Below is an open letter that I sent to a writer at the Lansing State Journal, regarding an article they published on tongue splitting and tongue piercing (which can be found online here). If anyone sees articles published in local papers, they are more than welcome to either forward them this letter as well, or gut it to write their own letter.
Dear Stacey Range,
My name is Shannon Larratt. I am the publisher of BME: Body Modification Ezine (https://www.bmezine.com/), the world's largest resource on body modification subjects. Our community built sites share the experiences of hundreds of thousands of body modification enthusiasts and professionals around the world. I have extensively researched body modification of all kinds (from piercings and tattoos to all forms of counter-culture surgery), and I would like to point out to you a multitude of problems that are included in your recent story on tongue piercing and splitting. On top of my professional interaction with this subject, I have had a split tongue now for five years, and personally know dozens of other people with theirs split as well.
You've quoted Gary Zoutendam, past president of the Michigan Dental Association and an oral surgeon in Battle Creek, in saying, "no trained professional in their right mind would perform this procedure." Mr. Zoutendam seems to fail to realize that this procedure is being performed by trained medical professionals, including doctors such as Albany's Dr. Lawrence Busino, a respected oral and maxillofacial surgeon and Fellow in the Pierre Fauchard Academy. Many other surgeons including Dr. Joe Rosen of the renowned Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center have been urging the medical mainstream to embrace such procedures. While it is true that some small minded doctors who are more concerned with forcing their cultural prejudices on the rest of us may object, most of the "higher end" doctors are in support of the procedure being permitted (even if they'd personally never consider having it done).
You mention that "state representatives could take action on a bill this week that would prohibit anyone from splitting another person's tongue." I feel it is important to point out that it is already illegal for an amateur (for example, a piercer) to perform such a medical procedure. So we know that this bill has nothing to do with controlling "underground surgery" or enhancing "public safety" anything like that. This is about restricting personal freedom. The bill takes an unprecedented step by telling doctors that they do not have the right to perform a relatively minor procedure because it is "unnatural" or "mutilation" in the eyes of some medically ignorant legislators. Personally I'm no fan of breast implants, but I'm intelligent enough (and value liberty enough) to understand that as long as the procedure is relatively safe, it is not my place to tell doctors that they're not allowed to do it just because I don't like it.
As far as the companion bill limiting tongue piercing to licensed health professionals, tongue piercing is statistically one of the safest piercings a person can get, so again, this is clearly a piece of targeted and prejudiced legislation by someone attempting to force their personal views on their community. Goodbye freedom. Making tongue piercing a service limited to doctors would have three effects. First, it would leave only low quality studios that don't care about a law against piercing tongues. Second, it would mean that doctors -- who are simply not trained to pierce -- would start offering piercing. Third, it would mean that the cost of tongue piercing would skyrocket. The end result of these things would be that people would get lower quality tongue piercings at a higher cost.
State Rep. William Callahan, who sponsored both the tongue splitting and tongue piercing bills, calls tongue splitting "mutilation, not modification", and claims that he makes this differentiation because tongue splitting is "unacceptable" (well there's a well thought out reason!). Callahan has flat out admitted that this is about forcing his ideas on the world (the difference between "mutilation" and "modification" is personal preference, not medical fact). If anything is "unacceptable" in a free society, government stealing more and more of its citizens right is it. It is not Mr. Callahan's place to ban things because he considers them mutilation -- he must show that they are harmful, and because neither of these things are harmful, he should have no ability to ban them.
You mention that none of the Lansing-area tattoo parlors are performing tongue splitting. Why would they? Piercers are good at piercing -- it's what they're trained to do. They are not doctors. They do not in general have the training required to perform a tongue splitting safely. That doesn't mean the procedure should be banned -- that means that people should be able to go to doctors to have it done safely. A race car driver can't fly an airplane, but pilots can. Should we ban airplanes because a race car driver can't fly them safely? Of course not -- this line of thinking is ludicrous.
You quote David Fox of the Michigan State Medical Society as claiming "a split tongue may impair the normal chewing and food movement functions of the tongue and possibly result in a permanent lisp or slurred speech. No one knows what the long-term health effects may be." This is a false and absolutely ridiculous statement. Not only does the body modification community have a decade of experience with this procedure, but oral surgeons know exactly what both the long and short term health effects are of cuttings of the tongue (none). Analogous procedures are done regularly on people with cancers and a variety of tongue related diseases. This procedure is absolutely not a mystery.
You quote Tom Kochheiser of the Michigan Dental Association as saying "there's nothing positive about either one of these procedures [tongue splitting and piercing]." It should be obvious to anyone reading this that Mr. Kochheiser is a closed-minded fool that can't accept anything beyond his own viewpoint. Tongue piercing and splitting may do nothing positive for him personally, but it has done positive things for hundreds of thousands of people and he has no right to try and help take those things away from them.
You quote Mr. Zoutendam again as saying that both tongue splitting and tongue piercing can be dangerous. If we're going to play the "can be dangerous" game, it is important to point out that pretty much every single oral cosmetic procedure endorsed by these dental societies are hundreds if not thousands of times more dangerous than tongue piercing, and are by no means any safer than tongue splitting.
You say that infection is the most common complication with tongue piercing because the mouth contains millions of bacteria. In actuality, infection is extremely rare in tongue piercings, which are the least likely of all piercings to become infected. Tongue piercings are less likely statistically to become infected than paper cuts are (should we ban paper?). This is the case precisely BECAUSE the mouth contains millions of bacteria, and since we regularly cut our mouths and tongues while eating, the mouth is very good at healing itself.
You then say that "a swollen tongue can block the airway and lead to suffocation". This is another one of those "could" games. If I go for a walk outside, I may be struck by lightning. In fact, about one hundred people die every year in the United States alone from lightning strikes. Should we broadcast lightning warnings every day so people can stay indoors, or maybe make people wear lightning deflecting hats? Maybe we should train "lightning guides", and then walking outside can only be done when accompanied by a trained lightning guide.
ZERO people have died from tongue piercing. Zero as in NONE. Zero out of probably a million piercings. That's safer than almost everything else we do... Considering that over the past quarter-century, death penalty judgements in the United States have had a national error rate of 68%, a person is far more likely to be "accidentally murdered by the state" for a crime they didn't commit than they are to die from a tongue piercing.
You also warn that mouth jewelry itself can be swallowed or chip teeth. Chipped teeth only generally happens if the jewelry is too long, and swallowing jewelry is entirely harmless. As far as your warning of uncontrollable bleeding or blood poisoning, that is absolutely ridiculous, and short of using a butcher knife to perform the piercing, I can't imagine how such an outcome could be achieved.
You mention that once split, the tongue may never grow back together. Maybe you're not seeing it, but THAT'S THE POINT. It's not supposed to grow back together. You also say that repair would involve surgery to sew the muscle back together. That's true, but it's a simple procedure with minimal risk, which is a large part of the reason that qualified and open-minded surgeons are willing to perform the procedure.
You quote Dr. Daniel Abraham, a dermatologist who does some cosmetic procedures at his Durand clinic, in saying that he "would never consider a patient's request to have a tongue split," and that even though he performs things such as Botox injections, "he considers tongue splitting too extreme". Ignoring the fact that Dr. Abraham is not an oral surgeon and is thus not qualified to perform a tongue splitting, I'd like to point out that when doctors refuse to do valid procedures, they force those procedures into untrained hands. Second, considering he's making money injecting Botox (botulism) and doing a variety of other equally questionable (and risky) procedures, it's quite obvious that this is simply cultural prejudice, and not a medical opinion.
These doctors should be ashamed of themselves -- it is utterly unacceptable for them to act as judges over what cosmetic procedure is allowed simply because it "grosses them out". Aesthetics are personal, and in a free society it is a basic right that we are allowed to control our body's appearance, including through surgery if we choose to.
Finally, I'd like to thank you for finishing your article with the quote from Seth Griffin (who I should point out has not had his speech changed by the tongue split -- he's always had a slight lisp). Seth said, "it's just about feeling good about yourself and standing out." Shouldn't that be good enough? Seth has had a procedure that is safe and has made him happy. If anything, we need more procedures like this being done. Freedom and happiness are good things.
Body Modification Ezine
PS. Feel free to forward this letter to any journalists or groups you feel would benefit from it, and feel free to pass on my email address (email@example.com) and use it for reference on future articles on body modification subjects.
Whew! Are my fingers ever tired!
Hopefully I got my message across.