Pierced.

This is a look at how I came to be pierced and what it means to me. It is by no means inclusive of all my feeling and ideas. I welcome any questions you might have after you read it. I first wanted an earring when I was 14. I knew better than to ask for one. I can’t remember exactly why I wanted one, but I probably thought it would be “cool” and set me apart in some way. I did mention it when I was 18, and my father laughed it off, with a “light-hearted” comment about “what’s good for me” or some such thing he was fond of saying.

When I was 20, I finally decided I needed to get one. Yes, needed. Living with my father was not easy at the best of times. I had a growing affection for “punk” things, or rather a more open appreciation for them. My first earring happened in the spring when I was 20. It was an act of defiance to my father, and an act of growth. I felt I had finally mustered the courage to set on the path of who I wanted to be.

Some might remember the “Grizzly Adams” hair I sported at the time. I said it was because my girl friend previous to it preferred me clean-shaven, so it was rebellion. In truth, it was more a lack of caring and low self-esteem that was thinly entwined with a notion that I did not approve of the codes of appearance. It was probably the first and boldest move on a line between marginalized and accepted that I still walk today. Some call it pushing the envelope. The earring was a way for me to gain esteem and to have something that was mine. It wasn’t approved by my father, and I didn’t look for (much) acceptance from my friends.

My father’s reaction to the ring was not favorable. I can still recall it like it was yesterday, though it’s now been 12 years. I was in the kitchen, freshly showered, and on the phone when he came in. I told Jen to hold on, as he came in. I had to be on high alert, not just because of the piercing, but because I never knew what mood he would come home in. I had to be ready to react, to deal, to be invisible if necessary. We exchanged some niceties of some sort until he noticed the stud. He peered at it, and then slowly focused his gaze on me, “What the fuck is that?”

“An earring.” “What the fuck did you go and do that for?” “I wanted to.” “Well, how about you find a new place to live because that’s the way I want it?”

Slamming kitchen cabinets, unable to focus on what he was looking for, “Every time I turn around, one of you goddamned kids is disappointing me. I’m going to Wynnie’s before I lose my fucking temper.” And he left.

But, I had done it. I had lived. I did not get hit. I was not subjected to torments I could hardly imagine. Hell, I barely got yelled at! I later found out that over the weekend (this was Monday) my brother had got a motorcycle, which my father categorically despises for reasons unknown to me. It marked a hallmark in my life. I still feared my father, and was always anxious around him, but things got a little easier. I cannot put fully into words the thrill of proving to yourself you have some agency.

I was proud the day I got to change from the stud to an “official” earring. I can remember some of the ladies at Santori’s giving me care instructions. I had bought an ankh on a hook. A simple, flat ankh, stamped from tin. I still have it. I have even got a tattoo that is the shape scaled up.

The next earring followed in the early fall, which had to be redone because the lady did it at an angle. (Flash to community college, me gripping a table and grunting through my teeth as Jessica tries to figure out why it won’t go in right.) I couldn’t find a person to share the set with me, so I got 2 done before Christmas. I always like to split the pair with people. You usually got charged for 2 earrings, and it didn’t matter how many heads were involved.

Aside from the money, get pierced with someone made me feel more connected with them. Kind of like a blood sibling; someone who understood in some way that felt profound. When I get pierced, it’s erotic to me. Not let’s go to the woods and hump, but erotic in the sense of its closeness. All the elements of physical intimacy are there: the trust, the touch, the hopes, the communication, and the giving of the self. When I got pierced, it allowed me to be vulnerable in a way I normally couldn’t.

Piercing parlors were unheard of that short time ago, so it was fun with the gun. Hell, no one really had anything going on. I was put into a realm of my own with 3 piercings. Most women didn’t have 3 in an ear. I stood out.

The earrings became part of my personality, which was swaying, I’d hoped, toward punk. I questioned, and thought, and spoke and thought and drank coffee and thought and formed a view of the world (most often, with Scott at the Purple Steer.) The earrings became my badge that I was unique; that however bad my life was, I still could rise up and stand against. The move to punk-dom was both do to the politics involved, and the disdain for a group I had long ago determined I can’t be part of. The rings helped me scream, “I am not like you, and you can’t break me. I don’t think like you. I won’t accept that I must.”

People’s reaction further drove home my notion of most people being ignorant. I learned the histories of piercing so I could embarrass people. Most of my life, I have lived in constant fear of doing something wrong, of being punished, ridiculed or made fun of. The anxiety caused an oscillating depression that lasted way too many years.

The earrings became a foremost part of my armor. They allowed me to walk off the edge and take the chance, even as it increased the thickness of the armor. They also provided a focus for the ridicule. It gave people something to make fun of, to torment me about. It was effective armor in that I always had the answer. Whatever people said to me, I had the come back. I could turn the tables; use it to point out that they are the weird ones, the dumb ones, the ignorant ones. Try me. I have been through everything from threats to laughter. When I added the hair with the help of Steph, and then the leather with the help of Steph, et al., and later chains by my own design, my armor was complete. I could walk safely among them, as it were.

The earrings were testament to my ability, at some level, to influence my own body and world. Each time I got an earring, I felt as if I came to life again, that I was more alive than ever. I would be euphoric for days. Each one has at least six months of contemplation behind it. Would it be too many? Do I want to cross this line? What does it mean to me? I think I tended to get them when life was at its worst. It was a physical way that I could gain some agency when I felt I controlled nothing. Each one is a hallmark of defiance, a monument to my hope. With the depression I was in, that cannot be understated, when all else failed me, the rings helped remind me of what I have been through, who I was and who I wanted to become.

I also saw myself as a spokesperson for the different. I tend to be well spoken, and have some presence (not hurt by the rings) and I saw it as my duty to try and educate people I came in contact with. It was my mission to show them that how they make assumptions isn’t accurate. Ability and intelligence isn’t evident by what a person wears.

Over time, I slowly accumulated 9 in my left ear, an eyebrow ring, and from 1 to 5 to 4 in the right ear. I can remember the months of thought that went into the right ear. I didn’t do it until I was in Las Vegas. I came close around Chicago, but held back because piercing on the right was getting popular — never mind the contrast to the 9 in the left ear. I also remember the one I got with a safety pin. I wish I could remember the events that led up to each. My only regret is that I didn’t foresee how their meaning would change over time, and I didn’t keep a piercing log.

And then came a battle with a job about the rings. Despite the accolades and history, I had to take them out. It pained me. Here I was, doing a fantastic job, and I had to take them out anyway. I offered any number of compromises to no avail. Unfortunately, it got twisted from the fight about my earrings, to the way the administration treated me during their policing. I lost that one too. As I headed to Bosnia, as I sat waiting for my first plane to allow boarding, they were on my mind again. I have to take them off to work with OSCE. There is no place for them there. So, I feel I am making a sacrifice. I am willingly setting down a sword I carried for so long. I am removing my armor and exposing myself to this new world. Most of all, I am laying aside the road map to my history; the reminders to myself of my strength. The reminders of who I am. This doppelganger of who I strive to be.

So, even though I keep the holes open, I think about our relationship. It is odd that I don’t miss them so much until I am feeling especially good or bad. When I feel good, I look at myself in the mirror and my glow dims slightly. It is not fully me doing so well. When I am feeling bad, the same mirror taunts and ridicules me. It asks me what I think I am doing. It questions my abilities. It tells me I have given up something I believe in, and the next time it will be even easier. It tells me I have no history and that I am floating.

I know many may not see the sacrifice. Many may not see the “big deal.” But see, that’s just it. I miss them most, because I have had them to help me through all the times when people said that about my life, my feelings, and my dreams. And, while it seems foolish to even me – on some level, I fear that without, I lose part of myself.

Posted by Andrew     

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