What do you think of the recent legislation in a number of states that is trying to regulate tongue splitting and how will these laws affect the body modification community?  
  Voice your opinion: the Reader's Response section. Return to Round Table index  

webmaster of UK.People.Bodyart, co-founder of the newsgroup uk.people.bodyart, and maintainer of the group's IRC channel, #bodyart-uk, on efnet.

IAM Page: smeg

It's a tricky one to answer I think ... As a community, what are we striving for? Safer, more accessible modifications available to a wider audience, or ritualesque "rites of passage" that someone must go through to earn their modifications...

As a whole, I think the regulations are misguided and knee jerk reactions, driven by a shock tactic press campaign. The people implementing them don't care about the industry, the community or the experience ... they care about the publicity, the votes and the public opinion being in their favor. Picking on "those freaks who cut their tongues! Ew!" is an easy and fairly safe bet.

I don't think anyone can disagree that a well implemented, well regulated and well policed policy can be a bad thing. Done wrongly splitting your tongue is a dangerous thing to be doing, with many complications, yet just because of the number of people with it, there are a large number of people going into it unprepared and uneducated. Legislation should be targeting this ignorance, not banning it.

How does it affect the community? As with all public attention, it brings a slew of people getting their navels pierced, a handful of people getting the more extreme piercings and brings us more public attention. Good or bad is your own choice.

former staff member of BME's QOD.

IAM Page: saram

I have very mixed feelings about the potential regulation of tongue splitting. Some body modification procedures could easily be considered "practicing medicine without a license," and I can see how tongue splitting is placed in this category. It's invasive, often uses medical devices (scalpels, sutures, perhaps anesthetics), and can have serious complications if performed or treated improperly. I have a hard time saying that it's not a form of "oral surgery," and this is usually the realm of a dentist or specialized surgeon. As such, I understand the desire to keep the procedure in the hands of trained physicians. In fact, I would be very glad to see more dentists offer this procedure in their practices.

However, the recent legislative actions have pressed beyond keeping medical procedures in the hands of medical practitioners. In fact, the legislators don't even want physicians to be performing the procedure! They've moved into the position of restricting, prohibiting, or banning tongue splitting. By including clauses about the indications or usage of tongue splitting, they make it hard for any physician to justify offering the procedure. There are few (if any) genuine medical and therapeutic reasons for a tongue splitting, so if the law requires such a justification, it's basically a full ban. That's ridiculous. Even considering tongue splitting as a completely elective cosmetic procedure would group it with breast enhancement, chin implants, nose jobs, and other popular, legal cosmetic surgical procedures. If the legislation moves beyond enforcement of existing laws (i.e. laws against practicing medicine without a license), it has gone too far. To restrict or prohibit tongue splitting in this manner is arbitrary and discriminatory, and based almost entirely on conservative personal tastes.

As far as the effects on the community, I think that they will be minimal and somewhat positive. The sudden rush of media attention on tongue splitting is really amazing. Tongue splitting was practically unknown a few months ago, but now it's all over mainstream media and entertainment. Some of the media portrayals of modified individuals with split tongues have been very fair and positive. This will bring more attention to the community, and perhaps help society embrace the culture just a little bit more. It can be good for the average American to be exposed to other lifestyles and social groups. As those old public service announcements used to say, "The more you know..."

I also think that the impact on the number of tongue splittings being performed may be the opposite of what legislators hope. First, most practitioners will continue performing the procedure regardless of new laws. Tongue splitting will still be available. And hopefully, these new laws will encourage practitioners to be more careful and quiet about their activities. With questionable procedures, it can't hurt to be selective in advertising and publicity. And in the end, all of the media attention will only make more people aware of and interested in the procedure. I think the attempts to regulate or restrict (or even ban) tongue splitting will, in the end, make it even more popular.

mod enthusiast, involved with the Om Summer Solstice Festival.

IAM Page: Flip

This type of legislation affects not only our community, but society in general. What we're dealing with is a fundamental freedom, and that is the freedom over your own body. Once the government has control over our own bodies, we have nothing left.

I think that there will be long-term and short-term effects from these laws, both from within the community and from the forces outside the community. I've divided this answer up into those four components.

Short-Term / Within Our Community:

Presently I see that this type of legislation has opened up the eyes of many modified people to the reality that there is an organized system of discrimination against us and our beliefs. Legislation of this nature reaches beyond in-school bans of facial piercings, or beyond workplace policies that ban modifications because it attempts to universally control what adults can do with and to their bodies. I predict and hope that recent anti-tongue splitting legislation may be the beginning of a period of enlightenment or awareness within our community, and that it will force people who choose not to believe, or who put the issue on the backburner, that an effort is being made to disadvantage us. I also have a feeling that there will be a backlash against the legislation, and that more and more people will seek out tongue splitting as an act of revolt.

One negative impact from this legislation, which I will only touch upon briefly: I see skilled practitioners, under threat of persecution, avoiding performing these procedures. This in turn will lead people to have poorly done tongue splittings, and incidents of difficulties arising from them will likely increase.

Short-Term / Outside Our Community

In the near future I think that this will deal a blow to our community. Along with the issue of unskilled procedures being performed, I can see that the more ignorant forces of the world will use this to their advantage. People with split tongues will probably be sent for psychiatric help by their doctors; more anti-modification legislation may be passed or developed; existing modification laws will be upheld.

In short I can see ignorant people using this as justification for their views. Just as anti-marijuana advocates equate "it's illegal" with "it's wrong and it's stupid" I think those against us will use this legislation as a weapon to further marginalize us. And unfortunately, I think that there are a lot of those people out there. Legislation of this nature could mark a dark period in the relations between the establishment and the modified.

Long-Term Within Our Community

My hope is that, as more and more modified people reach the breaking point as it pertains to discrimination from the government and from society, that we become an organized social force. Ideally, this community will identify with other progressive movements and other disadvantaged segments of society who have their own struggles - women, gays, racial minorities, environmentalists, etc - and join them in action against repressive governments.

This I think is something that our community needs to do in order to become relevant as a force for change. Rather than fight the good fight by ourselves, we must identify and find common grounds with other progressive grassroots movements, and work together. I think that written legislation against us will be both the fuel for our fire, and the proof for people from outside our community that we are a unique segment of society and that our struggle is their struggle: the right to have certain essential freedoms. The right to have complete control over our own bodies concerns not only the modified, but everyone.

Long-term / Outside Our Community

In the long-term, these laws will be seen for what they are, and the discrimination against us will be seen for what it is. I don't know how long this will take, but I am confident that it will happen. Much of this depends on our actions and on how quickly we act as a collective group.

While these laws may not seem as repressive as laws against other minorities that have since been struck down, I believe that the subtext to these laws is as dark as any. Again: if we cannot control our own bodies we cannot be free. So I'm hopeful that over time, as we evolve, these laws will be exposed for what they are, and freedom over our own bodies will be granted. I think that mainstream acceptance of body modification will become a reality, and that the modification movement of the past and near future years will be seen not only as an aesthetic movement, but also as a social movement.

mod enthusiast.

IAM Page: CT

I decided to do some reading up on some of the recent news articles on tongue splitting before writing this (many thanks to the BME News Newsfeed for providing many of those links!). Before I address the ramifications of legislation on the body modification community, I'd like to share some of my observations on some of the things I read and some of the things I know about tongue splitting.

First, I want to say that I'm not adverse to tongue splitting. I know a few people personally that have it done (my wife being one of them) and a few more casually that have it done as well. I like the way it looks and it's fun. I don't think a single person is "mutilating" themselves no matter the reason they chose to do it.

I feel one thing to mention is that just because I like it doesn't mean I should be able to force all those people around me to get it done to fit my opinion of what I find attractive. Conversely, state representatives shouldn't be able to impose laws that make it all but impossible to have the procedure performed because they think don't like the way or think it's "too much".

It's my opinion that the lawmakers that have been pressuring tongue splitting bans have been using little more than scare tactics to impose their opinion of what they believe "good aesthetics" should be. When you read many of the statements by these lawmakers, you'll notice they put heavy emphasis on the risk of "infection", "blood loss" and "speech impediments". While yes, those are very valid concerns for any surgical procedure (and I'm not going to tell you that tongue splitting isn't a surgical procedure - it definitely is), there are many things that can be done to negate the risks involved to a very acceptable level.

One thing I hear often being quoted is that a tongue split is "mutilating" the tongue. I looked up "mutilation" on dictionary.com and this is what it had to say:


  1. To deprive of a limb or an essential part; cripple.
  2. To disfigure by damaging irreparably: mutilate a statue.
  3. To make imperfect by excising or altering parts.

To me, it appears that definitions one and two don't apply. From everything that I've read and everyone that I've spoken to, you don't lose functionality with a split tongue. In fact, many people are able to do more with a split tongue than prior to its split since you have more dexterity and now two halves to work with instead of one.

The only possible definition that could apply would be the third. Unfortunately, the word "imperfect" is a very subjective word. Who should be able to decide what imperfect is? Apparently the government feels that it should decide. I'm more inclined to think that the individual should have the right to decide what is perfect for his or her own body.

One point of controversy about tongue banning legislation is the point that it should only be allowed for specific medical reasons. There are many different elective surgeries that augment the body that fall under the label "plastic surgery". What is intrinsically different between splitting one's tongue and getting breast implants, a tummy tuck, botox injections, etc.? Most of these procedures carry far more risks and dangers than splitting one's tongue. Not to mention that there's countless documented cases where many people have been caused serious, irreversible damage due to "commonplace" plastic surgery by professional doctors that have done the procedures many times over. The common thread that links all of these procedures is that they all are based upon one's opinion of how they want to look and asserting one's desire over their body, yet there's no psychological screening for someone that wants a nose job.

I share the opinion with many body modification practitioners in that ideally, surgical procedures should only be performed by doctors. But unfortunately, legislation that requires there to be a medical reason for tongue splitting will mean that no doctor will ever risk performing such an operation out of fear of losing their medical license, hefty fines, lawsuits and potential jail time. If legal road blocks are continued to be placed between the medical community and procedures that doctors should be allowed to do then the only logical outcome will be these practices going "underground" once again.

As for the specific effects of this sort of legislation, unless the federal government of the United States imposes a nation-wide ban or restriction on tongue splitting, I don't think there's going to be a huge impact on the body modification community as a whole. It's very hard for all 50 states to ever agree on one thing at the same time. At the very least, a person should be able to find a state in which the procedure isn't illegal and find a qualified practitioner that is willing to do it for them (not to say that the person will have an easy time of finding a qualified practitioner). Even if it suddenly became illegal in all states to have your tongue split, there's always the option of Canada (as well as a few other countries a bit further away with very skilled artists and an interest in "extreme body modification").

The only truly dangerous repercussion of legislation like this would be the precedents that it sets: "It's ok to dictate how people should not look and what they're not able to do to their own bodies." If you want nothing more than to "fit in", then great - these laws will make sure you fit in anywhere you go and you won't ever have to face anyone different than you. If you just want to be you and that doesn't happen to fit the mold of what the government wants you to be - then I'd be very worried about what laws such as this say for individualism and self expression.

mod enthusiast.

IAM Page: WhiteTrash

After doing a little (read: very little) amount of research on the topic, it seems there are two types of tongue splitting legislation being discussed. The first is to totally ban the procedure, which we all know is completely ineffective. People will get the procedures they want, no matter what type of laws exist telling them they can’t. So the first argument is moot. The second type of proposed legislation I came across argued the only trained medical professionals such as doctors, oral surgeons, etc., should be allowed to perform the procedures because it is, in effect, a medical procedure and thus a regular citizen performing the act would be performing medicine without a license. This is obviously the safest route, but as we all know many “professionals” will not even consider doing a tongue split, and those who will usually ask for big bucks in return. Since most people don’t have the funds for a costly oral surgery in their budget, and insurance companies do not cover cosmetic procedures, this all but nullifies the doctor route. Basically it all boils down to this: Everyone would love to go to a doctor/surgeon to get their tongue split but most can’t afford it and their only option is to seek an underground practitioner and compromise safety for availability and cost. No amount of legislation will change that.

As far as the effects on the body modification community go, I’m kind of torn. In one respect, I don’t think it will have much of an effect at all. The majority of the body mod industry/community is built on tattoos and piercing, widely available and mostly legal. However, there is a sneaking suspicion that this type of legislation could get out of hand and creep its way into relatively common procedures. For example, a piece of legislation could be introduced to ban the use of biopsy/dermal punches or even scalpels in piercing establishments because they are “medical tools”, in which case many routine procedures couldn’t be performed. I suppose it’s all up to those who make the laws, which isn’t very comforting….

mod enthusiast, assisted in Loco interview for Modified Mind.

IAM Page: p7tms

I may not be 100% up to speed on the legislation, however, I tend to think that any legislation will cause individuals to seek out backroom splitters. And, if any negative outcomes occur, it would end up making it even harder to get split.