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tattoo conventions and piercings

emember when i first got an inkling for piercing, beyond the five ear piercings and two nostril piercings i had at the time. i remember thinking that i wanted my tongue to be pierced, the web between my thumb and forefinger, and my tragus. also, i began to think about cutting my tongue in half, something that i wouldn't know was possible until just a year or so ago. i had never known anyone to have such modifications and didn't even know if it was possible, or if someone existed who would do such a thing for you.

it was thirteen years ago and i was living in pittsburgh and i didn't know a single person who was pierced. i don't know how the notion came to me, but suddenly it was there and i couldn't get it out of my mind. i talked to my boyfriend at the time about it, and he seemed a little put off, but since he'd never heard of such a thing either he pretty much dismissed it. still, the thought of the tongue piercing especially floated around in my mind both elating and depressing me. elating, because the thought of such a piercing thrilled me, but depressing because it seemed so impossible and far away.

i found the idea of the tongue piercing especially exciting because it was so private and intimate, yet threatened disclosure at the same time. what would be disclosed? all of my life i had felt on the outside, and i saw this as a further step in that direction, and a further step towards self realization. as years would pass and my modifications mount, my reasons for being modified would become more clear to me, but in those early days, at the heart of it, i simply felt compelled. i wanted the experience, to be officially initiated into part of culture outside of culture, contrary to the the things that were expected of me as a woman born into our society.

about a year later a tattoo convention came to town. i had a tattoo, was interested in tattoos, and convinced my squeamish boyfriend to check out the convention with me. it was there that i met mad jack and his wife, anna, and saw someone with a pierced tongue for the first time. i talked to anna about it at length, full of questions and excitement. i couldn't believe that this desire of my mine could be realized, and the fact that it could was a little frightening. i felt i was now in the face of this modification and that i had no choice but to proceed. but anna was so gentle, radiating loving kindness. her kindness eased me and made more room in me for the sheer thrill of it. i could feel my boyfriend behind me shuffling from foot to foot, nervous and agitated, wanting to leave. so i thanked anna for all the information, and left, preparing in my mind the argument that i was about to present to justify spending the sixty dollars.

when we got outside of the hotel that was hosting the convention, i could see that my boyfriend was very upset. i began gently to explain my need to go ahead with this modification, but he wasn't hearing it. he walked ahead of me in a fury. i was in mid-sentence when he whirled around and shouted at me, 'you disgust me! you're a freak! you should go join a sideshow! if you get your f-ing tongue pierced i'll never touch you again!' i cried and cried. i was devastated by his cruel remarks, but my desire for this modification was so strong. i began to feel that it would be wrong for me not to go ahead with it, that i would be uncomfortable with myself until i did. even though he was so angry, and even though i was afraid of what would happen to our relationship, i decided that i was going to do it anyway.

the next day was the last day that the convention was in town, and my last chance to go ahead with this mod. that morning as i walked around town with my boyfriend, nervous, palms sweating, stomach churning, painfully aware of each minute that passed, i marked the time until i knew the convention would open. i told him that i was going ahead with it. he said he'd be in a bar getting drunk. he stormed off, to where i did not know, and i got on a bus and headed for the south side, to my best friend's house to ask him to come with me.

the bus ride was long. every single second was long. only a few days before this had been a fantasy and now it was going to happen. my tongue felt obvious and strange in my mouth, and i was dizzy and sweating. when i got to my friend's house he was sleeping. my knocking woke him up and he was surprised to find me outside his door. when i told him what i was doing, where i was going, he threw his arms around me laughing and knocked me to the floor. he kissed me all over my face, laughing, holding me off and looking at me, then laughing some more. being pinned to the ground under his weight eased the bubbling in my stomach and i was grateful. 'will i go with you!', he shouted, 'i wouldn't miss it!'.

i paced around the house as he got ready to go. it was such a relief to be in the company of someone who was supportive and encouraging. it was such a radical difference from my boyfriend's reaction, which had left me feeling very alienated and sad. as my friend got dressed, we talked about it, with him continuing to pour on the enthusiasm to a degree that turned my terror into a painful, but thrilling high. he held my hand on the way to the convention, talking non-stop, pausing only to hug me and kiss me and tell me how happy he was to be included in this experience. it felt wonderful.

when we arrived at the convention we made it straight for mad jack and anna's table. i saw anna and said, 'i've come to do it'. when she told me that jack would be doing the piercing, i started to feel sick all over again. it was anna i had spent so much time talking to, who i felt comfortable with. suddenly i had to adjust to the idea all over again. but i wasn't going to back out at that point, so i walked around to the other side of the table and sat down.

it was like being in a long, wavy tunnel. nothing seemed real except the shiny metal of jack's instruments and the high toned buzzing that had taken over my body. i was vaguely aware of my friend's voice in the background, but only vaguely. jack asked me questions that i barely heard as he asked me to rinse with a peroxide solution. after spitting, i grabbed both of his forearms with my sweating hands and pulled him towards me with the desperation for comforting clear on my face, 'i'm really nervous', i said, 'i mean really nervous.' mad jack didn't speak a lot of words, and what words he said i can't remember, but i remember his words relaxing me like an anesthetic, calming me down and making me feel safe. he sat in a chair in front of me and pulled our chairs together so closely that the front edges of them touched and our knees were touching also. he measured my tongue with a caliper that was inside a plastic bag, selected and sterilized the jewelry and explained to me how he would be holding my tongue between the forceps and inserting the needle from below. after applying the forceps, he marked the entry and exit points, lubed up a sterile twelve gauge needle, and came so close to me that i could feel his breath on my face. we were the only two people on the earth. he was looking directly into my eyes and i felt that i loved him. i felt genuine caring from him and he radiated a warm, paternal atmosphere. as the needle entered my tongue, i felt my tongue tighten. the sensation was similar to a cramp, nothing like what i expected. within a second the needle was through and the forceps off. jack was smiling at me and i could hear cheering. a crowd of people had gathered to watch and they were all clapping and cheering for me. i began to come back to reality, but the atmosphere that we had created together still hovered around me. it was a very strange feeling to have the needle through my tongue and not be able to close my mouth. something had definitely happened to me. he butted the jewelry up against the end of the needle, and used it to push the needle out. he screwed on the closure bead, and i closed my mouth. we hugged each other and he kissed my cheek. 'thank you', i told him, close to tears. i felt he had given me a great gift.

after that, it was a week of soft foods (mashed potatoes, applesauce, refried beans) and rinsing every two hours with a antiseptic mouth wash. also a week of talking like i had a mouthful of marbles, since my tongue was quite swollen. i told my coworkers that i had been pushed by a hostile anti-abortionist while volunteering at a local women's clinic (which i did do), and had fallen and bitten my tongue. they didn't believe me. i did find my boyfriend getting drunk at a bar. i don't think he ever did get over it.

since then i've had lots more piercings and have spent 7 1/2 years stretching my ear holes (now ear loops) to 1 5/8" in diameter. i will never stop. my philosophies concerning my modifications have continued to grow along with my mods.

i was at a local piercing shop recently waiting to have my septum stretched to an 8 ga. there was a young woman who was there to have her tongue pierced. i asked her about it, why she wanted to do it, how she felt about it, and she just shrugged her shoulders and said, 'i don't know. it looks cool, i guess. i just want to get this over with and get back to work.' she wasn't the only person i met there who seemed similarly disconnected from the significance of what they were about to experience. it's strange to see so many people with piercings now. in those early days, when my tongue was pierced, no one even knew what it was. now it seems most high school kids have a ring in their navel or eyebrow. i just hope that for all of them it is as meaningful as it is for me, and that they find it as deep and moving an experience.

s-on-the-e@ulster.net

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submitted by: Anonymous
on: 15 June 1999
in Tattoos

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