What, if any, body modification oriented rite of passage rituals should children in countries such as the US and Canada undergo and why?
Voice your opinion on the Round Table topic in the Reader's Response section.


Dustin Sharrow--former staff member of BME's QOD, moderator of the BME mailing list, apprentice at Stainless Studios in Toronto. Interviewed on Modified Times.

As with most things, the truth about this matter probably lies somewhere in between the two extremes of yes and no.

First, I say that rituals should occur because there is something to be said for undergoing a ritual of the flesh at a somewhat early age -- its been practiced for centuries, though the reasons remain unclear for us Westerners. Perhaps those children grow up to be stronger adults than the rest of society. Or perhaps not... it's a tough situation for all involved. If the norm of society is to undergo a certain ritual, then perhaps it is beneficial for the children of that society to do this.

In reality, I would have to say hands-off (not literally!): body modification rituals should not be performed on children. The main arguments against this are that it is not only a possibility of immediate infection and later complications both physical and psychological, but also that it is simply inhumane: the child has no say into whether or not they have something done to them. Today on Oprah, in fact, was a special about Female Genital Mutilation. Is this beneficial to society? I think not. We really have no idea how traumatic such an event really could be, possibly for the rest of the person's life. As a ritual enthusiast and alterer of the human body (both my own and others'), I firmly believe in Freedom of Choice.

Jason Sand--retired staff member of BME's QOD. Interviewed on Modified Times, BME, & BMERadio.

None, it's not part of our culture. Our western culture embraces many other cultures, if there is a drive inside the child then they have plenty of things out there that will call out to them. These days suspensions seem to be something that is speaking out to a lot of people. I remember talking to a lot of older people and how they said their mother pierced their own ears, that in itself is something that could be brought back. Children's first introductions into the modification world should be started with the family, not some booth in a mall. I feel that whatever the modification it needs to be brought back to the family. Many kids are using modification as a way to break free from their parents, or their society. If we can embrace this on a family type level, it will become custom and tradition within the family and all over the western world you will start seeing different sects of people with their own traditional modification may it be piercing, tattooing etc. Now wouldn't that be a site, a western world more diverse than it is now, but all connected by the increase in traditions all based around enlightening a young member of the family.

Frances Sand--retired staff member of BME's QOD. Interviewed on both Modified Times and BMERadio.

I am not sure that I think there *should* be any rites of passage, or that I would have the right to say what should or shouldn't be done. People in the western world are so multi-cultural it would be hard to pick out any one thing and say this is right or this isn't, but I certainly find it saddening what a stigma there is concerning other culture's rituals. People are so quick to judge the things that are deeply meaningful to others, they are so quick to say something is wrong or disgusting.

Having been through so many of my own personal rites however, if a child of mine who was at an age or level of maturity where I considered they were at a point to make that decision, came to me and wanted to modify themselves in some way, do something that they felt would be deeply benificial to them in terms of self discovery or enlightenment, and I felt that it was a good thing to do...I would like to consider that a rite of passage in some way. I suppose my answer is that I feel that because we are so diverse that something like this would have to be dependant on each individual and on their circumstances.

Greg Morgan--moderator of the BME mailing list, photographer for Modified Times. Featured in BME/Art.

None that have not been pre-ordained by their society. That said, the rebirth of the tribal that is happening today, perhaps knee jerk reaction to the continued globalization that we face, has seen the rise of ritual adornments, piercing, tattoos, and scarification. These practices are as old as time, and were once frowned upon as a sign of primitivism. Today they are embraced with open arms, the Lycra of a new age. Most of their meaning has been lost, their significance rendered worthless by the overuse and abuse of them.

Saying this, I must also acknowledge the fact, that without this acceptance, life for some of us would be almost impossible. Why do we feel the need to do things to modify our bodies..? This is a question that I still ask myself today. Why would I, a child of the white suburban middle class, educated at a private school, choose to put big holes in his ears, stretch a hole through his nose, and harbor a desire to get his tongue split..? I cannot tell you, I am still searching for the answers. I know that it is right, I feel that in me, other than that, I cannot say.

What is right for others..? That I also cannot say, as that would be forcing my opinions onto others, and that, as we have seen through evolution, is pretty fucked up. To be asked what rites, if any, children in the US or Canada should go through, I have but this answer, what rites do you feel you should go through? Why do you feel this..? There is no set of rules that are right for all of us, let alone the body mod community, and in a way I feel that this topic is a bit open ended. There is no real answer. Look inside yourself, ask if you know who you really are. Why are you here..? What are your goals in life..? Are you happy with who you are..? Are you lonely..?

I feel that a lot of the modification that is going on today is to give the possessor a sense of being. Take IAM for example, have a look at the numbers, see the friendships that have been made, lost, etc... The common thread is mods. No mods, no entry. Simple as that. I for one agree that this is a good action to take, as it gives 'us' a home, but how many people out there, lost, alone, needing, will go and get mods to 'become one of us'. I do not like to think that anyone would do this, but they will, just read RAB sometime. As with anything that becomes a group activity, people will struggle for meaning behind what they do, not real meaning like "I want to be liked" or "I don't want to be an outcast", but "I found the true spirit of me through this" or "My rite of passage has opened the doors for my growth". Don't get me wrong people, there are people out there that will experience this, hell maybe even I will. But after nearly 8 years of doing what I do, I still have not got a definitive answer as to why I do what I do.

Do you..?

P7--mod enthusiast, assisted in Loco interview for Modified Times.

I feel that a body modification should be left to the individual and it shouldn't be a required rite of passage (that is done without consent). Look at circumcision: it was forced upon many children under the guise of better hygeine, however, it was found that being circumcised or not doesn't really matter. I myself would have liked to have the choice, but unfortunately I wasn't old enough to know what was going on.

Helen Lewis--young mod enthusiast, staff member of Modified Times.

After much thought and internal argument, I have to say that I don't think there are any body modification orientated rites of passage that we, as modern society, should go through. Appealing as the concept is of a modern primitive movement, I just don't think we lay claim to any tribal practices (such as subincision or mokomokai) as a part of our society : they are not. For this reason, we must find our own reasons to modify, and not expect cultural stimulus. For the majority of us, body modification does not increase our acceptance by our peers and wider community, and in many cases, it is the complete reverse.

It can be argued that there are elements of a "rite of passage" present in many of the modifications done today - the teenage girls' expedition to the mall for earlobe piercing, the 16th birthday navel piercing etc. For many people, a modification can be used to mark a period of growth in their life or as a way of gaining self-awareness, two elements present in many tribal rites of passage.

However, the difference is that for the western modder, there is no established way of expressing a certain emotion or event, and individual taste reigns supreme. We have all heard the horror stories associated with appropriating other cultures' symbols without proper understanding: the person who goes to a tattoo shop, picks a Kanji character for "strong" or "great lover" and only later discovers (thanks, perhaps, to a kindly Japanese speaker, after much giggling) it meant something entirely different. There is, for example, a picture of a traditional Maori chin tattoo in the BME glossary: designed for a woman, "appropriated" by a western male. As the entry also states, "it's not just a pretty design. It has meaning. It tells a story." This is something that always has to be in our mind before we tramp through other cultures, picking out the bits we want and ignoring the rest.

This seems to have turned into a bit of a sermon, for which I must apologise and add that I have nothing against cultural cross-fertilisation when done with respect. I have to conclude by saying I am glad in many ways that we have less cultural basis for our modifications, as it promotes freedom of self-expression, and forces us to make our modifications statements about ourselves entirely, and not our culture. And I found it amusing to think of a tattoo to represent my cultural identity - a sacred cup of tea, with a border of miserable soap stars and fish & chips?

Bryan Walker--staff member of Modified Times. Featured in ear scalpelling video on BME.

I don't feel there is one solid answer to this. Everyone is different in this area. That said, I'll give my personal side on this of what I plan to do with my kids.

I will NOT have my kids ears pierced as babies in the mall. I will NOT have my son(s) circumcised. Both of these are horrible things to do to someone when they have no choice in the matter.

When my children are between 6-10 years old (depending on how mature I feel they are at the time), I'll set them down and explain to them the cultural meaning behind piercing and stretching our ears. For me, it's a revival of my ancestors' practice to help teach themselves patience and dedication while also showing pride in their heritage. If my children choose to do so, I'll take them to have their ears professionally pierced at 14g and let them stretch one size a year as far as they want.

Tattoos and scarification are a different story. Once again, I would wait for their level of maturity to dictate when, but I'm guessing they'll be around 15-18 at that point. I wouldn't tell them what to choose, but I'd help them find something that would mean a lot to them 20 years down the line.

This is just me, though. I'm sure not many people will view it like I do ;)

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