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

The Modern History of Tongue Splitting

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

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

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

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

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

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 Some people made historical references but again the documentation was questionable.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

Dustin’s self-split tongue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More recently done tongue splittings.

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

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

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

Forced tongue split reversal

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

      Erik Sprague
      The Lizardman (IAM)

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because the world NEEDS freaks...

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

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

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