarding experience of your time spent as a BME intern?
GILLIAN:  BMEfest. I loved meeting everyone who came to Mexico. I hadn’t met many IAMers before, and at the end of June I was overwhelmed with new faces. The entire day of BMEfest was special— from swimming with the sea lions, to visiting the deserted beach, to the after-party. I met wonderful people and had really interesting conversations and drank too much and had a lot of fun.

I also loved seeing the feedback in the forums after each article was published. The act of having my work published felt like an accomplishment alone, but to have people say such positive things about my work (on BME and on other sites) was really wonderful, in a completly narcissistic way. Any criticism I received allowed me to fix the things that needed it and made me work harder.

ERICA Why are you leaving BME?
GILLIAN:  My internship position was only ever planned to last six months, which is now complete. I’ve moved to the British Virgin Islands and don’t really have the time necessary to write full articles consistantly. You haven’t gotten rid of me yet though! I plan on writing the occasional piece work for BME, but I will be taking a break for a while.
BMEfest, one of the best days of my entire internship.

PERK900 Not to sound derogatory, but one would say you’re “lightly modified.” Did you find this debilitating as you were now a voice of the “modified” community?
GILLIAN:  I figured someone was going to bring this up. To be honest, I was concerned about my “under-modification” hindering my ability to get this job, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I represent a large part of this community. Not everyone on IAM is heavily modified— there are a lot of people who look like me and it doesn’t make me less a part of the community. I am knowledgeable about body modification and most importantly, I am open-minded about it. I don’t find my lack of modifications “debilitating” at all.

The reasons why I’m not more heavily modified are because I have a hard time committing to things, I’m a minimalist and I travel too much. I haven’t lived somewhere for longer than eight months since I was sixteen. I have never owned a cell phone or a car. I’ve broken every lease I’ve ever signed. I don’t currently own a plant, a table, a television or any of the other things that most people own, and I love it. If I can’t even commit to those things, I certainly cannot commit to a tattoo or other major work.

Because I don’t spend a lot of time in one place makes it hard to find professionals that I can trust. I don’t want to be tattooed by a stranger and it’s hard for me to find symbols to put on my body that represent things in my life because I’m constantly changing.

My lifestyle requires a lot of money, so when I have it I’m more likely to spend it on plane tickets or other travelling expenses. The things I’m most proud of having in this world are my ticket stubs, my journals and my photographs.

PERK900 Did this illicit any kind of adverse reaction from interview subjects or “heavily modified” individuals whom you came in contact with during your internship?
GILLIAN:  None at all actually, and it surprised me. Until you asked me this question, no one had said anything about me being only “slightly” modified. I think people realized that BME had hired a writer, not someone who looked modified. I’ve been a member of this community for longer than a lot of people who are more modified than I, and I feel comfortable where I am modification-wise. Which brings me to this question…
Some of my “minimal” modifications.

CERE Who had the first tongue split you ever saw?
GILLIAN:  Yours, baby! You’ve never let me forget it and you felt it necessary to tell everyone about it during BMEfest, which was slightly embarrassing! I can still hear your voice yelling, “You work for BME and you’ve never seen a split tongue? You live next door to Shannon, who has one, and you’ve never seen one? How in the HELL did you get your job?”

Cere was the first and only person to react to my lack of experience and mods (at least to my face), but I expected it from him— and I was honestly glad that someone finally brought it up, because I knew he wasn’t the first person to think it. It was nice to have it out in the open.

REBEKAH Are you considering more mods? If so or if no, because of anyone you’ve interviewed?
GILLIAN:  I am planning on more modifications, specifically more tattoos. I plan on starting a comma trend on my body. My only tattoo is of a comma, which means “silent pause.” It’s the only symbol I’ve found that truly represents something consistent in my life: the moments where everything changes. It’s the before, comma, after moment. The comma on my lower abdomen represents my first time travelling when I was getting frustrated with the fact that I was just another tourist, looking at all the same monuments that millions of other people had seen before me. It wasn’t until my “comma” moment that I realized that it didn’t matter how many other people had seen the same things that I was seeing— I was the only person in that space and time, and that’s all that mattered. From then on, my entire trip changed, and my addiction to travelling began.

I’d love to get a ribcage piece of a large baobab tree with a comma incorporated to represent the time I spent living and working in West Africa’s The Gambia.

I’ve nearly run out of places to pierce, but I love nape piercings and will probably get it done at some point.

My dream modification is to get my ears pointed, though I’m not sure if I’ll ever go through with it. I love the way it looks and I’ve got small ears and I think it’d suit me.

My only opinion that’s changed is about suspension. Before working for BME, I had no interest in suspension and basically no knowledge about it because of my complete lack of curiosity. After meeting Clive (of the Uvatiarru and one-hook, one-elbow suspension fame), things changed. I became more and more interested in it, and have basically decided that I’m going to do a suicide suspension the first chance I get. After seeing my first suspensions during BMEfest (most memorably the one by IAM:spot and IAM:brion), I was convinced it was something I’d like to do, and this need was increased when I went to this year’s All Grrls Suscon.

DRAGON Is there any mod that makes you squeamish?
GILLIAN:  Having a boyfriend who spent hundreds of hours editing videos for BMEvideo, I’ve seen things that I never thought I’d see in my life. The only thing that I got squeamish about was, surprisingly enough, finger amputation. Everything else— castration, nullification, skin peeling (though I admit, I was a little short of breath when I watched Lukas Zpira’s Like a Butterfly within the first couple of weeks of my internship), vacuum pumping, CBT— all of these things are easy to watch, nightmare-free.
PERK900 Are there parts of BME that you disagree with or consider going too far?
GILLIAN:  The only thing that I don’t agree with is self-cutting as a way for people to deal with problems. It’s a hot topic on BME, but my stance is that it shouldn’t be considered “body modification” unless it’s done primarily as beautifying scarification. I don’t think cuts from anger or frustration or sadness should be encouraged as a positive coping mechanism, mostly because it’s done out of rash feelings that will change over time. Emotional scars are hard enough to deal with, let alone physical scars from those emotions.
THE LIZARDMAN What opinions or ideas you held about BME, modification, modified people, etc (if any) have been changed as a direct result of your internship experience?
GILLIAN:  It’s really hard to remember the way I thought eight months ago because my entire world has been flipped upside-down, but the things I’ve learned are:
If you meet someone who’s green and you’ve never seen them in any other colour, they don’t actually look different than anyone else.
Even misspelled tattoos can have meaning.
People in the body modification community are some of the nicest, open-minded and beautiful people in the world— but I didn’t need the internship to tell me that.

How did moving to and living in La Paz affect your internship experience? Furthermore, was this effect positive or negative?

GILLIAN:  Moving to La Paz was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I drove scooters and a dune buggy, I saw the Pacific for the first time and swam with sea lions, I was near the beach and fields of cacti, I rescued kittens and avoided rain for the entire four months that I lived there, but the best thing to come out of La Paz was finding the love of my life, Clive (IAM:Rookie).
Gillian and Clive

HOLYJESUSBONER Why bother moving to Mexico to work for BME; would you rather have stayed home (could you have stayed home and still have managed to write all the articles you did)?
GILLIAN:  Who in their right mind would pass up an opportunity to live in Mexico for six months? One of the reasons that I’ve travelled so much and have had such an extensive range of experiences is because I never pass up a good opportunity. Sure, I could have stayed in Canada to do the job, but the fact that part of the internship was to move to Mexico was one of the reasons I applied for the position in the first place.
VOLATILE What’s next?

One of the main reasons why Clive and I left Mexico early was because we wanted to move to the British Virgin Islands. Clive was born there and feels a strong connection to the island on which he was born, and I love anywhere that is hot and has the ocean, so it sounded like a good plan. We planned to stay in Canada until November and save some money, but because of some very cheap plane tickets, we flew down on August 30. We camped for a week and we’re currently renting a small apartment on the top of a mountain. We’d love to have visitors, so contact us if you’re up for a trip!

Clive will be working at a day job while I focus on various web development work. (Shameless plug: if you’re looking for a web designer, please contact me!)

My long term goals are to settle down a little bit. I’d love to own a sewing machine again and have a garden with peas and carrots. I want to have cats. I really want to live in a farmhouse somewhere near the ocean.

GLIDER:  Will you and Clive be doing writing/video on your own projects in BVI? (ie. an expat’s magazine, whatever)

GILLIAN:  I’d love to. Clive’s done a lot of video work and with my recent All Grrls Suscon mini-documentary, I feel confident that he and I could create another installment for Uvitaritu, or do something on our own. I plan on writing online about our time here, similar to MyGambia blog.
SOLARIS You’ve been to all these amazing places and done loads of exciting things but is there any place or thing that you would want to do or go so badly that if you did it or went there that you could be content if you never travelled again after that?

I don’t think any one place can really make you want to stop travelling. If anything, a terrible experience would make me want to stay in one spot for the rest of my life. Visiting different places makes me want to keep doing it— it never has the opposite effect. In the past six years I’ve lead a very full life.

I’ve seen volcanoes in Italy, visited fetish bars in France, gone shopping in London, lived amongst some of the poorest people in the world in West Africa, worked for billionaires in Florida and millionaires in Luxembourg, gone on countless road trips through the United States and Canada, smoked hash in Amsterdam, sunbathed on black sand beaches in Greece, and most recently, camped in the jungle in the British Virgin Islands… I never want to stop, but I’ll probably slow down. My lifestyle is often exhausting.

CERE If a dildo is inserted in a man’s ass but the words “good game” are uttered afterwards, is it still gay?
GILLIAN:  No, it’s not gay. You can do anything as long as you say “good game” afterwards. If I grab your balls it’s not considered cheating on my boyfriend as long as I say “good game.” If you grab my boobs or ass, I’m only allowed to enjoy it if you say “good game,” etc etc. The power of “good game” is limitless.

My experience working for has been wonderful. I’ve been able to talk to the most interesting people, live in Mexico and work for a company that has changed the body modification industry. I’ve been a small part in something very big, and I have every one of you to thank. Thank you to those who agreed to be interviewed by me and let everyone take a peak into your life. Thank you to Shannon and Rachel who saw something in my writing and took a chance on me, and thank you, most of all, to the people who read my articles and supported me along the way.

“For it was not into my ear you whispered, but into my heart. It was not my lips you kissed, but my soul.”
Judy Garland

Signing off,

— 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. 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.

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.

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.

Marked for Life [Guest Column – Stepping Back]

Marked for Life

“Jails and prisons are designed to break human beings, to convert the population into specimens in a zoo — obedient to our keepers, but dangerous to each other.

– Angela Davis

Six federal prisons across Canada are planning on implementing a tattoo service for inmates (see last year’s article Go to prison, get a free tattoo) in hopes of decreasing the possibility of spreading infectious diseases like hepatitis C and HIV. Prison tattoo machines are usually built with motors from hair dryers, fans, or radios, along with ink from pens and regular sewing needles or guitar wires. While there are often steps taken to disinfect materials, sterility control is limited and diseases are still being spread. Finally, someone is doing something about it — and it’s caused a lot of controversy.

This new program, set up by Correctional Service Canada, is a six-year project costing approximately $3.7 million. The program is designed to provide safe tattooing procedures, costing the inmates five dollars for a two-hour tattooing session. Outside of jail, a two-hour tattoo


Tattoo done with a sharpened paper clip and an electric motor by a more-talented-than-most prison tattoo artist.

session can as much as five hundred dollars depending on the artist. Jails will set up programs to train inmates to be tattoo artists (if they weren’t already tattoo artists outside of prison) — and yes, tax dollars will be paying for it, at a cost of about $611,000 a year to Canadians.

In reality though, it’s not much compared to the costs of health care for HIV-positive people (about $150,000 in their lifetime), and if this program stops people from contracting HIV or hepatitis C, then it shouldn’t really matter that it costs a measly three million dollars — and saving Canadian taxpayers a great deal of money in the long run, and improving the lives of people after their prison experience, thereby increasing the chances of successful reintegration into society. reports that, “for years, CSC reports have concluded that a greater percentage of people in the federal prison population have tested positive for AIDS antibodies or other serious blood diseases than in the general Canadian population.

An estimate of the cost to treat a person infected with hepatitis C is not available, but a study of the economic impact of hepatitis C in Canada is currently underway. It is known, however, that treatment with Rebetron, a drug commonly used for hepatitis C, may cost up to $30,000 per course of treatment for an infected individual. A liver transplant may cost up to $250,000.(Health Canada)

You’d think with so much public awareness about these diseases, inmates (and most people in general) would be a lot more wary of cross-contamination. Sadly, the methods used in most jails to “sterilize” tattoo equipment are normally just boiling the components (if even that), which may kill a few germs, but certainly won’t fully protect people from disease.

* * *

There are members of BME who’ve done time and we were able to talk to a few of them (most asked to remain anonymous) about their prison tattoo experiences. Later we’ll also speak to a tattoo artist, Johann Florendo, who has done a lot of cover-up work on men who’ve gotten tattoos while in prison and regretted it.

Bill, who at age 24, did 17 months on a seven year sentence at Garden State Correctional Facility in New Jersey. When in prison, he decided not to be tattooed because of health reasons and a strong lack of quality work.

Jareb has done time at several prisons throughout New Hampshire and Massachusetts when he was 17. He’s got one tattoo from that time, and he was also a tattoo artist in jail.

“Bear” (IAM:Bear151556) served eight years in total, in three different stints when he was in his twenties at the Wisconsin Correctional System. He got his prison number and nickname tattooed on the inside of his wrist during his sentence.

Cam, a personal friend of mine (who isn’t involved with BME), spent a year and a half in an Alberta jail, and got one tattoo while there.

* * *

BME:  You three were tattooed in prison — and you all knew the health risks of getting a tattoo. I know that getting tattooed in prison isn’t just about the artwork — but more for the culture. How long were you in prison before deciding to get a tattoo, and why did you get it done?
CAM:  I waited about three months to get one done. They are in high demand, and I was low on the totem pole to get one. It was prison rules not to get one, as it was considered self mutilation, and it could get you in the hole for a week, and even longer for the artist. It can take time for the artist and their posse to trust you. Trust is earned in jail so I earned it and kept it. I got mine out of respect for some of the guys that watched my back: it proved my loyalty to them.
JAREB:  It wasn’t until my fourth bid, and I got it for safety.

I got mine because I wanted something permanent to remind myself of where my idiocy had delivered me. I waited until my third sentence, in the fourth year though.
BME:  Inmates don’t usually carry around cash, so there are different kinds of currency in prisons. Just from watching movies, I know you can barter cigarettes, drugs, and sex. In your experience, what did you see traded for a tattoo?
CAM:  A lot of times it would be cigarettes, drugs or favors, like running errands for them or just keeping your alliance and showing your respect.
JAREB:  Price was never much of an issue. You traded whatever you had. A lot of artists were just bored and needed something to do.
BME:  I picture tattoo artists in jail being held in high regard and viewed with great awe and admiration, sort of the “leader of the pack.” Is there any truth to that?
JAREB:  Generally you’re right — we were treated with more respect than anyone else.
BEAR:  They were looked at very highly, but only if they did good work. They weren’t looked at so well if they fucked someone up.
BME:  What were their tattoo machines like? What were they made with, and how did those supplies get into the prison?
CAM:  Proper tattoo ink was brought in either by guards, visitors, or inmates who had work furloughs. The machines on the other hand, were makeshift from blow dryer parts — usually for the motor, and a regular needle in conjunction with empty plastic casing from a Bic pen.
JAREB:  The machines were really shady — usually made from ballpoint pens and motors from cassette players. The “needles” were straightened paperclips or guitar strings. “Ink” was made from burning plastic chess pieces and collecting the ash soot. Pens and everything else were from the commissary.
BILL:  Some machines were made with various items, like pens with motorized parts taken from fans, radios, and other devices, but many used the “pluck” method of using ink with a single needle.
BEAR:  My cellmate had a professional unit. It had been smuggled in and he had kind of inherited it from a guy who got out. In my case, the supplies were smuggled in, but I have seen pen ink used.

Improvised tattoo machine; electric motor, pen, and guitar wire.

BME:  None of those supplies seem that sterile, especially if they’re used over and over on different people — so I’m wondering — what steps were taken to keep things clean, if any? Where were the tattoos done?
CAM:  For me, there was nothing done to sterilize anything. I bled very badly and they used a very dirty needle on me. Tattoos were done in the artist’s cell, and always with a few people keeping watch, as not to get caught in the act.
BILL:  People would boil the equipment in water, and the tattoos would usually be done in the tattoo artist’s cell.


I worked in the kitchen, so I had access to a pressurized steam kettle which had to be cleaned daily using bleach water. I would take the needles to work with me and then while cleaning the kettle, I would just put the needles in. Then I would wrap them in napkins and sneak them back to our cell. Tattoos were either in the bathroom (I know, it’s scary), or our cell.
BME:  With these very basic supplies, tattoos would be fairly simple designs, right? I mean, how intricate can a tattoo be that’s been done with a guitar string and ink from a pen? What were some common tattoos done in jail?
CAM:  There was a lot of racial or affiliation tattoos or tough stuff like tear drops and other masculine items. My tattoo was pretty unusual as it’s not too “manly.”

Cam’s tattoo, complete with
a heart and rose.

JAREB:  Because of the supplies available, only black and grey work was done, so there were a lot of skulls, gang symbols, names, and spider webs on the elbows.
BILL:  It was the same in my case: I saw a lot of chains, names, teardrops, images of clocks, spider webs and gang symbols.
BEAR:  Actually for some reason, names were popular; you would think that cons would know better. Once in a while, there was some really nice fantasy work done.
BME:  All of those themes are very similar, more than I thought there would be — especially because all of you went to different jails in different states and provinces, but what do they all mean?
BILL:  There’s always your common “done time” pieces, like I said: chains, locks, clocks, hourglasses, and so on. Spider webs on the elbow used to signify that you took a life, but it’s now become fashionable and doesn’t necessarily mean that anymore. Teardrops either mean that you took a life, or lost someone close to you.

Most gangs have there own specific symbols, which can also vary from which branch, hood, or part of the country or world they’re from. Bloods commonly use wolf prints, wolf heads, and other lupine symbols, as well as pentagrams. Crips use the Star of David, as well as a crescent moon, which is also commonly used by Five Percenters. The Latin Kings have a three pointed crown, and Aryans and Bikers use Nazi symbols. Then there’s the obvious symbols used by different Anglo groups, like Shamrocks for the Irish, and national flags for whatever the person’s background is. Memorials, portraits, and banners of loved ones are also very common.

BME:  So, let’s say that someone goes into jail who’s previously tattooed — all high quality work, and then they get tattooed in jail, and it turns out pretty badly. Are they given a lot of flack from other inmates about their standards?

BEAR:  That they are. If you have good work, and then get some crap, then people give you shit about it. Most people who have tattoos going in are kind of snobbish about jailhouse work.
BME:  Bear, you’ve been in several different jails — did you see much diversity in the tattoo culture between those jails?
BEAR:  In my incarcerations, I did not see a big change from prison to prison unless you are talking about gang related work. With the gang tattoos, if the gang represented was not strong in a particular prison, then the tattoos were downplayed and not on display as much, for obvious reasons. The one other change that I experienced was that as you worked your way down from maximum to medium and then onto minimum security, the quality of the work seemed to go down. I credit this to the fact that when you’re in maximum and someone messes you up in a permanent way, you have less to lose, and are more willing to seek revenge with physical retribution.
BME:  There are lots of people who come out of jail with swastikas and gang symbols that they eventually regret. They may regret them because the symbols don’t have any meaning outside of jail, because it reminds them of a bad time in their life, because they have changed so much and can’t relate to the person they were inside of jail, or just because the tattoo is of such poor quality. Do you regret getting your tattoo?
CAM:  No, not at all.

No, I do not. In fact, I am going to have it redone as it has faded somewhat.
BME:  Some men go into jail and come out without getting a tattoo, and there are other men who come out with lots of tattoos. If you were in jail for any longer, would you have gotten more?
CAM:  No. I got mine and that was enough. Again, I got it to show my respect to the people who watched my back — I can’t express how much the culture in jail revolves around trust and your word. It’s really all you’ve got. I got one outside of jail as well, but the experience was nothing like it was in jail, not only the procedure, but there were no politics involved with that one.
JAREB:  Yes, I would have.
BEAR:  Probably not, as I had already begun to collect cartoon characters and I did not want to ruin the theme. Besides, even with what we were doing for sterilization, it was dangerous.
A tattoo born in prison.
BME:  Did your tattoo provide any safety against violence?
JAREB:  Yes and no. It showed the crew that I rolled with, and that comes with both safety and danger — it all depends on the politics of the gangs at the time.
BEAR:  No, it did not. Being six feet tall and 275 pounds did, I guess. And the old saying holds true: “Convicts do time, an inmate’s time does them.” If you don’t fuck with people, people don’t fuck with you. Usually.
BME:  Guards have enough to worry about — with violence and keeping everyone in check. Was it a priority for them to try to stop inmates from getting tattooed?
CAM:  It depended on the guard. If we were caught, we’d get time in the hole, and then time in the infirmary to have the damaged tissue removed.
JAREB:  The guards generally did nothing. Once in a while there’d be a raid and machines would be taken, but new ones would be made that same day.
These tattoos were created by a single-needle machine in a prison in Michigan.
BME:  So, it’s been a while since you’ve gotten out of prison, but you still have your tattoo there to remind you of that time in your life. Bear, what do you think of your tattoo now (especially because your personality has changed so much)?
BEAR:  I used to be a very sick, racist asshole who was completely intolerant of anything or anyone different. It doesn’t make much sense because I am different than other people. One day, I just realized that fact and everything changed. While my tattoos remind me of a really crappy time in my life, they do show me where I was then and how much I’ve changed, and I like them for that.
BME:  As you may have heard, Canada is planning on implementing a “tattoo service,” which allows inmates to receive cheap and sterile tattoos. What do you think of this program? Do you think more inmates will get tattoos because of it? Have you known anyone to get hepatitis C or other illness from getting a tattoo?
CAM:  Cheap and sanitary tattoos are a good idea, but it may take away from that culture in jail. Earning a tattoo or being branded is important to inmates. Maybe they should start a program and let the inmates govern it, as the more they take from them, the worse things can get. I don’t know anyone who has gotten sick from it, but I’m sure it happens a lot — most probably wouldn’t discuss it.
JAREB:  I think more programs like this need to be implemented. Tattooing is never going to stop, and the health risks are too great. Maybe more inmates will get tattooed, maybe not, you can never really tell. I have known a lot of people to get really sick, and yes, get hep. It’s not nice to witness people getting sick from diseases that are not being treated because of where they are.

I think it is hard for people who have never been in jail to make rules for what should happen in jail. How can you tell someone to live a certain way if you yourself are never going to have to live it?

BEAR:  I think it is a very good idea. Prison should be about rehabilitation, not retribution. Part of being rehabilitated is improving your self image, and tattoos do that. I do think that more inmates will get tattoos, which is a shame since most will probably do it for the wrong reasons, and they won’t think it through. Plus, I would imagine that the administration will not allow gang tats, so those will remain underground. And while I’ve heard a few horror stories, I do not know anyone personally who has gotten anything from a tattoo.

Johann Florendo (IAM: Johann) is an extremely talented tattoo artist, and has been in the business for six years. He’s currently working for Mean Street Tattoo Studio in New York City. He’s done a countless number of cover-up tattoos on men who’ve done time. I spoke to Johann about his experience with some of these men.

BME:  How many people have you worked on who’ve been in jail and are looking for cover-up tattoos?
JOHANN:  I can’t recount the many times I have seen and worked on tattoos that originated in jail. I have probably documented at least about thirty or so over the years which were worth photographing. I know for a fact I have done many more than that, I just never took a picture of them (probably because it wasn’t that much of a noteworthy tattoo that they wanted me to cover their tattoo with, or they wanted me to rework the jailhouse line work and I had very little input on the tattoo).
BME:  We’ve heard from these men in this interview that gang related tattoos and other prison-themed work is common. What kinds of tattoos have you seen that people are interested in getting covered up?
JOHANN:  It differs from individual to individual, but most people usually cover up old gang insignia, racist imagery, vulgar or offensive lettering, or just plain ugly tattoos. Sometimes, they want me to rework some of their tattoos that they received on the “inside” and sometimes it’s possible to make it totally new and “cleaned” up. Sometimes the work is so badly scarred or blown out that I would liken the process to “polishing a turd.”
BME:  What should people know who are looking for cover-up work? It must a difficult task sometimes because of the colour of the initial ink and poor quality of the tattoo.
JOHANN:  The general rule of thumb concerning cover-up work is that usually only darker colors mask dark colors; meaning that you can’t put yellow over black line work and expect it to “erase” the black and make it appear yellow. There are factors involved as well, like how old the tattoo that is that’s going to be covered up, for example. You’d have a better chance of success blasting some yellow over some old black line work that has had twenty years to fade, as opposed to black line work from two years ago. Of course, yellow over a grayish faded black ends up being a muddied mix when layered on top of each other, but with the right skill and technique, it can totally be applied in a tattoo correctly without looking like a mistake.

So, with that in mind, darker imagery usually works best: panthers and eagles, and black tribal have been tried and true examples, although a lot of really talented folk out there can do a cover-up with much more lighter colors in the piece. A perfect example would be cover-ups by either THE GRIME or Guy Aitchison. Not to single those two out, as there are tons of talented artists out there, but those two stick out in my mind as masters of their craft and really do well in the cover up department.

BME:  Have you spoken to your customers about the specific reason behind wanting to cover up their tattoos?
JOHANN:  Some do it to rid themselves of a bad tattoo. They probably realized the difference in quality between different artists, as opposed to just having one choice of artist in jail. Others choose to cover it up so that they wont have to be haunted by reminders of their past.
BME:  Do they seem embarrassed about the work that they’ve gotten in jail?
JOHANN:  It’s a mixed bag. Some are regretful, and proceed to get a cover-up or get it lasered off, while others get tattooed around the jailhouse piece to remind themselves of their time inside.
Before and after shots: cover-up work by Johann.

BME:  Has anyone mentioned what kind of feedback they’ve gotten from people in the “real world”?
JOHANN:  One particular guy I tattooed, I covered a jailhouse swastika on his leg. Once he got out of jail, he went the straight and narrow and successfully found a job and had a family. Years later, other parents saw his swastika on his leg when he took his daughter to school while he was dressed shorts. Whether or not the swastika symbolized anything negative or positive, he felt that he didn’t want to jeopardize his daughter’s upbringing by other’s cultural views placed on him.
BME:  Did they mention why they got the ink they got (like for protection and so on)?
JOHANN:  Some said it was to pass the time, others said to show allegiance to their gang, whilst others found spirituality and wanted to show their devotion. For whatever reasons, there is some “intimidation” psychologically when one sees a tattooed inmate. It has been said that old sailors used to tattoo the face of Jesus on their backs to save themselves from lashings. Perhaps this mentality is still shared today?
BME:  What is the general quality of the tattoos you’ve seen born in prison?
JOHANN:  Where there is a will, there is a way. I never doubt the power of desire. A lot of talented people exist in all walks of life, including those who are incarcerated. Inasmuch as there are a lot of bad tattoos done in jail, there are also a few artists who are exceptional and do amazing work.

Given the limitations (tattoos are usually illegal to do inside prisons and materials are scarce) and lack of color, I have seen beautiful work done with just a makeshift rotary machine and a single needle.

I have to respect that determination.

More cover-up work by Johann.

In addition to the health risks, there is the risk of social stigma after release from prison with the popularity of gang symbols and extremist racial views. While behind bars these are overall accepted and respected, once the person completes their sentence, they’ve got something on their bodies that they may not be so proud of any more. They’re “stuck” with a marking on their body that can really only remind them (and the people who see it) of one thing — doing time — and if they’re not proud of that, then there’s an expensive problem. Laser treatment is an option, but people can expect to pay hundreds of dollars per visit, and most need between six and twelve treatments. That’s a lot of money.

Lucky for people like Johann, there’s been a consistent flow of people coming into his studio looking for cover-up work. As far as hiding the work you’ve gotten done in prison, it’s probably the most economical method: a palm sized tattoo by Johann would cost about $150.00.

Overall I agree with the CSC program — I’m a strong believer in avoiding problems rather than attempting to fix them once they happen. Tattooing in jails is unavoidable and I don’t think a lot of the men in prisons necessarily care about the consequences of their actions — I mean, if they did, they likely wouldn’t be in jail in the first place, right? We, the people on the outside, may as well make it as safe for them as we can, if not for their sakes, for ours.

– 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 cover-up images are © Johann Florendo.Images of tattooed arms are © Patrick Warnement. All other tattoo images are from the BME archives. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published online April 16, 2005 by LLC from La Paz, BCS, Mexico.

Horizontal Tongue Piercings [Guest Column – Stepping Back]


“Growing up, I always had said that I would NEVER get my tongue pierced. I had always seen those trailer trash people on Jerry Springer, you all know the kind, and almost every single one of them had a tongue piercing. Seeing all of these trashy people on Springer, I associated being trashy with tongue piercings. I was determined not to get my tongue pierced and look trashy like all of those people.”

I love seeing people push their own personal boundaries. It’s great to see people do things without thinking of the consequences, or if they know about the consequences — they don’t really care. If anything, it usually makes for a good story afterwards. As long as there’s no chance of death, broken bones or paralysis, I’m all for people trying new things. Being in the body modification scene, I am a happy little voyeur and participant. I see all kinds of things that I wouldn’t necessarily try, but thanks to the internet, I learn something new every single day that I normally can’t learn through my daily activities.

Horizontal tongue piercings — yes, exactly what they sound like.
Most piercers consider these crippling and dangerous to the point of
being unviable piercings… But are they really impossible to keep?

Today’s lesson: people will put up with incredibly annoying piercings in trade for uniqueness. The specific one I’m talking about is the horizontal tongue piercing. It’s not very common, and probably for good reason. I’ve spoken to about a dozen different people who’ve gotten this piercing, and most of them complained about slurred speech (or at least a lisp), problems eating, biting down on the jewelry, a long healing period, and a lot of pain. The payoff? It looks really cool, and it’s a pretty unique piercing.

I chose to speak to four individuals in depth about their experiences with having a horizontal tongue piercing, and later a piercer that does them as well. If you just want the facts, scroll down to the bottom for a little FAQ on horizontal tongue piercings.

* * *

Piers de Burgh
IAM:piersd, was nineteen when he got his done from Skin Graffiti in Swindon, England. He only kept the piercing for one or two weeks.

who no longer has this piercing, got it at Outer Body Experience in Castlegar, BC, Canada. She had the piercing for nine months.

Gregg Bennett
from England, had a friend of his do it for him when he was nineteen.

IAM:Cenobitez, holds the record for this interview, keeping the piercing for nearly eight years. He got pierced at White Dragon in Stockport, Manchester, England.
BME: What gave you the idea to get a horizontal tongue piercing?
PIERS: I love to get unique piercings, and I hadn’t seen it anywhere before so it seemed like a good idea at the time. Vertical tongue piercings also are known to be sexual aids, so I thought that a horizontal one might be quite interesting too. The vertical tongue piercing tends to be very standard and is widely accepted now, yet if you simply rotate it, it becomes so much more.
PAMELA: Well, I’m kind of the odd duck… I’ve always been into body mods. I had my navel done twice but my body rejected it both times before it had even healed, so I wanted something that my body would actually allow. I found BME and started looking around, and was immediately drawn to the horizontal tongue — I had never even heard of it being done that way — but I waited probably a good six or seven months before I actually did it.
GREGG: To be totally honest I was going through a stage in my life where I had to be better than everyone else. The only problem that’s created when your friend thinks he’s a professional piercer and you can buy needles down at your local Wildcat shop? You end up with some weird and wonderful piercings!

I’d actually only been into piercing for about three months — before that I vowed I would never get one, and disliked them immensely. But then I saw an eyebrow spiral, got one, and was hooked.

The vertical tongue piercing looked too boring, and a horizontal one seemed a good idea at the time. I’d been warned that you should never get a horizontal tongue piercing on a whim, so what do I go and do… I’m sure you can guess!

STEVE: I already had a vertical tongue piercing, which was one of my first piercings, but I wanted something that was different and looked good. Then I saw a horizontal tongue piercing on a girl at Erotica, an adult industry trade show in London. After chatting to her I decided I wanted it done — I wanted something that I could say, “look what I got” because at the time, piercings were just starting to get popular. I have no spiritual or whatever reason… I just wanted it because it looked cool.

I searched the net and came up with a picture on BME. I took that with me to the piercer and when he eventually did it, he positioned mine as close to that picture as he could. I think mine’s pretty similar to his:

Steve’s Horizontal Tongue Piercing

BME: What factors did you think about when considering getting it done?
STEVE: I thought about how it might affect my job, the potential for damage to nerves in my tongue. What if it were to hit one of those huge veins? I was considering all kinds of things about the possible damage to my taste buds and motor functions in my tongue, as it’s pretty deep into the tissue. I thought about potential speech difficulties, heavy bleeding, and at the time I had heard some rumors about tongue piercing implications with cancer and stuff. There was also possible dental damage, so I had a lot of health issues to consider.

The final factor it rested on was work. Would I be able to speak properly enough to do my job as a night club promotions manager — where it was key to be able to talk and chat to customers, and deal with businesses.

PIERS: Tell the truth, I didn’t really think about the consequences. This was during my early days of piercings and I didn’t really listen to the warnings of trained piercers.
PAMELA: Rejection was a battle with my navel and I didn’t want that going on inside my mouth, and then there was my mother: what she would say when she found out I did it?
BME: Had your piercer done this piercing before? What did they think about your request?
PIERS: I found out later, that Venom, my piercer, actually was very talented, but at the time I didn’t really care how experienced she was — as long as she would do the piercing!

She wasn’t nervous at all — probably more excited than anything. She explained about how it would swell, especially since I was having two in the same session (both vertical and horizontal ones), and talked me through how horizontal tongue piercings have a high chance of hitting something, or not lasting due to discomfort, and so on.

GREGG: My piercer had never done it before. Having your friends stick holes in you really isn’t the safest option in the world, but at the time he had his own piercing studio and had all the proper sterilized equipment.
STEVE: I knew my piercer had no experience with this kind of piercing, but he has a portfolio that included a lot of stuff I’d never seen, and he said he was always learning new stuff. However, initially he said NO! point blank. I called every piercing studio within a hundred miles and couldn’t find anyone else.

After a few months and a few piercings later I mangaged to talk him into it and he explained it all to me: the risks, the dangers, the unlikely issues, as well as the remote issues that would probably never happen, but he told me it all.

BME: Since piercers often yearn to do unusual work, did you have to pay for the piercing, or did they do it for free or at cost?
PIERS: I had agreed on a special price with her… I think I paid 30 pounds for both piercings I got that day [between $50 and $60 US].
GREGG: Mine was free.
STEVE: I paid about ten pounds for mine [$20 US].
BME: What was the jewelry were you pierced with?
GREGG: At first I had a 1.6mm — 14ga — PTFE barbell with PTFE balls so I wouldn’t smash my teeth on them. I later changed it to a metal barbell with metal balls, at the same size.
STEVE: Originally the plan was to use what we had available — a one inch long steel barbell. However, when I worked it out, I figured it wouldn’t be able to rest it in my mouth due to the immense length, so we settled on PTFE and small 4mm beads on the ends so that they wouldn’t be too obtrusive and sit nicely in my mouth.

They’re now so unobtrusive that they can slide inside my tongue — I should actually put bigger ones on to stop that, but I think if I do, the hole where the current ball goes will stretch and I don’t want that. Now I have a one inch PTFE in it right with 4mm stainless steel balls on the ends.

BME: How was the piercing itself done, and what did it feel like?
PAMELA: OH! It was horrible! I was crying and begged her to stop halfway through. She told me she couldn’t, and then shoved the needle the rest of the way through my tongue. That is why if you look at it close enough it is crooked.
GREGG: We did the piercing in a garden… I know you may consider this dangerous or dirty, but I felt safer being under the bright blue sky than in some room that resembled a doctor’s office. I wouldn’t advise anyone to follow me in this — this is just personal preference, and I’m sure most piercers wouldn’t do it anyway.

We decided clamping my tongue and going as fast as possible seemed like a good idea at the time, although my view now has changed and I would’ve preferred going slowly freehand, as this would increase the chance of getting a good straight line through my tongue.

It felt rather unpleasant; the pain didn’t really abate from when the needle went in till the jewelry had taken its place. There’s a good twenty or thrirty seconds of pain in comparison with the mild discomfort of a tenth of a second that the average piercing gives you.

STEVE: The week before doing the piercing we checked for veins and the likes with a torch (flashlight). The day of the piercing I got there with a few of my friends, waited a few minutes while he set everything up, and then he lead the way to the piercing room. I hopped up on the gurney and waited as he took a pair of large clamps out from the autoclave and dried them off.

He inspected my tongue again, and placed these clamps, made a few adjustments, and then locked them into place.

He sprayed Xylocaine on my tongue, and then asked me to take deep breaths — which I was already doing — and placed the needle against my tongue. He slowly started to push the needle through, with the odd stop and change in direction and stuff to make sure it was straight, and then a last push and he was through.

The pain was more of an intense burning, nothing like my normal tongue piercing. It felt like a small needle prick, then rapidly got hotter until it was stinging, and then felt more like it was burning as it went through. It felt like four or five minutes but I’m assured it was less than thirty seconds.

PIERS: Mine hurt the most out of any other piercings I’ve had. It was closest to my medusa (top labret), just on sheer scale, rather than actually what it felt like.
GREGG: Yeah, to say it hurt would be an understatement.

I looked straight up, watching the clouds roll by, and then a blinding sensation went through my whole face… Not unbearable, but certainly close to intolerable. I remember someone telling me to slow my breathing down or I’d hyperventilate.

BME: How did you feel afterwards?
GREGG: It looked great! I was so happy — I hugged everyone, washed my face, and did the best impression of someone with absolutely no use of their tongue… Worst lisp in history!
STEVE: I washed my mouth out with ice cold water, and got a little relief. Then my piercer looked at it and said it looked damned good… I couldn’t talk or anything — I just mumbled and left his room and he told me to come back in a few days. As I walked out a few of my friends were waiting and they were like, “oh god I can’t believe you did that” and they were like “you’re mad” all the way to the pharmacy.

Pamela’s piercing not long before removal, and Gregg’s very fresh piercing.

BME: Did you change the jewelry during the healing process?
PAMELA: About a month later when I went to a shorter barbell, I think an inch or an inch and a half.
STEVE: I just clipped a millimeter (or four) off the PTFE bar and rethreaded it as the swelling went “up” not down, so my tongue actually got narrower and I clipped the PTFE to match. Once the swelling was gone I had to get another PTFE bar to replace it as it had returned to being wider.
BME: What was the healing like?
STEVE: The healing was very much like my other tongue piercing, only it took maybe six times longer. It’s now healed and I can take the bar out easily and replace it. It can still act up if I catch it or anything like that, but overall, it’s fine.

The only real issue I had during healing was eating bread or bread-like food, as it got stuck on the balls and hurt like hell, and that’s still a problem sometimes, but I think I have unknowingly adapted to that one.

PIERS: To be honest, the piercing was very embarrassing, as it gave me a really bad lisp and I found it incredibly hard to eat. I had a constant lisp the whole time I had it in. It restricted my tongue from moving to pronounce the correct sound. It was very frustrating after a while.
PAMELA: Well, it took about five months until I no longer had an infection or a swollen tongue in the mornings… but I toughed it out, lisp and all.
BME: You had the lisp the whole time?
PAMELA: Yes, I had a lisp until I took it out… After I took it out, it was another five months, when the tongue was fully healed, before my speech was perfect.
STEVE: My lisp stopped as soon as the tenderness and swelling went down. I had a few issues with talking, but it was mainly with shouting. I still have those problems, but it’s a small price to pay.
BME: Was there a lot of swelling in comparison to a normal tongue piercing?
PIERS: I had both of them done at the same time so I wouldn’t know, yet when my horizontal piercing was taken out the swelling completely disappeared in a few days, so it kind of lead me to believe that most of the swelling was from the horizontal one.
PAMELA: Yes, it was hard to talk for the entire time I had it because of the swelling, and I didn’t eat anything solid for over two weeks.
GREGG: In my case there was hardly any swelling at all.
BME: What kind of aftercare did you give it? Did your piercer suggest something special?
PIERS: I’ve always just used salt water — it seems to be the most effective thing for me.
STEVE: My piercer always suggests one part Listerine to three parts water, mixed into a water bottle, and I am to rinse after each meal and snack, and first and last thing in the day.

BME: Did your piercer warn you anything you’d have to look out for or be careful about?
PAMELA: Actually, she didn’t. I only found out a month or so ago that the tongue is two muscles on the left and right side, and that it’s really bad for them to be pierced like that.
STEVE: My piercer mentioned veins and nerves and other such things… one of the ones he was concerned about was the movement of my tongue — but I had thought about that beforehand and was pretty much determined to go through with it.
BME: What’s the most annoying thing about having it?
PIERS: The fact that I couldn’t smoke, eat, or talk properly.
PAMELA: The lisp. I had a huge speech impediment. People who knew me well would always comment on it, but others that didn’t know me didn’t know if I had it before. I had problems with the healing on the right side of the tongue. I don’t know what happened there, but the barbell sunk into my tongue and in order for me to talk properly, the ball would have to be inside my tongue!
GREGG: I had problems closing my mouth, eating, talking, chewing gum — pretty much anything orally.
STEVE: The most annoying thing other than people always asking to see it, asking how long I’ve had it, and did it hurt — the usual things — is that it has a tendency to flare up over the slightest mistreatment.
BME: On the other hand, what’s the best thing about it?
PIERS: It looks amazing and it’s so rare. It’s getting very hard nowadays to get a piercing that is truly rare — don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that body modifications have become more widespread, but I just prefer having unique piercings and styles.
PAMELA: I liked the fact that it showed my individual style, and that I do things for me and not for everyone else. The “Ahh cool”s were pretty sweet too!
GREGG: It’s pushing your body beyond its normal state to create something you feel happier with — although this could be said for any piercing.
STEVE: The best thing about this piercing is that it’s a defining piercing — when I attend IAM meets, and I do attend a lot of them, it’s the one piercing people identify me by, and I always get asked about it. Most people are surprised by the amount of time I have had it, and I have never met anyone else who has one or had one. I also love the shock value from the non-pierced folks at work!
GREGG: You can’t really beat walking down the street with a bar going through the tip of your tongue (and peoples expressions)… Oh boy, did I get some expressions, from sheer horror to total respect and admiration.
BME: Any problems with chipped teeth or other dental issues?
PIERS: I only really thought about it after I bit down on one of the balls. Luckily no damage was done. I decided to move onto foods that only involved sucking or swallowing without chewing!
PAMELA: I now have a big chip on my left front upper tooth that I want to get fixed soon. That is from when I would tighten the balls I would hold it there with my teeth.

I don’t think I had it long enough for major damage other than that one tooth chip to occur. For a while I used plastic balls, but they were internally threaded and would always break off. I got tired of that so I just went back to metal ones.

GREGG: Not really. I am of that stupid breed of people who deem the piercing more important than the complications of the pierced party — however, my mind has since changed on the subject, and I would take a lot more into consideration over these sorts of factors so I didn’t do something I might later regret.
STEVE: The only damage I got was when my bead came off while I was eating a hamburger, and I bit onto the bead and chipped one of my bicuspids. It’s a bit of a nuisance, but as it’s only a small chip, I don’t mind.

BME: When you took it out, what were the factors in making the decision?
Piers’ piercing forces him
to consider a trip to the hospital.

I didn’t have a chance to rest the piercing. With my job I was constantly talking and shouting over the music in the club. One night I was working and I tasted a little blood in my mouth so I decided to go to the toilets and check it out. There was a slight bit of blood but I didn’t want to take any chances, so I went upstairs to the night club to pack up my camera and say goodbye to a mate on the bar. As I was trying to get out more and more people kept asking me to take their photos and dragging me further back into the club. By the time I got out it had started bleeding a bit heavier. I managed to stop it with pressure but a few days later while I was treating myself to a packet of smoky bacon crisps it started bleeding again, and quickly got worse and worse until I was spitting blood and some rather unpleasant blood clots.

Even though I was reluctant, I knew it was time to take it out. When I finally did, I was really bleeding, and I made a phone call to a mate for a round trip to the local Accident & Emergency ward, as I felt like I was going to pass out. Doctors don’t really appreciate self-inflicted wounds so I ended up stopping the bleeding myself in the toilets.

PAMELA: My lisp was probably the biggest factor. Biting on the balls, and one side didn’t heal properly. It just wasn’t worth it.
GREGG: I removed mine because it wasn’t straight enough, and because of discomfort and annoyance at not being to talk properly. I only kept it for three days.
BME: Steve, why do you think you’ve had so much success with keeping this piercing?
STEVE: The key for me has been give and take. If I take the time to look after my piercing, it’s fine, but if I get careless, it’s problematic. If I mistreat the piercing it will swell. The secret is: make some changes and learn to deal with it, or you’re going to have problems.
BME: What advice would you have for others thinking about this piercing?
PIERS: Go for it! But if it was anything like mine, be prepared to change what you eat, how you eat, and how you talk. Hardcore body modification!
GREGG: Do what you think is best — don’t rush something like this though, as it’s not something you should dive into without careful consideration of the consequences.
STEVE: Give it serious thought because there is the risk of dental damage, muscle damage, nerve and vein damage.
BME: Do you consider this a viable piercing?
PIERS: I know one girl with it in the area I live in, and she’s got pictures of it healed so why not? Just because it didn’t work for me doesn’t mean it won’t for you.
GREGG: Perhaps in the future, but why take the risk of harming the way you speak? Your speech is the way other people can recognize the being that is you, and if you have nice teeth and can’t afford corrective dentistry, then why take the risk?
STEVE: For me, absolutely. If for some reason this has to come out or starts to migrate I will remove it, heal it, and get it done again.
BME: Was it all worth it?
PIERS: It was definitely worth it. I still consider this to be a very beautiful tongue project. The only reason I took it out was because of the bleeding. To tell the truth, I don’t regret any of my piercings, but this is definitely a piercing that I would like to have again.
PAMELA: Honestly, no, it’s not. The five months healing time alone was crazy on my part. Every morning I wanted to take it out, but I always wondered, “what if it’s so cool when it’s healed?

Well, it was cool when it was healed, but then the lisp and all the other problems made it suck… but if the one side didn’t pull through I probably would have kept it!

GREGG: If you’d have asked me this question two years ago I’d have told you it was all worth it and I was getting ready to have it repierced, but in hindsight, I don’t think it was worth it, but it depends on your mindset. Too many young people get a piercing to be different, and too many piercers do piercings like this to show they’re on the edge of their science. In the big scheme of things it isn’t worth it to damage other parts of you for the sake of being unique, although it just depends where you draw the line.
STEVE: I have worked my way into two managerial jobs with two mainstream companies with my piercings and all. One of them is my main job in a night club called “Heaven and Hell” in Stockport. I am the first line of contact with the public and even with my piercings, I have the job, and I have worked my way up the ladder.

I would sacrifice my livelihood over it though, and I almost did when I went to claim unemployment — I refused to take it out and they could have refused my benefits but I showed them my resumé and proved I can and will get work.

It’s definitely worth it, purely because after nearly a decade of having it, it’s still a rare piercing, and not many people can say they have that these days!

* * *

Giving us the story from the other side of the needle is Matt Bruce (IAM: modsbymatt), an active piercer at Body Jewellery and Piercing in Victoria, British Columbia. He’s performed several horizontal tongue piercings, and turned away even more customers asking for it. He’s here to tell us, from a piercer’s point of view, some of the most important things to know about the piercing.

Matt, and a horizontal tongue piercing done on one of his customers.
BME: What kind of cautions do you need to take that are different than a normal, vertical tongue piercing?
MATT: I researched this one for a while, thinking I was missing something, but it seems that as long as the blood vessels taper off before the area you are piercing in, it tends to be hassle-free.
BME: What kind of jewelry do you use, and why?
MATT: I use PTFE barbells because they bend with the movements of the tongue itself. A stainless or titanium barbell will only get in the way while trying to talk and eat and such, and Tygon has to be changed too often. I prefer to use PTFE beads as well but if they want stainless, I just make sure the jewelry is short enough that the beads sit inside of the teeth.
BME: Can you explain the process of making sure the customer is suitable for the piercing and of doing it?
MATT: Like I said, as long as there are no obvious blood vessels in the area, that’s a good start. I find that if they fold up the tip of the tongue and at the fold there is an indent on either side than they have good anatomy for it, but that doesn’t mean they are good for the piercing.

Good oral hygiene and previous experience with piercing and oral piercing is a must, and then, based on all those variables, I decide from that point if I will do the procedure. If everything is a go, I make my entrance and exit marks and then brace the tongue with a piece of gauze in-between my thumb and first fingers. After everything is lined up, I push the needle through to the other mark and then follow through with the jewellery.

BME: Do you warn the people about possible dental damage or other potential problems?
MATT: Of course. As a professional piercer it is my obligation to inform people of any possible negative effect that any procedure could have on the client.
BME: How much should customers expect eating, drinking, talking, and so on to be affected?
MATT: They will find it awkward at first, the same as any other tongue piercing, but with PTFE it makes it very easy to adjust. Usually at the two week point they tend to be talking well and the distension is almost completely gone.
BME: What advice would you have for others thinking about this piercing?
MATT: Make sure you see examples of the piercing in the artist’s portfolio that you approach and I would say that if they recommend a metal barbell, then I would look somewhere else. Also, just because this or any piercing has been done does not mean it can be done on you. If someone turns you away because you do not suit the work you want don’t just keep looking till you find someone that will!
BME: Do you consider this a generally viable piercing?
MATT: That is a hard question to answer. For some, a navel piercing isn’t viable, for others a standard tongue piercing isn’t. I try and just go person-to-person with every procedure I do. If it is viable for that individual then I do it.

With a little bit of pain and persistence this piercing is possible. You’ll need an experienced piercer that understands not just the right to do the procedure, but understands why the piercing has to be this way. Otherwise you risk permanent humilation from not just a lisp but the diet of a level six vegan — nothing that hasn’t been put in a blender. It’s very rare for good reason, but still might be the right piercing to get if you understand the risks and want something unique. Try it if you dare, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Horizontal Tongue Piercing Mini-FAQ

How is the piercing done? It’s a standard piercing, done with a needle and jewelry follow-through. Some piercers will clamp it but most will do it freehand.

How much does it hurt to get done? It hurts more and takes longer to perform than a normal tongue piercing but is bearable. Depending on your region, spray anestheia may be available.

What kind of jewelry should be used? PTFE (Teflon) or other flexible jewelry such as Tygon is ideal (although Tygon needs to be changed regularly). Metal barbells are not generally recommended, although they may in rare cases be possible in some placements. If possible, plastic beads should be used, and flattened beads can make the piercing additionally comfortable. Once the piercing has healed the jewelry should be shortened to sit snugly on the tongue.

How should the piercing be placed? The placement that puts the least restriction on the movement of the tongue should be used. Try and watch and feel how the tongue moves during speech and eating. Intersecting the points where the tongue bends is going to do the most damage to mobility (and thus speech and other actions). The area should be checked for blood vessels as well. Not everyone has anatomy which is suitable for this piercing.

Who can do this piercing for me? Any experienced piercer should be able to do this piercing.

How long does it take to heal? If the placement is good and proper jewelry is used, healing should take one to two months, with the swelling going down inside two weeks. However, if the placement is not good or the jewelry is inappropriate, the jewelry and motion of the tongue can cause continual damage to the wound (especially if you yell or otherwise stress your tongue) and extend healing time greatly.

What aftercare should I follow? Aftercare is basically the same as a normal tongue piercing. Take it easy for the first few weeks and rinse regularly with a saltwater solution. The most important thing is to do everything slowly for the first week or two and pay attention to your tongue when you’re eating and talking. If you pay attention and do things carefully and slowly you will greatly speed up the “relearning” process and aid the healing as well because you’ll put less stress on the piercing.

How much will talking, eating, and so on, be affected? How much these things are affected varies greatly from person to person and can be minimized by using recommended jewelry and placement. If you just put a bar through a “bend-point” of your tongue, let alone a metal one, you will have an intense lisp. However, if you use recommended jewelry and take care with the placement, the effects will be minimal and should not be much worse than a normal tongue piercing. Proper jewelry sizing is important and will reduce risk to teeth while eating, as will using plastic beads.


– Gillian Hyde


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. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published online April 4th, 2005 by LLC from La Paz, Mexico.