How to Make Your Studio an LGBT+ Safe Space
I received a message the other day from a piercer overseas, who was asking for some advice in their studio. Namely, how to be a more inclusive space for LGBTQIA clients and community. They had an old school apprenticeship, dealt with a lot of homophobia in the industry, and realized they weren’t sure if they were doing everything possible to make a studio a safe and inclusive space. While I have been privileged in recent years to work in queer owned and operated studios, I realize this is not the case for many. Many folks deal with homophobia and transphobia in their apprenticeships and early studios, and even studios without blatant hate often simply do nothing, rather than put in the work to make their studios a truly safe space. So I wanted to write about the things I have found the most impactful. This comes from my experience as a professional piercer, and my experience as a queer nonbinary person in this industry.
Piercing is Queer. Period.
Before I even get into my suggestions I think it’s important as a baseline to remind anyone reading at home that piercing is queer. Piercing has always been enmeshed in queer, gay, and trans culture. Without leather daddies, trans fashion, and queer passion we wouldn’t have the modern piercing industry as it is. It was thanks to gay communities that piercing became modernized and mainstream; and the earliest piercing studios in America were also safe spaces for LGBTQ folks- and often staffed by them. There is never a reason for exclusion or hate in this industry, and doing so dishonors those who came before us.
Small Actions, Big Impacts
Fortunately, some of the biggest ways to make a studio inclusive and safe are also some of the easiest changes to make. These are all things that can be swapped over in 10-20 minutes but will make a huge impact on your clients.
-Pronouns and Names on Paperwork: Obviously every state and insurance company requires legal information on your paperwork for consent forms. But it goes a long way to have separate sections for Legal Name and Name or Chosen Name. Many folks may be in the process of a legal name chance (which can be long and difficult), or simply feel more comfortable with a different name than what is on their ID. Specifying Legal Name and Name/ Chosen Name tells clients that you understand this and are willing to refer to them correctly. Likewise including pronouns on paperwork lets clients show you the correct way to refer to them. This only works if you actually check these sections, so keep on top of confirming that you have the right info! As a note- there’s no such thing as “preferred pronouns”. There’s no preference about it- those are a persons pronouns. It’s far more polite to just list the section as “pronouns”
-Non-Gendered Restrooms: Most studios have a single stall client bathroom or a small client bathroom. Hanging non-gendered signage is a small way to show clients that your studio is inclusive and safe. There are many great simple signs that just say “restroom” online, and these are so easy to change in and out on your own.
-Menstruation Station- In every studio I’ve worked at we stock pads, tampons, and other products in our restroom with some non gendered signage offering clients to take some as needed. This has even gotten positive reviews, compliments, and other businesses taking inspiration. Obviously these products are amazing for many cisgendered clients as well, but just as many nonbinary and trans clients also benefit from access to these products. There’s nothing worse than realizing you need something like this right before a long tattoo or big piercing and not having one on hand. Keeping them accessible to clients is a huge help.
-Spotlight on Safe Spaces- Don’t be afraid to show folks loudly that you are a safe space for queer clients. On your google listing you can choose to add LGBT+ friendly. There are many clever and beautiful prints and posters that speak about a business acceptance of all genders, sexualities, religions, races, etc that you can hang in your lobby. A small pride flag on the wall, LGBTQ flash, or flyers for community events all go a long way to showing clients in your studio that they are safe with you.
Never Stop Learning and Growing
The following suggestions take a bit more work. These are things that for many may take unlearning some things and learning new. But in an industry like ours we are constantly learning and growing, so this is nothing new to any of it! After all, we always have to stay learning and pushing ourselves to be the best we can.
-Ungender Piercings: For many years we needlessly gendered piercings. The biggest example of this is “Male and Female” genital piercings and nipple piercings. And beyond just gendered names, some studios even charged more to pierce certain anatomy. This came largely from bias and homophobia. These days a powerful way to change that is to remove gender from piercings. Beyond making things more inclusive, it’s also more accurate and makes communication with clients easier. I prefer to use the language Penile piercings and Vulva piercings. This allows me to refer to the specific anatomy I am working on and discussing, and allows me to have more clear communication with clients. It also acknowledges that some men have vulvas, some intersex clients have penises, and some women have neither! We work on all kinds of bodies and our language should reflect that! For nipple piercings I like to phrase things nipples on breasts and nipples on chests. This language is also more inclusive and allows me to reference the anatomy on hand.
I have met many piercers who are progressive and intelligent but still hesitant to change this language, often out of fear of clients lack of education. It’s unfortunately common to have clients with vulvas be unaware that vulva is the proper term for their anatomy. But for those with these concerns I counter with this- how else can we expect others to learn and embrace this language if we do not do so ourselves? If a client sees reference to vulva piercings on my page and doesn’t know what the word means then this gives me an amazing opportunity to educate the client, expand their knowledge, and also offer them confidence in my understanding of anatomy. I see no cons from that!
The process of adjusting language can be a long one, and you will make mistakes at first. It’s ok to slip up and get things wrong. Learning doesn’t happen overnight!
-Take Courses on LGBT Inclusion: In recent years the Association of Professional Piercers has begone expanding its efforts to offer strong education about LGBTQIA clients, issues, and needs. This year there are more classes than ever offering education about topics that effect the LGBTQIA community. Making it a point to attend conference and take these classes will allow you to learn necessary information about how to best work with and support your clients. Most piercers would happily take technique and skill based classes, but I believe that being able to be as accessible to as many clients as possible is a skill in its own worth learning and focusing time on.
Outside of classes offered by the APP, your local chamber of commerce, community college, and queer spaces may also host educational events geared toward business and the community about LGBT issues and needs.
-Learn Our Gay History: Like I said earlier, piercing is queer. There is a long and rich history in the industry that we owe entirely to LGBT folks. Part of honoring that history is learning it and remembering it and sharing it. One of the best ways to genuinely be supportive is to learn and keep that history alive. Running the Gauntlet is an amazing book written by Jim Ward, a gay man considered by many father of the modern piercing industry. It details his experiences opening America first piercing studio- and the many ways gay culture was deeply involved in it. Sacred Debris is an online patron publication that catalogues piercing history, and often has a focus on queer culture and overlap in history. For a small fee you can access all of the posts and blogs. And if you love holding some history in your hands, they offer a series of small, affordable books called Nodal Points which catalogue piercing history and important links through out it- often overlapping with queer and kink communities and culture.
Big Changes, Big Results
This section covers changes in your studio that may be a much larger undertaking or require a larger amount of work. These may not be practical for every piercer, or every studio, and that’s ok! These are just larger suggestions to be as inclusive as possible as a studio and piercer.
-Offer Genital Piercings: If the piercing industry exists because of queer culture, then it also exists because of genital piercings. Before this was the industry, before piercing was instagrammable and safe for work, it wasn’t. It was a bunch of queer folks piercing their genitals and getting weird and often kinky about it. And that part of piercing is alive and thriving today. Piercings still play a huge role in queer culture. Genital piercings in particular remain incredibly popular in leather and fetish spaces. For trans and non binary clients piercings become a part of their transition process. For many piercings offer them relief from dysphoria, offer them new sensation and stimulation after hormones or surgery, or change the way they interact with their partners in a way that suits their bodies better. For clients of all genders, cis and trans alike, genital piercings can be gender affirming. They can help cis women love and connect with their bodies after pregnancy, relationships, or trauma. They can allow trans men to feel masculine, effect they way they move and dress, and offer added sensation, as well as highlight and accentuate bottom growth. For cis men genital piercings can help boost their confidence, help them feel comfortable with their bodies, and even allow them to heal from trauma. For clients of all genders, genital piercings are some of the most powerful, impactful, functional piercings we offer. I can not put into words the sheer bliss of doing genital work for a client and having them contact me later and tell me these piercings changed their lives. That they had their first orgasms from these piercings. That they feel safe and at home in their bodies because of these piercings. Clients will leave the lights on, meet new partners, find new confidence in themselves. Over some piercings. It genuinely is among the most precious services we can offer as piercers. And continuing to offer these piercings also honors the history of the industry we come from.
I encourage all piercers to pursue an apprenticeship where genital work will be part of the curriculum. And if that is not on the table for you or you are already an established piercer, shadow, guest, travel and train with piercers experienced in genital work to add these skills to your portfolio. I promise you will not regret it.
-Protect Your Local Community: Anti-gay legislation is one of the most direct ways that LGBTQIA folks are harmed and deal with bias and hate. Many of these bills and movements start on small local levels. They start in your city halls and councils, they start with locally elected politicians. You are an important member of your community and your voice matters. Learn what is happening locally to you, and if you have the time and ability to do so, use your voice. Attend a city Councel meeting. Email your representative. Vote in local elections. These are powerful tools we can use to protect the community. If you own your studio, join your local chamber of commerce. Make your voice heard! It makes a difference.
-Community Aid: A very powerful way we as piercers can be a safe space for our clients is through community aid and outreach. LGBTQIA folks are a minority, and in recent weeks there have been some painful attacks by lawmakers and others against this community. Piercings, as we well know, are powerful tools for many queer folks, and allow them to connect with and celebrate their identity. As piercers, a way we can help the community is to give back. While established in a studio I would give away free piercing services a few times a month, often to LGBT+ clients. I regularly worked with local queer charities and organizations to donate piercing services and sometimes even basic jewelry to people in the community who were in need. Some of my favorite services like this to offer are first lobe piercings for trans women, discounted or free piercing fees for queer youth, and encouraging local organizations to pick a BIPOC member of the community who could use some positivity, sparkle, and shine and offering them a free piercing with basic jewelry of choice. Not every studio can afford to do this, or afford to do it often. But even if it is just once year, even if it’s just on a whim because a client resonated with you, this kind of community outreach allows us to give back with our skills as piercers. Doing so honors the history of the industry, those who came before us, and inspires those who will come after us.
-Hire and Shop Queer and BIPOC: As we know, this industry is here because of queer culture. So one of the best ways we can honor that is choosing to allow the industry to continue on in queer and BIPOC hands. Marginalized groups have long been overlooked in hiring when it comes to apprenticeships and FOH positions at studios. This is changing, but slowly. A great thing we can do is to give queer people and BIPOC folks opportunities for employment and growth in these industries. In the same vein, purchase from and support queer jewelers and artists. There are many amazing LGBTQIA companies in this industry who are so very deserving of your financial support and who make gorgeous pieces and products for your studio.
I hope these suggestions and ideas helped, and I hope that every studio out there always strives to do better and offer more. We are always learning and growing, there is always more we can do. Part of the beauty of this industry is the elements that are always changing. And how we make ourselves a safe space is one of those. Happy Pride.