Why would people want to poke a hole in their body?
The reasons are as varied as the individual. In Western culture, it has long been common for people to have pierced ears. Gay men used to pierce their right ear lobe as a sign of their homosexuality, but that practice has faded as so many men got their ears done.
Pirates and other cultures have boasted piercings and other body modifications dating back since before recorded history.
But why do we get them nowadays? Why in the 21st century do we openly display our metal when a few short years ago it was seen as taboo?
Deb Huff, a loyal GLBT ally, has been a licensed piercer for three years, but her fascination with piercings has been around since childhood. She pierced a second hole in her own earlobes at age 12.
Huff opened River City Ink and Steel on Corydon Avenue in July 2011. The shop is GLBT-friendly, though Huff said she respects the privacy of her clients. “Interaction and building trust with the client is one of my favourite things,” she said. Huff has pierced pretty much every body part there is, including a lot of work done “below the belt.”
“It takes a huge amount of trust to allow someone to poke holes in you,” she said. “It’s great to see that [piercings are] becoming more acceptable in society… being able to help people realize their individuality is a great thing.”
Huff thinks the coolest piercing she did was for a transgendered woman not long ago. On the anniversary of her surgery, the woman got her outer labia pierced. “I was honoured to share in such an important personal event,” she said.
Melody W. gave herself her first piercing at age 12. She pierced her own lip. “It hurt, but I have a high pain threshold,” she said. It wouldn’t be the only time she performed her own piercings. You have to be 18 to go into a tattoo or piercing shop in Winnipeg on your own and in her teenage years, Melody couldn’t wait. Her mom was very upset about the DIY piercings at the time, but is much better about it now.
Melody has had and taken out more than 35 piercings. She “doesn’t want to look the same all the time.” She’s had her eyebrow done four times, but the bridge of her nose is her favourite and most consistently piercing spot.
Melody definitely doesn’t see her future self without body modifications. Recently, she had to remove her bridge piercing because it got infected. “I actually had some self-esteem issues over a couple of weeks until I got used to it,” she said. Once the infected piercing is healed, she plans to have it redone. “I feel like myself when they are there. If I take them out, I feel like I’m pretending I’m someone I’m not and not being 100 per cent truthful to who I am.”
Sav J. got their first piercing—a nose ring—at 13. Their mom took them to a parlour, but it was a traumatic experience because the piercer was not skilled.
So as a personal birthday gift at age 18, Sav got their bridge and front helix done at the same time at a more professional shop. Sav now has six piercings. “I have my piercings to show ownership over my body and my pain and the process of healing within myself,” they said.
Sav plans to get another facial piercing, but is unsure as to where. Their favourite piercing is the nose bridge. “It makes me feel centred between male and female. (It embodies) the cohesiveness of my male and female sides.” They got one nipple pierced once their top surgery had healed. It was an important step in being themself.
Dei Jay J. got their first piercing in their lip at age 16 and now has 24. “It’s like clothes. You can change them out,” Dei said. Their piercings are also somewhat of a defence mechanism. “If I don’t want to be talked to on the bus, I will wear the biggest piece of jewellery I own,” Dei said. “Your body is a canvas, or a vessel—you can decorate it how you want. I am specializing my body.”
Michelle L. got her ears pierced as an adult in Jan. 2010 and the very next day pierced her navel. She has always been a bit of a tomboy, but still wants to be femme. She wants “to look pretty, but be who I want to be.”
Like so many others, doing piercings on her own helps establish her sense of independence.
Michelle said her navel piercing is motivation to mind her weight and a reminder to look and feel good. “It’s for my own self, I wanted it done. It’s empowering,” she said.
Diana B. got her first piercing at 13 and has done her own ears herself. Over time she has had a total of 20 different piercings. “It’s like tattoos and I plan to get another one of those too,” Diana said. “My favourite one is my tongue. I got it for pleasuring my partner.”
Even though she’s chipped a few molars with her tongue piercing, Diana said, “It feels not normal when it’s not there.”
Shandi Strong has been active in the community for over a decade. She is a past vice-president of the Oscar Wilde Memorial Society and currently volunteers at the Rainbow Resource Centre. She is also expanding her role in the community as an advocate for trans rights.