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| ||What is the most interesting, thought-provoking question someone has asked you regarding your body modifications and what was your response?|| |
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An interesting and thought provoking question about my tattoos? Why would you think I had ever been asked any of those? Most people, when they spot a tattoo, are practically speechless with curiosity. Their eyes wander and their brains go dead. At this point, a crux occurs when they must either decide whether they are attracted or repulsed by the presence of the ink on human skin. Those repulsed will let their minds retreat from the vision, like waking from a trance, but those attracted to the ink will sink deeper into a stupor. A stranger once approached me in silence like a zombie and actually pulled down the collar of my shirt with one finger so they could get a better view of the rest of my dragon. Without even looking at my face, the zombie asked, "Wow, did that hurt?"
Bearers of an easily visible tattoo cut through a swath of zombies every day. Eventually, we no longer notice the vacant stares, except on the metro train, pressed up against the suits and skirts, when we become the rush hour entertainment. Do I enjoy being the entertainment? I consider this question on a regular basis. What was going through my mind when Justin placed the dragon outline on my shoulder and mused out loud, "So... Do you want it to peak out above your neckline? I could move the horns down somewhat, so they don't show."
Hell no, I thought. I want the dragon to show. I never want to fit into that crowd of white collar freaks, marching through life surrounded by a choking haze of conformity. No way, no how! Gawd, it made me gasp for air just to think about it. I studied myself in the hand mirror. "I like it there. Let's keep it there." A swift decision, considered for all of ten seconds, and yet I have never regretted it. Even now, passed over for promotion, I want to get another visible tattoo, this time on my forearm, and damn, I want it bad.
Why do we do it? Are we condemning ourselves or freeing ourselves? In some way, we are forcing changes in the way people view us, and ultimately in the way they treat us. Sure, it would be nice if the managers of the world were governed by a principle of excellence over assimilation, but they are struck into stupidity by the shock of the ink. Their minds, boggled by the existence of a misunderstood anomaly, ultimately balk at the notion of promoting an obvious resister over a obvious supporter within what they perceive to be the system.
It's a shocking thing, a brutal thing, the colors suddenly emblazoned on your bare skin. It is a form of display, a means of publishing, a totem, a sigil, and not to be taken lightly. Everyone instinctively knows this, and whether they are repulsed or attracted, they respect it. However, the questions that form in the minds of the curious inevitably come out unformed or distorted. They simply lack the vocabulary or knowledge to express their curiosity. Their mind is trapped in a childlike maze of why... why... why... and the first query they manage is generally the same. My best friend Obed, a highly intelligent lawyer, and not unworldly, had only one thing to say to me when I showed him my new tattoo. "Didn't it hurt?" Imagine that coming from a man with a pierced nipple.
I strain to remember back to the first time I was asked this deceptively innocent riddle. Was it Monica at Longbranch Coffeehouse, where I went with my first healing tattoo exposed to the scrutiny of the world? Perhaps it was the barista at Longbranch, pausing as she took my order, leaning over the bar to get a closer look. "Hey, can I see that? Wow, that's a dragon. Did that hurt?" No, scratch that, it was probably Monica, and I know exactly what I said to her. "No."
No? Getting the tattoo didn't hurt? Yes, it did. What was I saying? I remember that was when I got the look of disbelief, like Monica had just caught me trying to pull her leg. "No, I mean, yes, of course it hurt." Ah, that's better, now the puzzled face looking into mine melted in relief. Wait... why did I say that? Why did I say it didn't hurt?
It was a reflexive answer, an honest answer. Yet it made no sense. I remember the needle cutting into my collarbone like the beak of a vicious, bloodthirsty bird. I remember the adrenaline overload that caused my right foot to start jerking spasmodically so that I had to cross my legs. Exactly what part of getting tattooed didn't hurt?
Looking back, I can see that I made my answer based on a newly learned measurement of pain. I weighed the physical pain against the pain of indecision, the pain of hunger, and the pain of fear that I had been living with for months. Finally getting the tattoo came as a relief. The brutal but brief physical experience couldn't hold a candle to the anticipation of the pain, or to the fear of the unknown. The pain was never anything compared to the relief. But there was no real way to describe it to someone who hadn't felt it. I barely understood it myself.
There is no way to answer this question properly to a curious tattoo-mesmerized zombie without sounding pompous or cagey. Try and you will lose their respect.
Five years ago, back there in Longbranch, was the last time I answered this question from my heart. Now I just reassure them confidentially, like I am revealing a secret, "Of course it hurt. Of course."
When I'm out in public and my piercings and tattoos are on display, I don't get a lot of questions. I mostly get looks -- stares, scowls, and wide-eyed fear. If I'm lucky, I get a smile. A lot of people also want to touch. Poke, grab, pinch... I've gotten really good at dodging that unwelcome contact. And when people do want to ask questions, most are the same ones over and over. "Did that hurt?" "How could you do that to yourself?" "How will you feel about that stuff when you're eighty?"
But once in a blue moon, I get a really good question. I met someone last year who had been considering a tattoo but wasn't certain about the decision yet. He asked (about my tattoos), "How did you know it was the right thing to do?" And even though it seemed like a fairly straightforward question, I was fairly stumped! My immediate answer was, "It just felt right." And that's really the heart of it -- just like falling in love or finding the perfect house, something just 'clicks' and you know it's what you want. But it's not a really satisfying answer, especially when I usually like some amount of logic and reasoning behind my decisions. This question has been floating around in my head for over a year now, and it demands a better answer.
I recall my first tattoo, a white-ink dragonfly on my sternum. The decision to get tattooed was based on a peculiar mix of research and impulse. I'd looked at thousands of tattoo photos, read every BME experience I could find, asked questions on rec.arts.bodyart, and drawn designs onto myself. I wavered back and forth, talking myself into and out of my tattoo. And one day it all just 'clicked.' I have no idea what happened, but my wavering had ended and I knew that I wanted this tattoo. Within a week, I'd arranged the design, the artist, and every other detail. A good chunk of those details were based on my research (picking a good artist, looking for a design that lent itself readily to white ink) but the rest was just pure impulse.
Nearly every other tattoo has come about similarly... I investigate and deliberate over ideas for ages, and one day I'm just sure about something. A lot of ideas get tossed out, but the ones that stick around become reality once the moment seems right. I'm about to get started on my left half-sleeve, and it has come together in this "delayed impulse" sequence once more. I'm basing the design on a poster I have owned since 2000. The poster influenced my right half-sleeve, and I've been inspired by the image for years. But now I'm certain that it's what I want on my arm. It only took about five years to figure that out! But no matter what, I always came back to that image. I found it inspiring and beautiful... and perhaps that is why it has 'clicked' for me.
I may be asked again, "How did you know it was the right thing to do?" And I'm not sure I can articulate a better answer than, "I thought about it for a while, and one day I was sure that it was the right thing to do."
Well, this is certainly an open question, since I get a range of questions, from the completely disgusted to the legitimately curious. Sometimes it's thought-provoking just trying to figure out how to explain it to someone who has no mods. That said...
Perhaps the most interesting question that has come across my path was, "How do you see yourself now when you look in the mirror?" My response: I see myself, but I now see more of my actual self when I see my reflection. I don't think that what one can see is limited to simply physical appearances, but rather includes what can be inferred from the physical appearance of a person -- in the way that a person dresses, yes, but also in the way that a person holds himself or herself. The mods that I have make me feel more at home in my body, and have given me confidence. What I do to myself I do for myself, and that makes all the difference.
As years pass, and things change, a person has to choose - evolve or stagnate. I, like other thinking individuals, have evolved as a person, and that now shows in and on my skin. People who are open-minded enough to see the modifications that I have for what they really are can recognize that I am not the person I once was, and that I am proud of that. They see, and I see, someone now who is comfortable in the body, mind, and spirit that I possess. So now, when I look in my mirror, I see who I want to see, not a body I felt stuck in.
These days I'm not sporting all that many piercings, so by far the most questions and comments I receive concern the brandings on my arms. Many people ask me if branding is "something new" to the scene, as if nobody had ever thought of it until last year. The unfortunate part is that I don't have a real answer for that question. It's rare to find info on indigenous branding in other cultures.
I get a variety of positive and negative reactions from people. While I can't directly answer the question about the most interesting question asked of my brands (most people get a stock answer these days), I can remember the most offensive. A middle-eastern man was in my shop with his wife, whose nostril I was about to pierce. He told me that I "must really hate [my]self to do something like that." That was the only time I've ever told anybody off after a comment. I can't imagine how it could ever be appropriate to insult another person like that. Don't get me wrong - I know probably better than most people that getting work on public skin is basically an invitation to questions and comments, but I doubt I'll ever forget that one. Nostril piercing and branding don't have much in common, but it's pretty hypocritical to support one practice and not another, especially when you're in a modification studio! But that's a discussion for another time.
The question I enjoy answering the most, probably because it's a rare question and I don't have an answer, is "what's the most interesting piercing you've ever done?" How could I even begin to answer that? There are a few that stand out in my mind, of course, but every piercing is different than the one before and after it. Not to mention the clients! So I wrack my brain trying to come up with an answer, but I still don't have one. I have no idea how to answer that question, but it still makes me smile whenever I'm asked, because it makes me think and I don't have to resort to a stock answer. It's refreshing to hear clients interested in things other than "how much it's going to hurt."
Sometimes I really feel like it's one of those things that you either "get" -- in which case questions are irrelevant -- or you don't get -- in which case the questions are off-base and kind of stupid. It's pretty rare to get a particularly interesting question, and those that are tend to be tangential.
I was recently at the TransVision convention (on transhumanism, not transgenderism) in Caracas, Venezuela -- for those that don't know, transhumanism is "an emergent philosophy favoring the use of science and technology to overcome human limitations and improve the human condition." While there I was asked by a journalist, "why are you here, and do you consider yourself a transhumanist?"
My reply was something like this: "As much as it's something from our collective past, I feel that body modification is the first step humans need to take in moving past 'human' into 'transhuman' or 'posthuman'. Body modification makes the statement that not only are we 'not ideal' in the form we're born into, but that we can take active steps in improving it -- that we have the power to augment ourselves physically in ways that allow ourselves to express ourselves in both improved fashions and entirely new fashions as well, and create better ways of experiencing the world. It makes the statement and prepares culture for the idea that humanity is what we choose it to be."
"There's also an important difference between modern body modification and that of the past. In the past, body modification was about tribe or group allegiance, and a way of strengthening society (and thus weakening the individual). In modern times though, it's much more individualistic -- body modification is about allegiance to the self, and a way of empowering the individual. This is also something that is essential to the transhumanist way of thinking, the notion that we each have value and are all different, and should work to bring out a far richer and more diverse fabric of humanity than history has seen before."
That's probably not the most thought-provoking question I've been asked but it's at least a recent interesting one.
I think that those would be two seperate questions. I don't remember a question being both interesting and thought provoking at the same time. Being modified has made many people approach me that wouldn't in the first place. I believe it has broken down barriers for me. Every one of these people has a question for me. Of course, most of the questions are along the lines of "Did that hurt?"
One man however, asked me a question that I thought was one of the most unique, interesting questions I have received regarding my mods. He pointed at my bridge piercing, and proceeded to ask, "How do you find a pair of sunglasses that fit you?" Of course, I told him that the placement of the piercing doesn't cause any problems with any sunglasses I have come in contact with. It struck me as a wonderful thing, as I get tired of telling people the same thing all the time, because everyone wants to know the same thing.
The most thought-provoking question that I have received, is a question that can be asked about anything in the world. It can allow for a short answer, or a very descriptive, all-encompassing answer. "Why?" I think every single person in this community needs to ask themselves that. I mean, really ask yourself that. It can be hard to define that answer. I think it is important to know that question for when people ask you any question about your mods.
While we're on the subject of people asking questions about modification, I want to take the opportunity to jump up on my soapbox. I often tell my friends how I feel I represent millions of people, even if those people don't realize it. As a modified person, you are representing a whole culture. You are representing myself, everyone on BME, every modified person in the world. I believe that you have a responsibility to represent them well. When you are asked questions by strangers, answer them respectfully, and with a smile. Give them more information than they ask for, not just a simple yes or no. Everyone we touch in a positive way helps to change the bad stereotypes of modified people. In contrast, if we are short with people, or even mean to them, that simply reinforces these stereotypes. We don't need to make things harder for ourselves. I know it can be hard if you are having a bad day, but we need to put an effort into advancing our community. That power is in each and every one of us.
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