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Coming out of the branding closet

Today I am going to come out of the closet. I can lie no more. And if you can't accept what I'm about to tell you, that's your own fault.

My closet is not the closet of homosexuality, though I was put in my closet by an equally non-accepting society. Every person in this class room put me in this closet. Every person in this school put me in this closet. Many of my friends shut the door. Even my own family helped to push me in. But today, whether you approve or not, I am jumping out.

Over Christmas break I got branded. Nine times, a small circular piece of steel was heated by blowtorch until it was glowing orange, and then pressed to the outside of my left bicep.
Each touch was accompanied by a small but intense burst of pain, but to be totally honest it didn't hurt like I thought it would.
I mean, looking at a piece of glowing metal, I was thinking this is gonna hurt like hell. But it barely did.

I was in pain for a second at most, and then the nerve endings were burned away. A small puff of smoke accompanied each strike. When it was done, the skin surrounding each circle had turned white, and that whole area felt strange. It wasn't extremely sensitive but it felt kind of cold. Strange, considering I had just received a third degree burn.

So now that everyone is staring at me wide eyed, I want you to remember something. I had this brand on my arm all of last week, and none of you knew. You accepted me then as the same old Andy. I wonder now that I told you about it, if you will be able to accept me as you did last week, when I was the same person I am today.

I want you to know that this was not a spur of the moment thing. I wasn't sitting there with nothing to do. I have been thinking about this since tenth grade. After two years of consideration, and waiting until I was eighteen, I went through with it.

I showed my best friend and he said, "Dude, that's crazy."
I couldn't believe he said that. Not because he's my friend, but because he self-pierced both of his own ears (twice), self- pierced both his nipples, and once drank so much alcohol that he had to go to the hospital. And he calls me crazy!

I relayed this story to my friend Kaley Willow. She's seventeen and lives in California. She said, "Some people just don't understand that some accepted things are crazier than some non-accepted things." That is totally true. You hear a story of someone getting drunk and what they did and you laugh. You don't say 'that's crazy.' You accept it.

So am I crazy? Nope, I don't think so. Is what I did self-mutilation? Not anymore than my friend piercing his ears or getting drunk. And I would say getting drunk could hurt you a lot more than getting branded. A few weeks ago there was a story on the news about a college kid that got drunk and fell down a flight of steps. He died. I, however, am still alive and well.

Deb Martinson says in her article "Self Injury : A Quick Guide to the Basics", "It's not self-injury if your primary purpose is sexual pleasure, body decoration, spiritual enlightenment via ritual, or fitting in or being cool." It wasn't for sexual pleasure, but body decoration obviously. Also to me, it was a personal ritual of sorts. I didn't get branded to fit in or be cool. Who would I fit in with? The hundreds of other people at this school who've been branded? If you couldn't tell, that was sarcasm.

In fact, I know of only one other person at this school who has been branded. He has a small cross on his left arm, at about the same place as my circles. But I think he didn't realize something about a brand. "Keep in mind...that tissue burned to the third degree will expand from three to five hundred percent," says Keith Alexander in his article "About Branding". The metal used in my brand measured about 2.8 millimeters in diameter. The scars have expanded to about 7.5 millimeters.

According to the "BME Scarification FAQ" by Shannon Larratt, "Ideally a healed branding looks like a pattern of thick raised lines, slightly lighter than skin colour."

History of Branding -

In her article "Branded for Life", Joan Whitely says, "In certain societies, such as early 18th-century England and modern day Iraq, branding has been used to punish criminals."

In the United States, branding has become a popular way for fraternity members to display their allegiance. Michelle Delio says, "The practice continues to this day, and many prominent figures, such as Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan, Emmit Smith of the Dallas Cowboys, and the Reverend Jesse Jackson have the Greek letters of their fraternities indelibly emblazoned on their skin."

So is Michael Jordan crazy? No, but he's got enough NBA championship rings to make a set of brass knuckles. Is Emmit Smith crazy? No, but he won the Super Bowl. Is the Reverend Jesse Jackson crazy? No, but he is a very well respected person in society.

Hearing that, can you accept me? I know I'm no Michael Jordan, but still... Then I have to ask myself a question. Do I care? If you are so close minded that you can't accept me for who and what I am, then I wouldn't want you as a friend. As Ani DiFranco says, "You don't have to like me for who I am, but we'll see what you're made of by what you make out of me."

I asked two people who have had scarring done on their bodies why they think tattooing and piercing are so accepted, while branding isn't. Kaley Willow says, "I think it's probably because branding is definite tissue damage...so if you are doing something like that, then it must mean you want to kill yourself." She has several decorative scars. "I've gotten maybe two comments along the lines of "Oh that's pretty." Most people just express their disgust and make comments about my suicidal tendencies, but I never have and never will attempt suicide, I don't believe in it and I love life."

Shannon Larratt, twenty five year old publisher and editor of Body Modification Ezine (BME), says, "I'm sure that it's just the mutilation Vs. art thing in people's heads." He has been branded using the same method as was used on mine. Body Modification Ezine is by far the largest on-line website dedicated to body art of all kinds. It can be accessed at www.bmezine.com.

I'm not suicidal. Like Kaley, I share a love and passion for life. And Shannon is also right. You've always been taught by your parents and society that inking and piercing the skin is fine, maybe even good, and that anything else is bad. I urge you to try to think differently. I don't want to transform you into me, but just to open yourself up to new things, like nine small scars on my left arm.

And if you still can't accept me, if you hate me, I'm a special person, and it's your loss. You know there was recently another group of people who were hated for what they did. What they did was freely practice their religion. They were called Jews. The people who hated them were called Nazis.

Special thanks to willow and Shannon.

Works Cited

Alexander, Keith. "About Branding". Body Modification Ezine. unknown : 2pp. Online. Internet. 25 November 1998. Available : www.bmezine.com

Delio, Michelle. "Body Branding". Body Modification Ezine. unknown : 2pp. Online. Internet. 25 November 1998. Available : www.bmezine.com

DiFranco, Ani. Compact disk. Living in Clip. 1997.
Righteous Babe Records.

Larratt, Shannon. "BME Branding/Cutting/Scarring FAQ". Body Modification Ezine. 23 February 1996 : 7pp. Online.
Internet. 25 August 1998. Available : www.bmezine.com

Larratt, Shannon. Personal Interview. 7 January 1999.

Martinson, Deb. "Self Injury : A Quick Guide to the Basics".
Secret Shame (Self Injury and Support). unknown.
?pp. Online. Internet. 8 January 1999. Available : http://crystalpalace.net/~llama/psych/injury.html

Whitely, Joan. "Branded for Life". Las Vegas Review Journal. 4 October 1998.

Willow, Kaley. Personal Interview. 7 January 1999.

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submitted by: Anonymous
on: 15 Feb. 1999
in Scarification

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