I have to admit that my ego, believing the bridges were long since mended, thought I’d have had a less hostile representation in this book, but I suppose that is a result of the reality that I have very often been at sociopolitical odds with Jim Ward and Gauntlet — although I hope it’s obvious that our differences are minor in comparison to our agreements, as we have both dedicated much of our lives fighting for the same general cause. While it isn’t mentioned in the book (and I hope it doesn’t reflect badly upon me that I feel a little bruised and slighted by that), in 2003 I approached Jim Ward asking him whether he would be willing to write a series of columns for BME/News recounting the history of Gauntlet and his essential role in founding the commercial body piercing industry. If memory serves, BME invested about $5000 in a wonderful series of columns that were warmly received by everyone — especially me — and after ten columns (Jim has archived these columns on his website here and they offer a great taste of what you’ll find in the book) it was clear that this project had the potential to be much more than just a column and deserved to grow into a full length book. At this point the columns ended and Jim Ward began pouring his efforts into the book, which is now available for purchase. If I am permitted to whine just a little more, I think the reason that my catalytic efforts in germinating this book are strangely absent from mention is that Jim has never quite forgiven me for labeling him and Gauntlet as “conservative”, and that bitterness does come across a few times in the book. While I strongly disagree with some of the way I’m characterized in the book, it is interesting to see and understand how the words of my youth affected others who had been a working in this industry since I was barely out of diapers.
Here is how I am described in Chapter 14, a description that is both flattering and not depending on your viewpoint;
“Perhaps the most strident voice of the new wave has been that of Shannon Larratt, the founder in 1994 of the online body mod community, BMEzine.com, and originator of ModCon… Aside from the fact that he is essentially a body-mod anarchist, is it any wonder that Shannon considered Gauntlet, is it any wonder that Shannon considered Gauntlet conservative? The most advanced piercings that we did — ampallangs, apadravyas, and the occasional clitoris — pale by comparison. Being so focused on the most extreme modifications conceivable, how could he be anything other than jaded?”
Mixed feelings aside, it is fun to be called a “body-mod anarchist“!
Given my efforts in promoting and advocating for every single form of body modification, I feel this is an unfair statement to make. I think it comes from the fact — and this is briefly mentioned in the book — that in the mid-nineties, I in very strong words criticized Gauntlet and the APP for statements that Michaela Grey, a dear friend of Jim’s, made online and in The Point, eventually driving her from the industry. I make no apologies for that, because during that period Gauntlet had shifted from pushing the industry forward, to holding it back, and they were doing it not through caution, but through outright lies and deception and slander. Nasty rumors were started and promoted about those doing procedures they didn’t support, and horrible misinformation was spread about the use of scalpels and dermal punches — which I knew resulted in safer piercings that healed faster in some cases, and thus promoted them — as well as non-standard piercings and body modification in general. I wasn’t going to tolerate Gauntlet using their seniority to slag great piercers with ludicrous statements like saying any piercer willing to do a hand web piercing is a butcher because of the risk of hitting the bones in the hand. She also claimed that nape piercings put people at risk of paralysis — a statement showing an abject lack of comprehension of anatomy — and Jim admits in the book that nape piercings “still alarm him” although he does concede that he’s never heard of any of the complications that the APP spoke out so strongly with coming true, and sums up, “who can argue with success?”, which I appreciate him including. I’ve never been able to tolerate liars or fools, even if they believe it’s “for a good cause”, and I think that oldschool piercers, who seemed to get their piercing sensibilities from their raging hard-ons rather than their brains, were at great odds with modern piercers who pushed ever more daring procedures that, as extreme as they may have seemed, were well-researched, responsible, and backed up by a solid understanding of the underlying anatomy and science. I think this was amplified because many of those piercers who came from the SM and gay sex world were very used to civil rights abuses by the mainstream, and were very cautious and skittish because of it, making them willing to sacrifice their own to avoid undue public scrutiny.
I’m not the only person discussed in this book with some latent hostility and outright error and misrepresentation. Another “victim” is Jon Cobb, a pioneering piercer who I believe deserves incredible credit for his heroic role in pushing piercing forward. I think it’s very important to remember that “Running The Gauntlet” is one man’s memory of his role — an admittedly essential and important role — in the history of body piercing. It is not a definitive history. It has not been fact checked. And because of that it is riddled with error after error, and mistruth after mistruth. Because that is what personal memory is like. For example, and speaking of Jon Cobb, the book writes, “Paul King performed [the uvula piercing] and then went on to get one himself. His comment? ‘It was a very stupid piercing’”. Not only is this a flat-out lie — one that Paul earned a bad reputation for spreading at the time, and I was both surprised and dismayed to see repeated after so many years — but it simultaneously steals someone’s credit with one hand while slandering them with the other. The truth of the matter is that Jon Cobb came up with this procedure and did it on himself. Paul King was there, and assisted Jon, but in no way did he do the piercing. And while it is true that Paul is on record in print slandering Jon’s procedure as “stupid” or a “trainwreck” (in a recent issue of The Point, showing that these negative attitudes have persisted through the years), that totally misrepresents Jon’s skill and responsible nature and I would urge anyone wanting to know the true story to listen to my BME/Radio interview with Jon Cobb, which is available for free download on iTunes and elsewhere.
While it’s very obvious that I have mixed feelings and some very strong objections to a lot of the content in the book, please don’t think that I’m telling you not to read it. I’d only ask that you read it with a big grain of salt and that you understand that it is one person’s memory, not an authorotative history. It is essential reading for those who want to understand the mindset and the people who created the modern piercing industry in the 1970s and 1980s — and also to understand how difficult it was for them to cope with what BME, Steve Haworth, Job Cobb, Tom Brazda, and a great many others would go on to create in the 1990s from the foundation Gauntlet provided. As we all are, Jim is flawed and his stories are flawed, and he (and Gauntlet) is metaphorically the “parent” in this story, and we (the BME generation) are the “children”. This book is a real reminder that we will never really understand each other. In a way that’s sad, but perhaps it is just the unavoidable way growth and evolution has always happened.
I agree with the review that Sean Philips posted to ModBlog calling this book “required reading”. I can’t imagine a piercing fan that won’t enjoy this, and as far as I’m concerned, all piercing professionals must read it in order to understand where their livelihood came from. You can order the book from Amazon, but you should probably order it straight from https://www.runningthegauntlet-book.com/ because you can get it signed (and I suspect also ordering direct sends more money to the deserving author, rather than a corporate distributor)!
And wow, this book really motivates me to finish getting my own stories down on paper to “tell the other side of the story”.
Great work Jim, I am enjoying this book immensely and may well have more to say on it in the future. Thank you so much for writing it, and for everything you have done. This world would be a very different place without your efforts, and a much more boring place.