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For the Want of Knowledge and Courage

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(Feb 99 Update) The two questions I'm most often asked about body piercing are "... but why do you like hurting yourself like that", and just "Why do you do it?".  Like many piercing fans, until recently I've been pretty much stuck for an answer to that one.  Now I've found a good answer, Art!', which I give as a single definitive reason to all my questioners, even though it's perhaps no more than 25% of the truth.

My fascination with piercings goes back about quarter of a century to when I was 4 years old, and I noticed my piano teacher had her ears pierced.  I was filled with an amazed curiosity, and asked her how it was done.  It was by some misfortune that I misunderstood her answer. I had thought she meant that a tiny tube of metal was punched into her ear.  This was a misapprehension I carried for about a decade, and I'm sure it many times prevented me from performing what turned out to be the simple task of piercing my own ear.

I was 14 years old when I found the truth of ear-piercing, and within days I had drawing pins stuck in both ears.  A few days later, I'd convinced a friend to put more drawing pins in the top of my ears, because at that time I couldn't stand the pain of doing it myself.  Within a few months I'd had my first tattoo - the name of a boy at school.  By that time I'd basically settled down on one ear-stud, and after that was discovered by my mother I decided that I'd nothing more to lose.

In the next two or three years I searched around my body for places to pierce, and - for various periods of a couple of hours to a couple of days - wore miscellaneous sharp pieces of metal through a cheek, my bottom lip, my nose (many times), one nipple, my foreskin (several times, a staple-gun), a knitting needle forced through my ear-lobe, and once even an ear-piercing stud through my handweb (these days I'm pretty impressed with that, because I've never been able to do it since!).  At this time, I'd never heard of body piercing as a concept, apart from skewer pierced faces of a mystical tribe which I'd seen on my grandparents black & white TV, and been in awe of for many years.  For long-term piercings I filled my ears with coloured studs and wished and wished for a way of piercing my chest and for the strength to pierce my eyelids.

I despair over my wasted years... not until I went to university as a 23-year old did I discover body piercing as a commercial and popular reality, and then somehow managed to waste my student years with no more than nipple piercings because I was too shy to keep piercings in my face where I longed to wear them.  After that I got jobs which I decided wouldn't allow me to wear visible piercing jewellery.  Occasionally I'd experiment by getting my tongue pierced or a labret piercing, but never for more than a week, during holidays.  (That, even though I went for surgery to have a tongue-tie problems sorted out so that I could have a tongue-piercing.)  The best I managed was an eye-brow piercing which lasted about a month before I went for a new-job interview.

For the last few months that I was working as a computer consultant, until October 1997, I pushed my luck as far as I could.  I gradually expanded my right ear-lobe to 12mm, got a septum piercing (wearing a keeper during the day) which I expanded as far as 4mm and started on getting a series of long bar bells through my ear; I think the trendy expression is 'an industrial project'. (Unfortunately the first one grew to the surface with almost indecent rapidity and I've reluctantly concluded that my ear isn't particularly well shaped for that style.) Anyway, I went ahead with having a pair of 10cm long chest bars fitted by Patrick Bartholomew at London Piercing Clinic, which I really like. Over a year later, they still haven't healed, and I wouldn't expect them to have, although I was worried that after the first few months that the bars which had been inside my flesh to their full length had grown out so far as to leave 5cm of bar visible. (Apologies - no photograph at the present time).

I gave up consultancy for a while as part of my long-term master-plan to study Japanese language in Japan. In the week or so between leaving my contract in Belgium and flying out to Japan I had another long-held ambition completed...  Some of my questions about how to have a permanent large diameter piercing in the top of each ear were answered by looking at the BME Web Site.  But in fact, when Patrick carried out the procedure, he used a cauteriser to burn 6mm diameter holes. The result was very pleasing, although I wanted to stretch the holes further. I had hoped to get more facial piercings before I left for Japan, but there just wasn't enough time.

But hey, as a 29-year old once-again student, I finally had another chance to have all the piercings I wanted.  I resolved to put aside my fears of making myself even more unacceptable than any other 190cm tall, blonde, fat, westerner in Japan. (I always remember a beautiful, heavily pierced guy from the Wildcat Piercing Jewellery Suppliers telling me "If you really want to do it, you'll do it").  Well, I didn't entirely squander the opportunity. During the year I expanded my earlobe to 26mm, had three eye-brow piercings, a bridge piercing and a double-tongue piercing. Although all these piercings were done in Japan, it took me some time to discover where I could get body piercing. In Tokyo, piercing studios definitely exist... maybe some other cities on the main island. But on the North island of Hokkaido, in Sapporo (Japan's 5th largest city), there are no piercing studios... if you want body piercing you either do it yourself, get your friend to do it to you, or you go to a cosmetic surgeon.

There are a lot of 'so-and-so piercings at such-and-such' stories on BME, but none of them really compare with having piercings done in Sapporo. All piercings are done under local anaesthetic, which is comfortable enough, and under the tender care of a surgeon and three nurses (not to mention the receptionist); but that said and with apologies to the really friendly staff there, an experienced body piercer with no medical training would have been far more competent to do the job. I went first for the tongue piercings, and my plan had been to have three piercings at once. Since the only shop I had found selling piercing jewellery had tried to sell me a labret stud for my tongue, I went to the clinic with just two appropriately sized bar-bells, around a centimetre longer than my tongue's thickness. The receptionist and nurses were horrified, and told me that my jewellery was far too long... I should definitely use their jewellery (producing a tiny bar-bell 1.5cm long at the very most). Perhaps that jewellery could have been persuaded to fasten in my tongue if it were pressed into my tongue like a button on a sofa cushion, but quite aside from the swelling later it would have been unmitigated agony as soon as the anaesthetic wore off. I insisted on my own jewellery, realised I had to give up on any idea of a third piercing with their jewellery, and went ahead with two.

My tongue, it has to be said, is an awkward beast to pierce. Apart from being rather thick, I have a condition called 'tongue tie', which means that even after an operation some years ago to release it a bit, it is still too closely tied to the bottom of my mouth to stick out of my mouth. I explained and demonstrated this to the surgeon before he started, but he still did his best to perform the piercing without any clamp to assist him. So there I was, with an anaesthetised tongue, a surgeon playing cat and mouse with it, three nurses staring into my mouth, and my Japanese friend (there for linguistic assistance) standing by.  As time rolled by I realised that this really was futile - he didn't stand a chance, and in some embarrassment in lieu of any unpatronising way to do it, I pulled an appropriately sized pair of clamps from my pocket and asked whether these would help. The surgeon took and tried to use the clamps, but with some self-inflicted difficulty since he appeared not to have worked out to stick the needle through the hole in the middle (perhaps surgeons just have straight clamps with no hole, I don't know).

Well, the tongue piercings were fitted, and if not straight they have at least sufficed for a year or so. I did my own down-sizing after the swelling went down, which probably did nothing to help the healing time (neither did entertaining a guest two days after the piercing, and having to try to eat shabu-shabu (a meat fondue), a feast of crab, a large bowl of noodles and other delicacies whilst trying to minimise my appearance of discomfort; neither singing Chumbawamba's "Tubthumping" or TM Revolution's "White breath" in karaoke; but there we are, it eventually healed.)

My eyebrow and bridge piercings were successfully done, although a Russian girl who went with me in one occasion to get an eye-brow pierce and got a nerve-twitch as a result was just told her eyebrow was jumping around as a side-effect of the anaesthetic: she persevered for some days before having to take out the piercing (after which the nerve stopped twitching).

Apart from the piercings, I fulfilled another ambition a few weeks before returning to England. Long ago a Japanese friend had told me about a friend of his who had scarred himself with Ursa Major by means of tobacco burns. I had ever since entertained the ambition of doing the same thing, and finally did it at a party with some Chinese students. (Illustration by means of arm-on-scanner - please excuse poor quality.

After returning from Japan, I took a contract in Belgium, and didn't take out any of the piercings before I started.  Of course I was a bit concerned about the reaction I'd get, but in fact there was none (at least if there was a reaction, it didn't reach me).  Was I just lucky, or is reaction to body piercings anticipation than reality?  I don't know.

  Andi-Tsuyoshi Williams E-Mail / Home Page  


submitted by: Anonymous
on: 01 March 1999
in Scarification

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