A huge part of Gauntlet’s success was probably the result of the tireless effort I put into promoting, not just the business, but body piercing itself. Over the years I traveled regularly giving presentations to everything from S/M organizations to university human sexuality classes.
A lot of people take it for granted that they can go into almost any tattoo shop and get a body piercing. Believe it or not, that has not always been the case. To some of us it seemed self evident that tattooing and piercing go together like salt and pepper. But there was a time when many tattooists were outraged at such a suggestion. Having a personal interest in both and knowing many others who shared it, it seemed logical to me that the tattoo community was just waiting to embrace my efforts. It didn’t take long for me to find out otherwise.
Early in 1977 the International Tattoo Artist’s Association (ITAA) was having a convention in Reno. In an effort to reach out and spread the word amongst the tattooed, Doug suggested that I get a vendor booth there. I submitted the necessary forms and was accepted. This would be one of our first appearances in public.
The demonstration went well, and many people stopped by the Gauntlet table to ask questions. On the surface it appeared we were well received. But unknown to us there was trouble brewing. A number of the big name tattooists, among them Ed Hardy, were not pleased.
“Since Ed Hardy had brought the subject of piercings up at the I.T.A.A. Reno Convention in 1977 (he felt, as did the overwhelming majority of Artists there that piercing did not belong at a Tattoo convention and should not be linked to tattooing. I.T.A.A. Members voted there and then not to have piercing at future conventions) it was decided on (by the suggestion of Bob Shaw) not to allow facial tattoos or piercings at the National Tattoo Conventions. This was to be a Convention to promote Tattooing and only Tattooing.” (source)Fortunately not all tattoo organizations were as hostile as ITAA and NTA, but the Reno convention was the first and last tattoo event that I recall Gauntlet ever vending at. For years to come the applications for at least some conventions carried a statement reading in effect that, “we will not rent vendor space for piercing or anything else that might give tattooing a bad name.” This is pretty much a direct quote. What I would love to have pointed out, but never did, was that bad tattooists were far more likely than we to give tattooing a bad name.
This attitude toward piercing persisted with some tattooists for a decade or so. Then in the late 1980s when the popularity of body piercing exploded, some savvy tattoo artists realized there was money to be made doing piercing. Almost overnight there was a huge shift in attitude, and tattooists around the world began setting up shop as piercers whether they were qualified or not.
The following April another tattoo convention was to take place in Texas. Although vending was no longer an option, Doug and I planned on going to hand out business cards and meet people and promote our favorite form of body adornment.
Plans were progressing well until shortly before we were to leaving for Texas. Doug approached me and said that after giving it some thought he felt it wasn’t worthwhile and that instead we should take a vacation to Key West and then go up to Fort Lauderdale and spend a few days with an outrageous piercing and tattooing enthusiast, Sailor Sid. I took him at his word and didn’t think anything further about the change of plans. Later it came out that the real reason for the diversion was that Doug had learned his youngest son Robert would be attending the Texas convention and that he wanted to avoid running into him.
We flew into Miami, rented a car and took to the road 160 miles south to Key West. I particularly remember the series of bridges that link the chain of small gulf islands with the mainland. We passed through Key Largo, an easily forgettable place whose name at least we’ll always remember thanks to Bogart and Bacall.
It’s funny how memory plays tricks on us. When I first started writing this article it seemed like Doug and I had made only one trip to Key West. But when I began looking through photos and examining the dates stamped on slide borders, I realized that we had actually made two trips to that sunny destination.
Doug had a personal connection to this Southeastern tip of the United States. He told me that the island might well have belonged to Cuba, but in 1821 an ancestor of his had purchased it thus making it part of the US.
After our Key West venture came to an end we loaded up the rental car and headed north to Fort Lauderdale to spend a few days with the self proclaimed “freak nut” who went by the name Sailor Sid Diller.
Sailor Sid in a photo I took of him in 1980.
Sid was in his late sixties when I first met him. He had been fascinated with tattoos from the time he was preadolescent. Sid had been a member of the Coast Guard which, during World War II, was a part of the Navy. It was in those war years, the early 1940s, that he got his first piercings — ear and frenum — and tattoos. If memory serves me correctly he became an electrician after leaving the service and settled down in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida where he retired.
Sid’s passions were tattooing, piercing, and very heavy S/M. He had managed to connect with a large number of other enthusiasts throughout the world and was a voracious correspondent, writing at length — on a typewriter, no less — about his experiences. Photos of his exploits and those of others were often included. No doubt BME enthusiasts would hardly find them shocking, but for their time these included some of the most extreme S/M I had ever seen documented, including extensive play piercing scenes and some involving opening the scrotum and exposing the testicles.
Doug piercing Sid’s ear.
Sid’s kinky straight friend John,
perhaps the first man I ever met with a split penis head.
A closeup of Sid’s genital piercings taken during my 1980 visit.
Sid kept two collections of personal papers that I know of: the correspondence and photographs he’d accumulated over the years relating to tattooing and piercing. When he died May 24, 1990 — age 80 if my calculations are correct — he had already made provisions for his collections to go to people he trusted. I believe he left the tattoo papers to his good friend Jack Yount. I’ve no idea what happened to these after Jack’s death. The piercing collection Sid left to me. A few months after his death a couple of large, heavy boxes arrived for me at Gauntlet’s corporate office. In them were a number of three-ring binders filled with photos in plastic protectors, not to mention a large stack of correspondence. Not only were there many letters from his various and sundry friends, but oddly there were photocopies on thermal paper of many letters Sid had written to them.
For some time I pondered how best to preserve this unique collection and also make it accessible to interested individuals. I considered using some of the material in PFIQ, but since there were no photo releases, and I didn’t know most of the individuals pictured or how to contact them, I abandoned that idea.
As time went by my health became somewhat uncertain, and I was forced to face the fact that I might not have that many years to live. I was concerned about the future of the unique collection Sid had left in my care and felt the best thing I could do was to find a better home for it. Eventually I made the decision to donate it to the Leather Archives and Museum in Chicago. It’s clear from their web site that the collection is still there. I’m assuming anyone interested in exploring this resource can make arrangements to view and study it.
Sid was one of a kind: a man who marched to a different drum and made no apologies for it. Despite any differences we might have had, I consider myself fortunate to have known him.
Jim Ward is is one of the cofounders of body piercing as a public phenomena in his role both as owner of the original piercing studio Gauntlet and the original body modification magazine PFIQ, both long before BME staff had even entered highschool. He currently works as a designer in Calfornia where he lives with his partner.
Copyright © 2005 BMEZINE.COM. Requests to publish full, edited, or shortened versions must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published March 29th, 2005 by BMEZINE.COM in La Paz, BCS, Mexico.