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Awesome branding experience; crappy healing

On my 27th birthday, I celebrated, in part, by participating as a demo model in a workshop on branding. It was a pretty amazing experience.

The workshop was held at the Citadel in SF (a BDSM space) and taught by Fakir (www.fakir.org) -- I felt that I was in very safe hands. It was a bit strange being watched by so many people, and I did have a little stage fright as I got up on the table. (What if I cried out? What if I totally embarrassed myself in some other way?) But as soon as the preparations began for the branding, all my thoughts were focused on the idea of a red-hot piece of metal being pressed into my chest.

I had gone through a number of different design ideas, but none of them were particularly significant to me -- mostly, I just wanted the sensation, and to have some sort of simple design that looked nice. I finally decided on getting a fermata in the middle of my chest. (A fermata is a symbol in music notation, an arc with a dot underneath.) Looking back, I should have spent a little more time picking out what I wanted, but I was so intent on having the experience of branding that I wasn't really thinking clearly about what the resulting scar would look like.

Contrary to what I'd expected, the pain of the actual strike really wasn't that bad — all the nerve endings are cauterized in a fraction of a second. But the psychological intensity of it was huge. My strike was done on my chest while I lay on my back, arms and legs weighted down with sandbags to keep me from moving. I got to watch the metal under the flame of the blowtorch, inches from my face, and saw it gradually turn bright red. And then — the sizzle, and the smell of burnt flesh. The concept of it was far, far scarier and nerve-wracking than the physical sensation.

Even better was the second type of branding used to complete the design, fire-direct: incense left on the skin to slowly burn down to ashes. After placing the lit incense on my skin, Fakir let my partner gently blow on it to keep it burning. It felt pleasantly warm, until it started to burn down to the skin — I could feel it getting hotter and hotter, and suddenly I felt the heat burning throughout my chest, not just on the spot where the incense sat. It was dizzying.

The fire-direct branding was a very emotional experience for me, and left me with a beautiful memory — my partner's face, smiling, gently blowing the fire down into my chest. It was a moment that really synthesized tender love and exquisite pain, and just blew away all of my previous associations with being burned (through self-injury): panic; numbing depression; self-hatred. Even more than the strike, which I felt somewhat detached from, the fire-direct was a beautiful and almost meditative experience, and one I'd really like to have again.

A week later, the first scab started to peel off, and the scar started to become painful. Within the first week, it had already quadrupled in size, and I started to realize that despite Fakir's expert hand, the brand was probably going to look like a big blob. "That's okay," I thought. "It will eventually just be a slightly lighter patch of skin on my chest, and nobody will notice it much, anyway."

Now, over three months later, the scar has keloided, and is bright pink. The arc and dot have become connected with scar tissue, so it looks more like a mushroom than anything else. The location and the bright color attract a lot of comments, and I'm getting tired of explaining to people what the brand was supposed to look like. ("No, it's not a little tree. NO, it's not a shroom. Do I look like a hippy?") If that weren't bad enough, the keloid has become itchy and painful, and the skin around the brand has become extremely sensitive as well. I can't bear to have the brand touched at all, and I have a hard time finding a comfortable position to sleep in, because lying on my side pushes the skin together and rubs the brand. I'm starting to worry about how long it will take for the pain to go away -- a year? More? (I would really appreciate any advice from those who have had brands that keloided. Do they eventually flatten out, or do they stay puffy and pink?)

I'll always treasure the experience of getting my brand, but I really wish I'd gotten more information about the healing process before I went through with it. I wouldn't have done it if I'd realized how much the shape was going to change and how painful the resulting scar would be.


submitted by: Anonymous
on: 28 Sept. 2008
in Scarification

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Artist: Fakir
Studio: SF+Citadel
Location: San+Francisco

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