Scott Shatsky may not be the most recognizable names in piercing, but his roots run deep – from being a young man hanging around the original Gauntlet, to apprenticing under Jim Ward and being part of the original Gauntlet San Fransisco crew, Scott offers some wonderful insight into that early pivotal time. Scott remains part of that quiet faction who was more enamored with piercing as an intimate movement, and gives us some new perspective on those Gauntlet years as a client, manager, and Master Piercer.
Ari – Where does piercing start for you, Scott?
Scott – I grew up in Los Angeles, and I always had a fascination with anything other than just being white, so tattoos and piercings fell into that. I was just always very interested, so in high school and even before I was a punk rock kid I was always sticking needles in me for piercings. I don’t even remember how I found Gauntlet, but it was in West Hollywood. I walked in and I became friends with Jim (Ward) and became pretty good friends with Cross, who I share a birthday with. I was a young kid. I wasn’t even in a place where I could get pierced there, age-wise. Cross was only a couple of years older than I was at the time. I have this picture of me sitting there with Jim and his beautiful silver and purple peacock wallpaper in the piercing studio when he was piercing my cartilage. So my identity in that world started years before I was piercing.
Ari – Do you know have a guesstimate on the year when you first found Gauntlet?
Scott – I was probably sixteen so that would have been 1981.
Ari – Was it only Jim and Cross at this time?
Scott – Yeah, that was it. It was an amazing time. Jim was always there and present, sort of that gentle kindred spirit that he is. There were times when he was like whatever, and there were times where he was more interested in sort of talking about what he knew if you wanted to hear about it. Cross was just sort of like this god for me who just really represented the coolest of the cool. I don’t know, for me I loved Cross’ tough exterior, and for me was a person who I just felt like I got and understood and loved. I felt great when I was around Cross and it was exciting to fucking go in there and it was exciting to be a part of it. I mean I would hang out because I was too young to get pierced, but when I was old enough I’d go for piercings. Then I graduated and moved to San Francisco. I remember my first Thanksgiving in San Francisco and I decided not to go back home to Los Angeles and I found some guy up there. I had called Jim and I didn’t know if he was going to be up in San Francisco or I was going to be down there. But I finally wanted my nipple pierced. I found some guy that lived south of Market and it was a really cold, windy day and he pierced my nipple and I was like this is the best Thanksgiving ever! I remember walking out of his apartment and putting a T-shirt on just to feel that sensation. I was eighteen then. I can’t remember his name for the life of me. Nice guy though, I sat on this high back bar chair and he pierced my nipple at his house. I guess before that I don’t remember when I met Elayne (Angle) – I don’t quite remember the timeline. But I came back from San Fransisco when I was nineteen or twenty. I was back and I asked Jim if he wanted help and I started working at The Gauntlet! Just strictly counter work.
Ari – What was it like seeing that kind of evolution of the staff like in the 80s at Gauntlet?
Scott – Honestly, I don’t know. By that time I had moved back to San Fransisco and Jim called me to tell me they were opening a Gauntlet up there, and he asked me, “do you want to work?” I don’t remember exactly how it came up but I was like, “yeah, sure!” I really didn’t know the evolution of the L.A. store at all from there. I just knew Karen Hurt and I were there from the beginning of San Fransisco, then it became what it became, which is a little crazy.
Ari – Cross and Karen are such pivotal women from early piercing, would you mind talking a little bit about them just to help bring some depth to people that maybe aren’t familiar with them?
Scott – They were great fantastic people who impacted my life in really beautiful ways, but you would have to talk to them to get any more detail. I’m sorry but they’re are people that I hold in such high regard that it’s up to them to be able to share their experience. What I will say is, I don’t know what people are calling them now but we were a different sort of a tribe – where there was something very sociopolitical, politically motivated without it having to be on the nose or having to be talking about it. We were just very quiet, like this is our life and this is who we are, passionate. I would say that collectively, but everybody has their own personality and depth to it. I have just the utmost respect for most of the people that were involved during that time who were quiet about it.
Ari – Were you already vested in the literature at that time? The PFIQs, the Body Plays, the In The Flesh, were those regular reads for you?
Scott – Look, now I produce television, so I’m very interested in sociology and what makes people tick. As much as the read is great, you know, this was sort of like my Playboy that I would look at like “oh cool!” But it was never really a sexual turn-on for me. It was more just a lifestyle guide in some ways. But like anything, some parts you’re attracted to and you leave the rest behind. So some of the extreme stuff didn’t really work for me. And yet some people would think that tattoos on my hands or face or whatever are extreme, right? It’s just different levels. It was a great guide, along with Modern Primitives, along with all of the other ReSearch stuff, along with the music that was out there like Throbbing Gristle and bands like that, along with performance artists like Karen Finley – there were all these people who were exploring in all sorts of different ways. So piercing was just one of those small significant ways that people were identifying who they were and sort of claiming their ground and that for me worked on a certain level.
Ari – Would you say the aesthetic was was a bigger draw than the sexual aspect for you for piercing initially, or was it also pretty titillating?
Scott – I don’t think it’s down to those two things. I think it’s that I’m an adrenaline junkie. The adrenaline that’s charged up getting pierced or tattooed or sticking a flag in fertile ground and saying that’s mine. That’s reclamation, that’s identity; it’s conquering fear. It’s all those things. It wasn’t adornment for me – it was the act of. Whether or not I kept jewelry in was secondary to the act of piercing.
Ari – More from the rite of passage aspect and the experience itself?
Scott – Sure. You know then so many people were like, “Oh you know that whole dynamic of people, you must’ve had a bad childhood or must’ve had this or had that” – it’s like no. I just like it. There is some element to it all. I mean I don’t think it’s either, or I think it can be multifaceted. Plus we were just exploring in all sorts of ways. You know the beauty of it and what our bodies were made of, what they were tolerant of. I mean I haven’t thought of this for a long time, but the bottom line for me is that it didn’t have to identify as one thing. Getting pierced you didn’t have to identify as a top or a bottom or gay or straight or whatever else. I mean we didn’t have a lot of pronouns. We didn’t have the pronouns that were originally used that we have now. At that time it was just the act of. If you were in the act of it didn’t matter if you had a vagina or a cock. It didn’t matter if you had breasts or not. It didn’t matter if you had body hair or not, or a six pack or not – none of that stuff mattered. What mattered was the exchange of energy in that moment, and that was a beautiful thing. So you know, fat or thin or muscle-y or a fag or a dyke or straight – who cares? We’re just having fun.
Ari – A lot of the Gauntlet people we’ve talked to have spoken about not only the transference of energy, but that it actually became part of the teaching program. At this time, was this being articulated – the transference of energy between piercer and piercee? And was it spoken about with your coworkers or was it more of an unspoken bond as far as these experiences went?
Scott – Somewhat articulated. Some would live in that space more greatly than others. You’d have to choose that. For me, somebody came in here for a piercing, and when I was piercing some of it was commodity and some of it was exchange – some of it was how receptive they were. I mean I felt like I had to always read the person, so they might not be exchanging my energy but I’m certainly taking on theirs. Especially in those moments leading up to the piercing, the piercing itself, coming down from the piercing, etc. For me I just had to read is this person going to be receptive to talking about this stuff? I’m not a woo-woo kind of a guy. Never have been. That’s not me. I’m never going to be that way. It was on a guttural level. There was an emotional level to it. I can certainly connect to somebody who might feel an emotional arc with the whole thing but I wasn’t trying to sell an exchange of energy with a piercing: some people were.
Ari – Early on at the studio you were working alongside Fakir, and he’s always been a big proponent of the energy transference. Would you say working alongside him that anything rubbed off on on you or vice versa?
Scott – No. I mean Fakir is Fakir. What a great man, what an exceptional transcendent being, he’s a fucking great man.
Ari – Did you know of him before you started working together?
Scott – Sure! He came on a couple of years after we opened – well, my memory is not so great, it might’ve only been a year after we opened, something like that. It opened in 1989, and the original line up was Karen, Jim and I. Jim taught me how to pierce, and Cross too.
Ari – OK so your learning didn’t start when you were working in L.A.?
Scott- No, I worked in Los Angeles strictly as a counter guy. I didn’t feel prepared and ready to take on piercing. But when Jim opened San Fransisco and we started there it was with the intention of fully learning the trade, so Karen and I amazingly were taught by Jim Ward.
Ari – How long would you say that training period was?
Scott – The training period lasted for as long as I worked there. You don’t ever stop training. Even though I was a Master Piercer it not like it ever stops. It was more of a seamless transition to when the training wheels came off and it was just like anything else. Once I was comfortable I was comfortable and then I was always teaching myself new things. Karen and I would always be sharing information. There was never like a competitive edge at that time at all. There was never a sort of, you know, somebody pierces better. It was just it was a beautiful collective situation. We’d help each other out, it was just lovely.
Ari – Did the Master Piercer title complicate anything at the shop? I know for some other people it seemed to bring out a sort of competitive edge.
Scott – I don’t know – I didn’t I really socialize with many people. But not at our shop. Karen and I were Master Piercers. It felt good, it felt right. Like any other business people want more responsibility. They want more everything, they want a bigger title and a bigger desk and a bigger car and you know all that kind of stuff. I think that existed but we were all young people. I knew that I knew that I’d worked towards this and I was happy with this. Cross was the first besides Elayne. I mean I think Cross was, certainly in my eyes that was the case. I mean maybe a little at the beginning, I just really can’t even remember anyway. I guess it’s possible – some people had celebrity status, I suppose? It just like overbearing to me like how massive it was becoming and people were very self-involved in the whole thing and you know they would work for three months and be like Why aren’t I a Senior piercer? Why aren’t I this? Why aren’t I that? Slow burn man, just enjoy it. If you’re not enjoying it what’s the fucking point, right? That’s just it, at a certain point I wasn’t enjoying it and have done very few piercings since then you know it’s like. I mean I’ve done some play piercings for certain scenes, and at one point I had a boyfriend who wanted his nipple pierced. It’s like riding a bike. But I never like went and did it for a weekend, or charged for it, or anything like that, just for fun and for free.
Ari – When you when you think of the people that have that have gotten the title like Karen and Cross and Paul (King) and Elayne and everyone, do feel like there’s an embodiment between everyone that really defined the Master Piercers – certain qualities or anything like that?
Scott – I don’t know Paul, just really from a distance. I think Elayne is just this sort of ethereal being that sort of transcends anything you can describe, and part of that is her just her own making. You know like you have to own it, like Fakir. So I can’t answer that. I can just say that my connection was with Karen, and our connection was a daily sort, where we worked together and existed together and it was great.
Ari – As far as styles of piercings, were their favorites of yours? Were there things you preferred to do over others? Or just connecting with people being the facilitator?
Scott – Yeah I mean I think it’s all about the person. I mean a couple of my closest friends today are people who were clients, or came in as clients, and you just have this kind of amazing bond with. When I talk to Karen, albeit very seldomly now, but when we do there’s just something there, that history. With other people it was sort of like it was a commodity. I’m not like the whole energy transfer and stuff, like I said earlier that’s not really the space that I exist in. It happens and that’s there and definitely a part of it but when it came right down to a “for fee” kind of work environment there also was a lot of work to be done. So more often it was just sort of like you’re here for a piercing? Let’s do a piercing.
Ari – Did you ever work anywhere after Gauntlet?
Scott – Piercing? No. My education was in something else. For me it was becoming a really huge big thing – Gauntlet itself had become this huge big thing. Between a business and ideology, this sort of social experiment that became a cultural phenomenon. For me the uniqueness was dry. I wanted to explore other things.
Ari – What year did you end up leaving?
Scott – I think it was 1994.
Ari – What has it been like 20-some-odd years later watching this field develop, or this sort of cultural revolution in general?
Scott – It’s great. It’s fantastic. I mean it’s utterly baffling and wonderful. It used to be that people would look at me and they would think from a distance, “oh he’s like mean or he’s a certain way” and then they see me smile and be like oh I can talk to him! Now everybody is sort of that way. You think you just have these preconceptions that are blown up all around you. I work in reality TV so all of that information and all of that great stuff is now translated into something completely different. It’s fun, I love the fact that everybody has a secret piercing or secret tattoo. It employs a lot of people, which is nice.
Ari – Did you transition from piercing into television production immediately?
Scott – Nope, there were some years in there where I was just wandering, figuring it all out, and then TV just happened and it stuck. But before that, I mean when I moved to Los Angeles, when I was working at the Gauntlet I was seeing some celebrities, I ended up piercing Madonna and Roseanne and Cher and various other people.
Ari – When you talk to old friends from the community, do you reminisce much or does it veer more towards present day life?
Scott – Debbie, she managed the San Francisco store for a while, great great great woman. I happened to be shooting and Australia and she’d moved there, she was living there, so we connected. It was great to reminisce with her. I think a lot of people put their heart on their sleeve and on the table and then a lot of people felt a certain sadness you know, especially as it got bigger and bigger and as the the personalities outgrew the sort of intimacy of what we were doing. Or so there seemed to be from what I have communicated to other people out there, that hurt still exist for people. I think those of us who worked in that cocoon can understand that, and talk about that a little bit. It’s something that needs to be sort of broadcasted; it was just sort of like oh so intimate, so sweet and so dear. Then it blew up and it was sort of like OK well I’ll move on to something else. My memories and my feeling of reminiscing are more about the intense relationships that we all had and how good that was when it was good. When it was over it was just over. Does that make sense?
Ari – Absolutely. Was there anything in particular that drove you fucking nuts? Was there a piercing that really proved difficult over and over again?
Scott – Difficult? No. Difficult was the beauty of piercing. Figuring something out, how to do it and make sure that it worked for somebody, that was the beautiful thing. Also taking the time, because at a certain times Gauntlet got very busy, so being able to take the time with everybody to make sure it was exactly what they wanted, that it was a good piercing. It turned into, “ok, theres twenty people lined up, we need to make sure we’re doing what we need to!”. That was always an interesting challenge. I mean I got to pierce David Bowie’s ears – a simple earlobe piercing then became my dream piercing. I’ll never forget it. I was going to share this with you, I don’t know what year it was, but at the San Francisco Gauntlet but there was this girl, this blondish sort of hippie-ish girl, she came in and she didn’t really have any piercings. She wanted her clitoris pierced. I was talking to her, asking her if she cared if it was a man or woman who pierced her, blah blah blah, After we spoke I said, “OK, well if you can handle forceps on your clitoris then you could probably handle the piercing but let’s start with that. Let’s try that because there’s no way I’m going to do this and you fly off the table on me.” Put the forceps on without a rubber band on them and she couldn’t handle that. I had done several freehand clitoris piercings before which had been totally fine. It’s great, just used a cork. You know, as you pierced thousands and thousands of people you learned how to do things that work for them. And it’s like all right, you really want to do this? It was probably three hours in the store talking to this girl. I said leave, go eat something come back if you still feel this way can talk more. She decides to go forward, and of course as soon as the piercing started she literally she flew up the wall. I thought she was possessed! We’ve all had those. She was just like, “oh my God this is the best thing ever!” You just have those moments where things are really great. I mean doing somebodies apadravya or ampallang – those are amazing experiences. Having somebody come in with an infected navel because they did the very things you suggested they don’t do can be a little tiresome. The time that all of this was happening the porn industry was going crazy with navel piercings, girls like in L.A., I mean literally fifty out the door at the time, the porn girls all wanting their naval pierced. We’d tell them don’t do this and don’t do this. Three days later it’s infected. Did you to do this? Did you do this? Yes. Ok, well let’s see if I can help you.
Ari – I love stories about actual clitoral piercings, and there are so many good stories from the early Gauntlet days with them. Nowadays, most piercers are flabbergasted by the concept of an actual clitoral piercing and I don’t know why. In your entire piercing career, did you ever have a personal experience or have a coworker experience major complications come out of doing a clitoral piercing?
Scott – No. I mean what freaked me out more was when I was on my way out the surface to surface piercings, like the back of the neck and whatnot. I mean I had done play piercings and the full S&M experience, and when I say piercing wasn’t sexual for me I mean piercing itself wasn’t sexual. But play piercing in the S&M scene was always really fun, I did a lot of S&M stuff outside of Gauntlet. When it came time to actually put jewelry in these surface piercings that kind of started to leave me feeling a little bit less comfortable with what I was doing because there was no history with it. There was no one who could say this is what’s happened. I didn’t know where arteries were. I didn’t know things and I felt ill equipped to handle some of those requests because there was no training, or at least there was no medical training is what I’m saying, for me. I would push those off on other people when it came to doing it. When it came to body parts that had some historical piercings that were modifications without it being detrimental to the person in any way shape or form I was all for but I do remember seeing an apadrvya where the guy had reacted to the metal. That was ultimately a really eye opening experience, like telling people to check for metal allergies before they come in to make sure what they’re getting it ok for them. Aside from that, no, once you commit to a clitoral piercing you kind of know what it’s about.
Ari – It’s just really fascinating because in the 80s and especially through the early to mid 90s, so many accounts that we’ve had with people talking about about actual clitoral piercings and it’s tough trying to narrow down where where the tide turns on that for the general piercing community. But misinformation spreads like wildfire, it goes rampant and trying to undo that, if it’s even possible, is no easy feat.
Scott – That make sense to me. Again like I left that whole community before social media took on a world of its own. I mean maybe timing had something to do with it, I was becoming more of a private person much like Karen or anybody else. During that time we were so public all the time. In San Francisco we were the people that were known. There were other places and people went to other places. But mostly what you heard was Karen and Scott, Karen and Scott, it was always who people wanted to go see at Gauntlet, which was awesome. I mean I’m nothing special. It’s just that I was there for that because I was there, the zeitgeist was there for me during that time. That was it. So. The interesting thing is the pulling back from all of that and not wanting to be the spokesperson for it – just wanting to be of service in a lot of ways. People would come in and we’d have talks about what they want to do and why. They were committed to it. If they weren’t I could kind of be like why don’t you think about it, we’ll be here tomorrow too, it’s not like you have to do this. I don’t know. People came from across the country, across the world, who were interested in various different modifications and could come talk to us feeling like we were kindred spirits and we weren’t going to judge them, we weren’t going to make them a circus sideshow. We were going to embrace this amazing thing that at this time, in the 80s and early 90s , people still felt like they had to hide. We were a place where people could come and just be who they were. That was the best thing that ever.
Ari – Did all of this feel revelatory while it was happening? Obviously you knew that it was part of something special. But any notion that it was the spark to the powder keg that it ended up being while it was happening?
Scott – Look, for me. I would have preferred that it never sparked – I would have preferred it remain a small community. For me the intimacy, as I said before, was what made it so special. This was a very beautiful moment in history. I loved being a part of it, and I was so glad that I wasn’t anymore, you know? I mean for me that’s very kind of you to include me, but for me it’s not about me. It’s about where it’s at now, it’s about people like Jim, those are the true heroes. Cross to me was a true hero. Elayne too in her own right. I always liked to be a worker amongst workers. That’s my preference. That’s where I like to exist. I’m so grateful that Jim chose me to be a part of that world for that time that I was there. And if I had some ability to help carry the message for that time that’s awesome. And that’s really what stirred so many people. I remember dating some guy who worked at Body Manipulations for a hot second and even between us was like why is there this weird tension? We’re just piercing. What’s going on? What the fuck? Who cares about that shit. Like shouldn’t we all be part of the same place? Remember we were all kids and we were all very young people. Although Jim was an amazing piercer, an amazing kind spirit, Jim wasn’t exactly like “hey let’s process some of what you guys might be taking on emotionally through doing what you’re doing.” We didn’t have that kind of thing. You know Karen and I did with each other but we didn’t have a lot of that, and as it grew and grew and grew there was no support group for piercers to be able to be like “OK guys we’re all in here, we are all piercers going through this”. There’s no “it doesn’t matter what your title, is it doesn’t matter what you’ve done or where you’re going, it doesn’t matter if you’re a dom or a sub outside of here.” None of that matters. But there was nobody, myself included, that could govern and lead in that kind of way to let us know that when we walked in here to be of service, to just let all that stuff go and just be here. I think that would be the key in any job in any situation, that the kind of leadership that just lets everybody know they’re valued. No matter what. And if you’re going through something let’s talk about that because this is a job in a career where you take on a lot of peoples stuff and not everybody is equipped to do that.
Ari – With such a mental and emotional toll, were you able to not be a piercer when you were not working? When you would leave the studio were you still a piercer, or could you leave that behind?
Scott – I think it depends on the day. I mean I think that people who I dated might say that I was married to my work because I also managed the store and very much wanted to carry the message, carry out the good word. Especially in L.A, for the time that I was there I very much sort of became a voice for piercing in the media a little bit. I was on talk shows and stuff like that because I could articulate that we weren’t different, abnormal people. We just liked something over here instead of over there. That was it, so I mean I don’t think anybody does that well all the time. I think you know I did well sometimes and I didn’t do well other times. The people around me at that time could probably answer better than I.
Ari – When you were doing all this outreach, was it mostly positive questioning or was a lot of it geared more for shock value ?
Scott – Well I was never on the Jerry Springer show. I think people genuinely wanted to know. I wasn’t the guy that piercing magazines spoke to. I never wanted to be sort of like terminally hip in the world. I looked more like a Harley driving dude then a piercer, I just was able to get through to people that were not necessarily already interested and make them feel more comfortable in that moment. That seemed to be a really good spot for me. I also really enjoyed working with the heterosexual community and I enjoyed piercings straight couples. I really liked the dynamic that men and women had together in that space, it was really great. And gay culture didn’t really hit the time that I was there. It still sort of part of that S&M culture. But I think for the gay mainstream it wasn’t really something a lot of the gay guys were doing yet by the time I left.
Ari – Working with the heterosexual community at a time when some people still felt like piercing should’ve been a gay-only community, was there any resistance or hostility for delving into the heterosexual client like that?
Scott – I don’t really know how to answer that question. Like in my social life I was more social with my friends, my art school friends, that mix of people. I got more involved in the leather community in San Francisco. In that leather community was where I always felt more comfortable with dykes, that was just my comfort zone. Also straight parties – I loved those because again it wasn’t sexualized. S&M was a different thing which I really could relate to because it didn’t have to do with genitals or getting off. It just had to do with something that could transcend whatever sex or identity or whatever genital you think you wanted and that was more appealing to me for that period of time, and in that context. So when straight couples who I’d meet at a party would come in, or whatever it was I really appreciated it. We were in the Castro, so I really appreciated that vibe and that hip, knowing that this was a really interesting kind of part of their relationship, whether it was dom/sub or whatever it was it. It was just really cool to be a part of. I liked not strictly being in the gay ghetto and only dealing with gay guys. On the other side of that question, there was a girl who worked at Gauntlet a little later who would sit at the window and get so angry when heterosexual couples would be walking down the street holding hands or when they would come in and they would show each other any affection. She was very young and she was very very very angry. And I was always just like I’m so fucking done with this shit. I can’t believe you’re doing the same thing to them that happens to us. What does that get us?
Ari – Were there any specific groups, like dom/sub or any other sect, where you found communication proved more difficult in the piercing room?
Scott – I was always very flat out. If I’m asking you a question but you’re there with your Dom and you’re not supposed to answer that’s not my business. I lay it out on the line that it’s not my business and this is how this interaction is going to be, and if they’re uncomfortable with that they can take it to the next person available at the counter that may allow that. We all have our own lines and our boundaries. Our job, in some ways, is to appreciate each other’s boundaries.
Ari – Any favorite memories, or go-to stories when talking about piercing?
Scott – This is probably my own ego but I pierced my own apadravya. That was amazing. That was one of those experiences that I did after years of being a piercer. It just was amazing to do that, done at a 14 gauge. I mean I didn’t keep it, for me it was the act of, knowing that I could, doing all that kind of stuff, I kept it for a only a little while. But thats egocentric to just talk about myself.
Ari – Eh, I mean I don’t think there’s necessarily a large group of people walking around who can say their pierced their own apadryava!
Scott – I’m sort of struck with this image that I haven’t thought about for a long time. But you know, working with people’s genitals all day long and being able to have the kind of respect that we had there. It wasn’t about mocking and it wasn’t about it was about wanting somebodies business. It was amazing to be in the presence of people who put their trust in that intimate way in our hands and think that we are professional enough to give them something that they had only dreamt about or wanted or fetishized or whatever. It was that moment of being appreciative, and in this world where everybody is so much about comparing and contrasting whose is bigger and whose is better and whose is whatever. And I don’t just mean like dicks, I mean of all it with genetalia, whatever your idea is. It was really such an amazing experience at the end of the day to feel that kind of care there. There was just a little bit of awareness for me that somebody put their faith in me in that moment. I think those interactions, more then the piercings themselves, was the highlight. It was that interaction. Piercing is only a moment. But the process of being in that situation was beautiful, and I can’t imagine anything else like it in the world.