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The History of Queer Identity and Piercing

The History of Queer Identity and Piercing

The relationship between piercings/tattoos and the queer community is a lengthy love story of self expression, gender/sexual identity and queer pride and confidence.

This Pride month marks an auspicious 18 years of Queer marriages in SA being constitutionally valued in the Civil Unions act of 2006! One most notable aspects of queerness and the global shift we’ve experienced in recent decades relating to the Queer identity, has to be the unsung nature of the deep and rich heritage that exists between Queer communities and bodily autonomy.

Piercing is an act of liberation and self expression. It transcends aesthetics and physical adornment. In a society where the expression of oneself is so heavily influenced and guided by other people’s opinions and beliefs, the act of piercing is the act of flaunting one’s expressive autonomy. The 70’s and 80’s proved to be a tumultuous time for various marginalised communities, particularly the Queer one.

The ability to express ones sexual/gender identity during this time was constrained by social views of queerness, this coupled with the lack of legal protection of the rights of Queer folk, made the act of ‘coming out’ all the more difficult. In an attempt to breed a culture of expression yet maintain the safety of their identities, many queer folk, specifically Gay men, through piercings. The phrase ’Left is right and right is wrong’ highlights the ideas of the time. With Gay men often signalling their identity through the piercing of one ear (the right), this phrase denotes the homophobic ideas of queer identities being ‘wrong’. Today, millions of Gay men still opt to have their one ear pierced, both as an act of reclamation as well as resistance. Similarly, the use of piercings as a form of gender affirmation is equally notable. In an article, author Clay Johnson writes “ For cis women, a pair of nipple piercings or a clitoral hood piercing might make her feel connected to her womanhood, and give her another way to express an appreciation for the body she has. For a transgender person, nipple piercings may give the pierced person a reason to find beauty in the breasts, or lack thereof, that they have, leading to less discomfort and dysphoria around that part of their body.” The history of the entire Body modification industry, as we know it today, is actually rooted in industries such as LGBTQ, kink and S/M communities. In these spaces, individuals from all walks of life aimed to liberate their identities through pleasure, art and resistance. The first official American Piercing studio Gauntlet opened by Jim Ward, paid homage to all of these communities by the establishment of Gauntlet studios as a safe space for queer folk to express themselves.

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