John Joyce was cutting my face when our photographer took this picture. It was either the last cutting or close to it of the last night of Scarwars3 in Philadelphia, October of 2007.
He was cutting into scar tissue from my previous facial cutting(s) and the pain was starting to spike. My friend Klein came over and took my hand and squeezed it. Followed by Sarvas, Christiane and Håvve. Hand after hand grabbing me, reminding me that I was doing just fine. To this day, I don’t know how many of my friends were holding me. Most of the SW guests had gone home with just a core groups of die-hards still hanging around. The feeling of safety and of my friends looking out for me was one of the most amazing things that came out of the weekend for me.
A few days ago I started writing an article on anesthetics use in the early days of the Western body piercing community. It wasn’t exactly common, per se, but interesting to note that the majority of piercers who used them- either ‘spray freeze’ 1 or injectables 2 worked almost exclusively from private or home studios whereas the loudest voices against their use came from piercers working out of retail shops.
There’s an ethic in the tattoo community of ‘Keep it Secret, Keep it Safe.’ Don’t share private things because they could fall into the wrong hands; those hands are a communally accepted boogie man of hacks, scratchers, kitchenwizards and the scariest of them all- legislators seeking regulation. Retail piercing shops had to take a stand against anything that could possibly harm their business; especially at a time when the entire concept of piercing seemed like the pursuit of S&M devotees and sexual deviants. The late 1970s issues of PFIQ 3 featured piercing and fictional content much more ‘extreme’ than what could be found in the 80s editions; with more eyes watching we had to be much more careful. Lines had to be drawn.
Piercers like Doug Malloy, Sailor Sid Diller and Jack Yount used anesthetics, with Jack feeling that piercing was ‘brutal’ and that his clients shouldn’t have to go through the discomfort of an ampallang without a nerve blocker. Jack often pierced at thicker gauges than his West Coast peers and his reasoning was a 25g hypodermic needle caused far less distress to a client than an 8g. He would allow photographs to be taken of him doing minor surgeries with no fear of legal reprisal, but he was adamant that no photos be taken of him using injectables. His fear wasn’t unfounded, and in 2002, seven years after his passing, a Florida body piercing shop was raided and it’s piercers arrested for practicing medicine without a license. 4
The arrests made several news broadcasts, one of which cited a possible complication being death from anaphylactic shock due to the anesthetic used, if the client didn’t die from hemorrhaging or massive infection first. In response, Truitt says he never uses anesthetics for any procedures, and none were found in the studio. 5
The genie was out of the bottle and released into the Internet superculture. The worst fear had been realized and soon legislators would work on banning piercing/body modification. Any day now.
Last week- some 14 years since the Florida arrest- a well known body modification artist posted photos on his Instagram/Facebook of a procedure that exposed his client’s skull. Far from the keep it secret, keep it safe self-regulation of days gone by, here it was posted openly. Not behind the pay-per-view wall of BME/Extreme, but on the modern Eye of Providence Facebook. To say it inspired discussion would be an understatement. They were coming, the regulators. Any day now.
I posted about my proposed article- again on Facebook- and laid out my misgivings. Would talking about anesthetic use in the 1980s somehow make a connection that today’s body modification practitioners, some of whom are doing modification work on a public scale undreamed of in Jack and Sid’s day, might be using them too. Where does my responsibility lie?
The feedback the Facebook page provided was helpful. An influential West Coast piercer (long since retired) discussed using numbing creme in the early years of his career. Another Sacred Debris writer echoed my worry of exposing current modification artists. A friend from New England discussed his views on ‘earning’ a modification by feeling all of the pain from the procedure. Having earned all of my modifications- including the ones I was lucky enough to experience pain-free thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, I couldn’t decide the right course of action and the direction the article should take.
I could talk about the piercers who offered ‘pain free’ procedures to their clients. I could discuss the fear of regulation that anesthetic use inspires. I could talk about ritual and earning modifications (the story that starts this article found me with blue-gel being applied to the cutting to help me deal with the pain and how it was still a significant ritual for me) or I could somehow talk about all of it.
I went with 4: All of the Above.
What are your thoughts?
If you could get your piercings done without pain- would you?
Do you feel modification artists should post photos of extreme modifications being performed?