I hadn’t really thought about piercing anything other than my ears. Not by ignorance of all the cool piercings out there; rather that I didn’t feel that anything else would suit me. I like the cartilage piercings and have a reasonably elaborate plan for my ears, which I am slowly realising one piercing at a time. I am very measured and deliberate with my piercings; considering each one carefully for quite some time before committing. This means I only get about one a year; which frustrates my piercer-friend greatly. Almost every time we meet up he asks when he’ll be perforating me again. Eventually he told me that I should move onto something other than my ears and suggested a few options, none of which particularly moved me.
Then – I’m not entirely sure why – I began thinking of a tongue frenulum piercing. Discreet, but pretty; invisible as a secret, it appealed to me for reasons which I could not exactly define to myself. I began doing research and asking around. I liked the way in which nobody would even know of its existence unless you chose to show them; it was like my ears which are kept hidden under my hair. The only thing that concerned me was possible tooth damage, but I reasoned that if it was placed back far enough the wearing of enamel would be minimal. I kept it on my mind for a while longer, until John Wayne (my piercer) inevitably asked what I was thinking of getting next.
“Tongue web,” I said, poking out my tongue hopefully. “Well, I’m just kicking the idea around...”
“God no! If you want that I’m not doing it for you. Those things rip like fuck.” He then stuck his own tongue out, showing how far it went down his chin. “See that? I had one and my web just ripped. Gives you more space for tongue piercings but that’s all.”
John Wayne has five tongue bars, but I’m not really all that interested in tongue piercings. The ripping element concerned me somewhat, so I really began researching in earnest. Three of my other friends had previously had them, one of which kept hers for six years until she had surgery to extract her wisdoms. All of them had removed theirs themselves (for various reasons) rather than had them rip out, so I reasoned that three out of four personal testimonies was good enough. As for the tooth damage, I was speaking to John Wayne’s fiancé about it and she told me to suck my tongue up to the roof of the mouth to expose the frenulum. “Oh my fuck! Your tongue web is HUGE.” She did the same and showed me hers, which really was quite small. I laughed and showed her again, and she said that she thought it may be able to be placed quite far back, which reassured me that it may not need to touch my teeth. She also told me that the only reason John Wayne had ripped his piercing out because he kept incessantly playing with it and it had caught his bottom teeth. I find people who play with oral piercings distracting and a bit irritating, and I reasoned that the tapping noise alone would be enough deterrent against that.
I spoke to John Wayne some more and he eventually agreed to pierce me if I decided to get it. “But bite me and I punch you in the face,” he warned. He said he despised doing it because his fingers are huge and it is naturally a small area to work into, but said he didn’t want me cheating on him with another piercer. I thought that was quite kind, because I like John’s piercing manner – I know he’s good and he’s my friend, so it is nice to support him. After a few months I decided that I really wanted to get it done, and went in to the shop on a day significant to me (all my piercings mean something). I was a bit uncertain of what to expect. John Wayne asked me to rinse with mouthwash (I’d also brushed my teeth before), lie down and lift my tongue up. He decided to pierce it with a curved barbell with one fixed ball and one screw-on – twinkly ones. He said that the curve would be the most comfortable. So he clamped my frenulum a few times, testing to see where would be best I suppose; before he asked me to breathe and then poked the needle through. It really felt that mild. A single touch of pain and the needle was horizontal in my mouth; nothing like the hard pushes required to punch through my cartilage in my ears. I waited with my mouth open as he prepared the jewellery. It only really hurt when he slid the needle out, dragging against the new little wound. But the jewellery insertion was a breeze; it was slightly smaller than the needle and felt fine.
Then the tricky bit. That single, sparkly ball. John’s fingers kept slipping, and soon my jaw began to ache from holding my mouth so far open. The shop’s order for the implements which would have made the ball-screwing simple had not come through yet. What made it worse was my unconscious tongue movements, which combined with a fatal swallow (the saliva was pooling at the back of my throat) caused the jewellery to slip out entirely. John had to reclamp and rethread – difficult – and then after some more useless scrabbling with the ball eventually donned a head-torch and called the tattoo artist Quintin Carnage to hold the end of the bar with tweezers so that he could struggle with the ball. It hurt a little at times, but barely. Eventually all seemed fixed on and I took a look.
I really liked it. Two small silver balls at the bottom of my mouth just looked so cute. I even liked the sparklies; and normally I despise any form of bling. But after all, nobody will even see this piercing unless I purposely show them; so they may as well get a show while they’re at it.
I thanked both John Wayne and Quintin profusely, and paid at the front. Luckily I stayed to chat to John for a bit after that, because suddenly I felt something small floating about in my mouth and realised the infernal ball had come loose already. John told me to keep my tongue still, sit back on the bed/table and tilt my head forward so that the ball would drift back to the front of my mouth. It was plucked out and John Wayne and Quintin were soon fishing about in my mouth again. Once more the ball nearly fell down to the back of my throat, and Quintin offered a pair of his own gloves which he claimed had more grip. This time John really tried to make sure it was on, screwing it in tightly until the whole bar turned in the vice-grip of Quintin’s tweezers. Then he told me to sit up while he held the bar manually, trusting his fingers more than the instruments to let him know whether it was tight enough. There was a lot of fumbling for him and sitting about with my mouth gaping “like a retard”, John said, for me. Interestingly I had been to the dentist a few days before, and had been told after the check-up that I had a slightly smaller than average bite. Basically my mouth can’t open quite as wide as it might in other people. No wonder it was so difficult. Contrary to other experiences I have read, I didn’t drool excessively and only collected as much spit in the back of my mouth as the average person would lying on their back without swallowing.
Once we were sure the ball was on – for good this time – I looked again in the mirror. It really was so pretty, even if it was a bit skew from the swelling. I rinsed with mouthwash again (somehow no blood) and accompanied John while he had a cigarette, to check that it would not come loose during conversation again. It didn’t. I thanked John and Quintin again and went away.
John Wayne told me to rinse with anti-bacterial mouthwash after every meal, so I began doing so. I’d heard that one should be wary of mouthwashes which contained alcohol, but John said that it didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things because the mouth is such a dirty orifice anyway, and as long as I didn’t over-rinse I would be fine. I was not incapacitated with regards to speech; however I did try keep talking to a minimum because of the repeated tugging and abuse my web took in the process of getting the ball on. The next day it was feeling okay though. Eating was no problem; occasionally I’d try sweep my tongue around my mouth to remove stray grains of food, and then realise the only thing I could feel were the two little balls. Once a day I also used an earbud to clean the white gunk that collected at the piercing sites; which I assumed was either lymph or plaque. I also overcame the natural urge to tell/show people just because I like the idea of having a secret that nobody would know about. I told two of my closest friends, and that was all. A couple of people did find out in an incidental way. One was a woman in the pharmacy who asked what I wanted the anti-inflammatories for. I just said I got an oral piercing, and she wanted to see. So I showed her, and she gasped and said she’s never seen anything like that before. But after I chatted to her about it, said that there was no pain because of the lack of nerves there, it was done safely in town, the piercer was my friend and no he was not doing any more of the same piercing – she was actually pretty cool about it. I felt like I’d reassured her, and that my normal, natural manner made it less ‘freakish.’ I felt that even if she told people “Well, you’ll never guess what strange thing I saw today” she would not be afraid or judgemental about it.
The others that found out were two people in my varsity art class. I was drawing John Wayne and Quintin a little cartoon to say thanks for going to all the trouble to pierce me (at that stage I couldn’t afford to tip them), and one of my friends asked to see it.
“Frenulum,” he said. “What’s that?” I told him it was like a little membrane, three of which were in the mouth.
Anyway, he asked if I’d let him see.
As soon as he caught a glimpse of it his face seemed to crack open with shock and he spun away from me, breathing heavily. He put a hand over his face and kept his head down for a long moment. He almost looked sick. I was quite concerned. That was probably the most negative reaction I had. He called another girl to take a look as well. I tried to explain that it wasn’t painful to do and I liked it. They eventually conceded that it was entirely for myself because it was so hidden; not for anyone else – “Well, except your boyfriend.” I just gave him a scornful look. Of course it was only for me. After the initial shock he seemed to get over it and things were business as usual, but I still feel like he can’t wrap himself around it, like he thinks I’m a bit unbalanced. But that’s okay. After all, he asked to see it.
So about fifteen days after I got pierced, my frenulum was feeling fine. I was surprised it was so quick to heal, especially because the mouth is so full of bacteria. It has definitely been my easiest piercing and one of the more interesting. I’m very glad I got it done.
submitted by: -K
on: 22 Oct. 2011
in Tongue Related Piercings
Artist: John Wayne Stevens
Studio: Ink Saints
Location: Grahamstown, South Africa