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I want to tell you about how I started piercing professionally 15 years ago this month, but I have to go back in time a bit further then 15 years.
Back to 1987. In Nova Scotia you could get your nose pierced with a gun by a woman in a jewelry store in Scotia Square mall. This was all the “body piercing” there was. I wore safety pins in my ear piercings and I pierced my own ears and those of my friends, usually when we were intoxicated. I attempted to pierce my friend’s nose, but he passed out. I also made a friend’s ear bleed for a really long time. HIV was a new reality I didn’t quite understand. I decided to quit while I was ahead. It’s not like piercing was a career I’d ever heard of. It was more like an experiment.
Piercing a friend's ear in 1989.
Fast forward past a bad relationship and no small amount of hallucinogens to some point in 1995. I was visiting a friend when Merchant Marie phoned and asked if he’d come down for a navel piercing. She had a travelling piercer visiting from California who was going to pierce her and some other people so she could determine if she was interested in doing piercings or not. I’m so grateful I was there that day when his phone rang. Marie had tattooed me in 1991, but the atmosphere of her Dartmouth tattoo parlour, filled with skulls and brass and taxidermy, was completely not from my world as a university student. I watched while my friend had his navel pierced and Marie had her navel and nipples pierced. I was so excited. And concerned: Merchant Marie decided not to take up piercing. How would I ever get my own navel and nipples pierced?!
I next visited Marie in the spring of 1996 to make posters for the first Cannabis Day Picnic. I offered to do some cleaning for her in exchange for use of the photocopier, which led to her hiring me to work her front desk. This led me to learn about (what we thought was) disinfection, cross-contamination and sterilization. Working for Marie was a dream come true. I was self-motivated and she was generous. I cleaned, answered the phone, ran errands, made stencils, and all the while came out of a shell. At first I was so intimidated by our clientele, but gradually I fell in love with helping people translate their imagination into their permanent body art. My job was supposed to be part time while I was in university. I did get my degree, but sometime after reading “Modern Primitives” and falling in love with National blue tattoo ink, I realized I’d never work in another field.
First Annual Cannabis Day Picnic
Then along came a persistent navy medic who wanted to me to pierce him. He was already very pierced. He was a “doctor” and he was keen to teach me a little basic anatomy in order to get some more piercings. He had been a long time client of Marie and had even taken us on the Okanagan for an unforgettable submarine ride!
There was only one piercer in Nova Scotia at this time. I had many friends who also wanted to be pierced by me, and Marie’s blessing to try to learn. With the medic’s guidance I pierced not only him, but most basic piercings on my eager and silly friends, as well as on Marie and myself.
Two of the very first piercings I did at Merchant Marie's.
I will never forget the actual first clients I pierced. They were two francophone teachers from Ecole du Carrefour. The man got a nipple piercing, the woman got her navel pierced. I put a 14g cbr with a hematite bead in each one. Everything went well and they were as happy as I was. I was thrilled, but I knew I had a lot to learn. I pestered Marie to buy a computer to research tattoos, but I also used it to read and research everything I could about piercing. I still have my printouts of Anne Greenblatt’s FAQs from 1998. Remember when printers put the date on every page?!
Marie’s computer is also where I discovered the Association of Professional Piercers and ordered their newsletters. I aspired to one day meet their strict membership criteria. In 2006 when DJ & I opened Skin Decision we were excited to carefully follow the requirements of the APP. Finally in 2010 I was able to join the APP. This year I went to the APP Conference in Las Vegas for the first time, where my mind was absolutely blown by information and the amazingness of professional piercers from around the world. 15 years later, I’m still learning more and more every day.
My tongue, circa 1998.