We Bleed Because We Need: What Piercing Means to Me
CW: Mention of Self Harm, CSA, Sexual Assault, ED
Today marks my 9 year anniversary in the piercing industry. That sentence alone feels a bit unreal to say or type. Next year will be a decade. Ten years is a long time to spend at anything, and an eternity when it’s something you love, and you sink your entire life and being into. They say it takes 10,000 hours to master something, which translates to 4 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 9 years. Well I’ve been piercing 8-12 hours a day, 5-7 days a week for the past 9 years, and I feel no where near close to mastering this craft. But I do know that almost every single day, I fall more in love with body piercing.
I have a few memories that stand out to me when I consider my entrance into the world of body piercing. As a very young child, my grandmother would regularly visit her friend who owned a jewelry store. They would sit and chat for hours sometimes in the evenings, and while they would talk, I would sit on the floor and play with some of the jewelry and back stock. I remember being enchanted by the big fancy earrings, the more ornate and decorative the more I loved them. I would sit for hours and just admire the stones and the gems, and desperately wanted to wear them. I remember watching my grandfather in the bathroom, shaving. Seeing his military tattoos on his upper arms, and asking about the pictures on his skin. I thought they were the most beautiful things, and would often draw them on myself.
I recall the first time I saw someone heavily pierced in public. I was 6 or 7 visiting Washington DC for a vacation with my grandparents (my grandfather was a military man, and felt strongly about taking me to see the museums and war memorials). We were waiting to cross the street, and a man walked up to the crosswalk. He had long dyed black hair cut messy and shaggy, large stretched lobes, and huge hoops in his nose and lips. I was enraptured. I was so caught up I didn’t walk when the crosswalk changed, and my grandmother had to dart back across the street to grab me. I wouldn’t stop talking about him and his earrings for weeks.
Later on, like many other piercers, I discovered national geographic magazines, pictures of tribal peoples and cultures. I was on the internet at 13 and 14 and it didn’t take long to stumble upon BME and Modblog. I watched modify on Netflix (when it was a DVD mailed to my house). The image of suspension on the cover struck a chord in me, and I spent weeks watching videos of suspensions online. At 14 I got my nostril pierced (with a 14g hoop, per my request, remembering the man I saw in Washington) and for every birthday and holiday that passed I got piercings. I graduated high school at 17 with somewhere around 30 or 40 piercings.
Piercings were something I had always been intrinsically drawn to. Something about the act of adorning your body, of decorating yourself to look exactly the way you want resonated with me. Something about the pain of piercings, something about bleeding seemed powerful and wonderful. I was the kid in class always sliding a safety pin through the thin skin on the top of my fingers and freaking class mates out.
I started cutting at 13. Having already survived CSA, and struggling heavily with my sexual identity and orientation, I dealt with depression and anxiety, later I would learn I had BPD, and an Eating Disorder. My emotions would become overwhelming, I felt things so strongly and so deeply it was like drowning. How could a mental emotion hurt so much, how could it feel so horrifying, so overwhelming. But cutting allowed me to tame my emotions, it quieted the storm in my mind and allowed me to cope with my body, what my mind could not handle by its self. I would feel a gentle calmness after. When I got my nose pierced, that calmness lasted for weeks. Every time I felt the ring move, every time I caught it out of the corner of my eye. A moment of quiet, a moment of calmness. A moment of happiness. I felt so beautiful, so cool. I had done something scary, and painful, and intimidating. And I had this gorgeous piece of jewelry to show for it.
To be honest when I wanted to get it pierced, I wanted it because it looked cool. I wanted it because I thought piercings were cool and awesome and I wanted to look like the people I admired on the internet. Nothing prepared me for the amount of confidence, self love, and healing that piercing provided me. It opened a floodgate, I became obsessed with piercings. I couldn’t understand, couldn’t put into words why it helped me so much, why it felt so empowering. I just knew I wanted to feel that feeling again and again.
Eventually as an adult, and as a body piecer, I found the words for it.
“Despite the beauty of many piercings, or the use of ornate jewelry as a status symbol, we can trace many of these piercings and their history back to ritual. To spirituality, to healing, and to tribe. Getting pierced wasn’t a quick or simple thing. It was a celebration of the person who was prepared to endure pain to achieve something greater. It was something earned, something done to heal, or protect. It was regarded with a sacred nature that some feel is lost in western culture today. But it does still remain, even under the fleeting fashion trends. There is an underlying current in every act of body piercing that is infallible, it can not be changed or removed even as times have changed so greatly around the act of piercing. There is a bravery to submit oneself to pain, even in the slightest form as modern piercings are only a mild pinch. There is a confidence, a strength to know you endured discomfort, and a permanent reminder to adorn your body to tell you “I did this, I CAN do this.” That feeling around piercing has existed for centuries, it was the same emotion that pushed the Moache to pierce their ears or the Makololo to pierce their lips. This feeling is alive in modern piercing studios around the world.
Some clients come in not knowing why or what brought them here that day, just knowing this strong impulse to be pierced. Others have a plan, something they have been mulling over for weeks or months or years that they are finally ready to get. Both know this is something they need or want, deep down. Maybe to feel beautiful; to reclaim their bodies; to celebrate personal achievement like graduation, marriage, or even divorce; to commemorate an important time (18th and 21st birthdays anyone?). Maybe simply because they want it! No matter the reasoning, every client is still so beautifully brave for entering the studio and agreeing to be pierced. It may be a modern take on a centuries old ritual, but that ritual of finding that strength within yourself to celebrate or commemorate whatever it is you may want to, is still there today. You just need to know how to see it. “
As a survivor of CSA, I spent some of my earliest years not in control of my body. My abuser was a family friend. He was some who was around often. He was someone I was forced to see, interact with, and be around. Later in high school, like many young women, I would experience my first instances of sexual assault. My Eating Disorder began around the same time. Nothing about my body had ever been mine. Not its shape, not its size, not what I put into it. My skin belonged to the hands of the men who abused me. My stomach and my lips belonged to my eating disorder. My mind belonged to the depression, the fear and the shame. But when I pierced my nose, that became mine. That piercing belonged to me. And each piercing and tattoo I got afterwards, they belonged to me to. And with them, parts of my body returned to me. I looked at them with love and gentleness, I found beauty in the modifications and thus found beauty in the skin that contained them.
I would go on to do my first suspension at 20, and in a time in my life where depression and suicidal thoughts reigned in my mind, suspension flooded me. It washed away all of that. Suspension gave me hope. It told me I was strong enough to survive. Strong enough to live. It filled me with a confidence that could move mountains. The groundwork piercing had laid, suspension built upon. I am not exaggerating one bit when I say suspension saved my life. I would not be here without it. I would have taken my life years ago. Through suspension, through bleeding, through ritual, I found within me the strength to survive. At every point in my life that I have felt hopeless and beyond saving, I have thrown myself 200% into piercing, into suspension, in this industry. And it has saved me and reminded me of a reason to stay. Every single time. Later, suspension would provide me with the strength and the confidence to not just survive, but to thrive.
“Body Play is the deliberate, ritualized modification of the human body. It is a deep rooted, universal urge that seemingly transcends time and cultural boundaries.“ There is a power in anything with blood, with pain. For centuries of human culture, across the world, across time, we bleed. We bleed for ritual, we bleed for religion, we bleed for beauty. As a species we are drawn to explore higher consciousness through pain and intense sensation. We run marathons, we climb mountains, we play extreme sports, we hang from hooks in our skin, we fast, we walk on hot coals. We push our bodies to the limit just to see what’s at the edge.
For me, piercing is in my blood. From my earliest memories I can recall being drawn to piercings, to tattoos, to modifications. I have always used my body, in some way shape or form, to control my emotions and my mind, to regulate my emotions. Sometimes that was unhealthy, in the form or restricting, or purging, or cutting. Sometimes, it was positive, in the form of yoga, or working out, or piercings or tattoos or suspension. I can not imagine a life without piercing and body modification.
For me, being a piercer is about being able to provide just one ounce of what piercing has given to me to someone else. The fashion is cool, the jewelry is fun, I like the freedom and stability my job provides. But that is not what brought me to piercing and not what keeps me here. For me, piercing is synonymous with ritual, with spirituality, with self. Piercing is an act of empowerment, of power, and an exchange of energy. And while that isn’t every experience, I do this for the ones where it is. I do this to see the look on a clients face when they get up and look in the mirror and see their new piercing. I do this for the clients who cry in my piercing room, for the ones who sit there and tell me it didn’t hurt, they just suddenly can’t stop crying, they feel this release. For the clients who message me weeks or months later, and tell me their piercing makes them feel beautiful. For the clients who tell me it saved their marriage, or changed their relationship. For the clients whom it provides gender euphoria. If I can provide just one client with the same thing piercing has given me, the same healing, the same empowerment, the same magic. Even just one person. Then I can consider myself a successful piercer.
To everyone who has ever pierced me, and to everyone who has ever come through my piercing room and trusted me with their body. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I am honored and humbled every day by those who entrust me to hold space for them, and entrust their bodies and experiences to me. And in turn, I am honored to offer that trust and vulnerability to others who work on me. So the cycle goes.