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Queer Bodies, Queer Modification

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Spencer Zeigler

on 6 May 2014

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Transcript of Queer Bodies, Queer Modification

Coming Out

Nobody could tell I was queer
(in or out of the community) so I cut all my hair off.”
“...My hair is definitely
my little queer voice screaming out
at the world…”
People come out as in "coming out as queer" or "coming out as against the mythic norm"
We surveyed
LBGT people with body modification
in the United States through social media (tumblr, facebook). We kept the survey open for a week, and got

valid responses.

Our average participant was white, middle class, bi/pan/fluid, 18-22 y/o and cisgender. However
identified under the umbrella of trans, gender queer and gender non-conforming.

of our participants currently had 2+ categories of body mods (e.g. tattoos AND piercings), and
had more than four individual body modifications.
Queer Bodies, Queer Modification
By: Spencer Zeigler, Whitney Spaulding,
Lauren LaFramboise, Michelle Baker

Why did we do this?
Performing Queerness
Self Acceptance
Mental Health
"I wanted to"
“ I feel more like I'm in my own skin.”
“Because I wasn't satisfied with how I looked before.”

Your body is a temple, so why not decorate the walls?”
“Fuck the patriarchy.”
“...an act of ownership over my own body”
“...just make me feel self confident.”
“...at the end of the day, I'm not getting into bed with social norms, I'm getting into bed with me.”
“Fuck the patriarchy: doing what I want with my hair and my body are a sign of my rights, that I have control over me”
Coming out as queer
Rejection of social norms in order to achieve self love.
“...the creation of individuality appears to be one of the most important motivations.” (Wohlrab, et al)
People use their body modification as a means of coming out as queer to either themselves or to others.
Coming out as "against the mythic norm"
It is used as a physical reminder to not let the mental illness consume you (depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety).
One respondent used this same mechanism to deal not with their mental illness, but with their mother's.
It can also be used as a coping mechanism for an ongoing mental health issues. For example one respondent used their hair color as a way to manage OCD.

In cases of body disphoria it was used as a way to claim control over their body.
Body modification can be used:
as a way of reaffirming one's self or community identity.
to publicly or privately perform queerness
as a form of protection against both external and internal forces.
and to signal identity to self or others.
They have not been discussed in queer narrative until recently, and when they are written about now it is done in a very visual way.
Mentions of:
Suicide attempts, self harm, OCD, mental health in loved ones (parents), depression, and physical violence.
to be Read as Queer?
Research has been done on queer people and on body modifications, but very little research has been done on the combination of those two ideas.

Understanding is crucial to destigmatizing a group of people, so our goal was to provide greater understanding of LGBT people in general, rather than specifically focusing on campus.

Sense of
What are we researching?
Body modification can be a way of rebelling against accepted norms.
"Queer cause I'm queer."

"My haircut and color coincided with a continuous realization that I might be trans/genderqueer."

"My tattoo is the word [redacted for privacy] which was often used in alchemy and its most simple symbol is an upside-down female symbol, which I identify with: a non-traditional presentation but fully identified female."

"My nose piercing was a bit of a rebellion. No one thought that I would actually go through with it, but I thought they are subtly "badass" and wanted a bit of that."

"I feel that shorter hair separates me from the assumed genderized connotations with long hair."

"I feel the way normativity is enforced is self supporting, unreasonable, and practiced specifically to further marginalize several marginalized groups and I was tired of being seen as a normative queer doing all the right things...

Victoria Pitts has argued that body mods serve as a sort of stress management, and Michael Atkinson argues that body mods allow "individuals to express emotions that would normally be displaced, subverted, and pushed away from public view"
People use body modifications
to express or perform their queerness.
“To me my hair is an expression of my queer identity”

"My haircut is an affirmation of my gender identity."

"I don't feel at all comfortable with long hair; I used to say I don't like how it looks, but I've realized it's much more about my identity"

We wanted to see why people in the LGBT community were getting body modifications and if there were any common themes.

Community often meant either queer belonging or familial relationships
Queer Belonging
Links to Family and Friends
Many respondents reported the sense of a community-wide "queer aesthetic" that they wished to fit
One enduring pattern for tattoo motivations was a wish to honor or bond with family and close friends
I feel like dyeing my hair any color of the rainbow connects me to some of the symbolism
of the rainbow being a representation of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Getting the tattoo was a way of affirming my own queerness as a central and permanent part of my identity. A way of saying to myself that I'm
"queer enough"
and not an "x until graduation" stereotype.
I'm in the middle of medical transition and I'm
worried about erasing my queer status
when I no longer "look" queer. Getting tattoos and piercings are my way of reclaiming my queerness and performing it.
My tattoo is a
family name
that is not represented in my legal name.
My tattoo is...
in honor of my wonderful stepfather
who gave everything to show me what love looks like and means.
matches with my

best friend from high school
, which we got before we left for college...
In Chinese, [my tattoo] has two meanings: family and home - basically, home is where your family is.
I got it for my family, blood-related and non-related
, because they are so important to me and home is not home if they are not there.
5 respondents specifically said their body mods didn't mean anything, and 19 more said they "just wanted to" have a body mod or just thought the mods would look cool.
"I knew I wanted tattoos and didn’t know why so I made a snap decision when I turned 18"
"I feel cute with them"
"I had a coupon so..."
"I shaved my head because I was bored"
Main themes: impulse, aesthetics
“These are all personal things etched onto my body - they are
NOT for general consumption

I don't really see body modification as a LGBTQA+ thing
. It seems naive, and a little selfish, to take something that has been done since humans have existed and in every culture to suddenly relate it to LGBTQA+.”
“My one tattoo is certainly a symbol from the Lgbt movement but
I don't purposefully use it to signal my identity

Yes, that's why I did this!
Not exactly, it's more of a side effect.
Absolutely not!
Used to deter the cishet gaze, esp. by people read as female.
“I feel uncomfortable when people would assume I'm a straight cis female, so I feel that my hair quietly signals that I'm queer. It helps avoid being triggered by unwanted comments.”
“I also got sick of men thinking my body was theirs to ogle and grope. If my appearance is both masculine and transgressive, all I have to worry about is the physical violence from the zealots and not the constant clammy hands of joe dirt. It's worked out great so far.”
Used to protect their marginalized social group(s) via protest to social norms.
“...I see assimilation into normativity as a way to enforce further marginalization of People of color, Queer People, Women, and especially those that fall in between one or more of those categories…”
“I feel the way normativity is enforced is self supporting, unreasonable, and practiced specifically to further marginalize several marginalized groups"
Medium: the survey was only available online and only advertised on social media sites, limiting our audience to those who are closely linked to on social media, and those in our social groups
age, race and class restraints

Timespan: we shut down the survey early due to the huge number of responses (82), but most of those 82 respondents were remarkably similar (e.g. 94% white)
longer time limit might have reached more people of a better demographic range

Culture: We intentionally limited the survey sample to those who considered the US one of their main cultures, because we only knew about US body modification culture.
Wohlrab, Silke, Peter M. Kappeler, and Jutta Stahl. Modifying the Body: Motivations for Getting Tattooed and Pierced. ScienceDirect. Elsevier, 17 Dec. 2006. Web. 30 Apr. 2014.

Pitts-Taylor, Victoria. In the Flesh: The Cultural Politics of Body Modification. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Print.
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble:
Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1990. Print.
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