Jason Abels is a minister in the Church of Body Modification and recently completed a body modification apprenticeship under Ron Garza.

What body modifications do you have?

God, where to begin! I have 15 piercings (4 of them dermal punched, the rest pierced), a decent amount of tattoo coverage, 2 implants, 3 large cuttings and a number of smaller cuttings and brandings. I also have a partial subincision, a split tongue, a removed lingular frenulum, and have had my ears scalpeled. At one point I had scalpeled my own apadravya from a 10ga to a 6ga, but the jewelry fell out so now I'm back to a 10. If you want a more complete (and up to date) list of my mods it can be seen at http://iam.bmezine.com/?Zarathustra.

What inspired your interest in body modification?

I think the first time I ever noticed body modification was in the collection of old National Geographic and Encyclopedias that my parents had when I was young. I remember being fascinated by stretched lobes and lips, and thinking that the textured scars carried by a number of indigenous and tribal cultures in Africa were incredibly beautiful. When I informed my parents of this about a year and a half ago they promptly threw out almost 35 years of National Geographic so that my younger brothers and sisters wouldn't be influenced by them. To think that such a highly praised magazine led to the corruption of a minor!

I was always fascinated by people who had a unique and different body shape or appearance. I've always been interested in changing my appearance, being something or someone that I wasn't originally. When I first started getting tattooed I looked at pictures of myself as a child and noticed that in almost all of them I had used markers or paint to draw pictures on my arms, face, stomach and chest. Even family photos where I'd be "cleaned up" still bore the telltale marks on my hands where my mom couldn't scrub hard enough.

One thing that really fascinated me as a child was amputees. Of course my interest was probably considered rude, but I remember being told off by my parents for staring at someone missing a limb, some fingers, or even an arm. I wasn't staring out of disgust though, I had a genuine fascination concerning how they were able to do the same things as I was with severe and noticeable disabilities. I used to tuck my leg behind me and hobble around on a croquet mallet "crutch". I also used to build myself "robotic" hands out of constructs (any other children of the 80's recognize these?) and then pull my real limb into my shirt sleeve and use this to eat and drink with. This is an aspect of modification that I haven't fully explored, but is something that still holds some interest in the back of my mind.

My first piercings were done by myself with a sewing needle when I was 12, and my first permanent scar was performed on my shoulder with a box cutter when I was 15. I didn't start getting tattoos until I was 20 because until then I couldn't afford it.

Do you think you'll ever further explore the amputation aspect of modification?

Not in the near future, as that would definitely hinder my abilities in my current line of work (computer industry) as well as with piercing. I have considered removing a knuckle on one of my digits though in memorial for a decision I made earlier in my life. I wouldn't do this for a long time though, and I really am not interested in taking it any further, such as a full hand or limb.

You have several Christian themed modifications, what inspired you to include your religion so heavily in your modifications?

Ever since I can remember I have been a deeply spiritual person. My relationship with God is what my life is built around, and the foundation for my very being. Because of this I felt it was only natural to incorporate it into my designs and plans for my appearance. Even before I started getting tattooed I had branded and cut Christian imagery onto my arms and shoulders. I had performed my first deep, permanent cutting on myself when I was 15 to commemorate the anniversary of my baptism and because that was the year that I really found my relationship with my Lord. Once that cutting faded I branded over it.

Lately I've been getting a number of tattoos and a cutting with inscriptions in them that reference verses that have had an impact on my life. One of them speaks to the victory we have over death and the grave, another one (my punk-rock pinup) mentions Proverbs 31, which speaks of a woman of noble character. My most meaningful to date has been my angel cutting though. I got it post September 11th, and the inscription on it is Psalm 91:11 (9/11/1), which says the following: "For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways." This was a big comfort for me in a time where there was little comfort to be had.

Another reason for my tattoos is that I want to share my beliefs visibly and I like to be able to "wear my allegiance on my sleeve" as it is, and to proclaim my beliefs to anyone who looks at my face, hands or body. I have the name of God written on my face in Hebrew and the word "Forgiven" across my knuckles for this reason. I don't want my tattoos to shock or disturb, I just want to cause people to think about the things they represent.




What reactions have you received for these Christian themed mods?

Believe it or not, the most positive reactions I've gotten are from people who aren't Christian. I've had a number of pagans and non-Christians who have complimented me on the tattoos, and who really do understand my reasons for wearing them. Most Christians cannot look past the stigma of rebellion that tattoos carry and always bring up an old levitical law that condemns tattooing and scarring the body for the dead. I always remind them that Jesus is alive so I'm not doing that, and if they want to hold me to that levitical law, then I expect them to follow the others, such as not eating meat that was cooked with the blood in it, or wearing fabric made of two kinds of fibers (all those 50% cotton shirts must GO!).

Another objection I get is to the permanence of the modifications, but I believe that everything they represent is permanent and unchanging, so why shouldn't my tattoos be the same? You can take off a Christian shirt, and you can remove a WWJD bracelet or cross necklace when you don't want to portray yourself as different, but I cannot do this with my mods. They act as a reminder to me and to others that I am not my own, but that I am a servant of God, and should act accordingly. It also serves as a reminder of the sacrifice that was made to atone for my sins and the redemption and forgiveness that I have through Christ.

Finally a lot of people think it's vanity for me to be tattooed and pierced. I've been told that my body was created in the image of God, and who am I to change that image? I actually had to remind one of the people who said this to me of the bandages they wore on their new $10,000 nose a few years in the past. For some reason they got pissed and discontinued the discussion. I figure the body is the temple of God, so why not decorate it? It's no more vain than a steeple on a church or wallpaper in the churches bathroom.

What does body modification mean to you spiritually?

Body modification is an act that touches us in ways that almost nothing else can. I've felt closer to my God while suspending or while branding myself than I have sitting in a beautiful church that was made of marble and stained glass. It's an act that to me proves our humanity (as opposed to being non-spiritual entities) and connects us to each other on a spiritual level as well as the physical. The ability to sit through pain and willingly take it to attain a goal is one of the things that sets us apart from animals. Throughout history spiritually attuned people have used fasting, flagellation, put their bodies through rituals that most people in the western world would equate to torture, and performed amazing physical (and I believe spiritual) feats as an expression of their faith. In my own way I'm doing the same through body modification.

You're also a minister in the Church of Body Modification, give us some background on how you became involved...

I had heard about the CoBM before from various discussions on rec.arts.bodyart and on BME, and had volunteered my time to do some web design (I think they still use my online membership form), but I hadn't actually become a member until last year at Modcon when I had the opportunity to meet Steve Haworth and Becki B. They performed my implants (a large cross in the center of my chest and a smaller one off-center to the left), and I got the opportunity to sit down and talk to them while they were taking a break. It was then that I really realized that the heart and purpose of the CoBM was a worthy cause and something that I should be a part of. Since then there has been a lot of drama and a good number of problems in the organization, but I believe that right now is a time of purification by fire, so to speak. Things are being refined, and what will come from it will be a good core of ministers who are truly dedicated to the cause of furthering people's spirituality through body modification and protecting the rights of modified members and non-members alike.

What exactly is your role as a minister in the CoBM? What duties does that title hold?

My role is one of servant, counselor and advocate for the members of the Church. I've worked with a number of members who are being persecuted because of their decisions to modify themselves, be it from parents, authority figures, teachers, employers, or even ministers in other faiths. I've also assisted in the decision-making process within the Church leadership as far as procedures and policies go. Most of what I do is done via the internet, since the membership is spread out all over the place and most members don't have a local minister to support them.

Has being a member of two churches (CoBM and Christian) ever caused a conflict?

My beliefs in Christ and my beliefs about body modification are both parts of my faith, even though it may be two different physical churches. I see it as two outlets that I use to express and excercise my faith. I haven't seen any conflicts between the two that I haven't been able to resolve. Of course there are Christians who take issue with my beliefs on body modification, just as there are modified people who have problems with my Christian beliefs, but it's never been a big issue and I've always been able to talk and explain myself to them.

Do you feel that the CoBM's involvement in protecting people's rights has led to a membership that includes many who are not really spiritually devoted to body modification?

I'm sure that it has, but I think that the charter of any organization is full of people who are members soley for the fringe benefits, who don't completely subscribe to the beliefs held by the organization as a whole. I really don't have a problem with it, and I just try to show them that the church is more than just a tax break and an umbrella legal organization. Some people never get it though, which I think is unfortunate because there can be so much spirituality in modification that many do not see. I guess some people are just spiritually inclined and some aren't.

What role do you see the CoBM playing in the future, a more prominent role or a small role only involving a small portion of modified people?

The core beliefs of the CoBM are held by many people who aren't affiliated with the organization because of issues with various members or ministers involved, or because of past bad experiences with the Church. I think that it should take a more prominent role as an organization representing the spirituality inherent in body modification, but to do so it needs to be more inclusive of all spiritually-minded modified people and less ready to jump on someone at a moment's notice and hold on to feuds and bad blood. I don't know if it will survive in its current incarnation, but I think that a similar organization is necessary to the well-being of the community, if only to bring people of like-minded beliefs together and show them that they're not alone. We do have to be careful though not to push our beliefs on the world or present ourselves as the only way that modified people feel, because this is not the case.

You're currently apprenticing under Ron Garza, how long have you been in this apprenticeship and how'd it come to be?

First off I cannot say enough good things about Ron. As much as he hates titles and especially hates this word, he has been my mentor in the body modification industry for the past year, and I consider him a very close friend. I've had the pleasure of apprenticing with him since last December (2001), which means I've apprenticed with him for about 11 months. Before that I had worked counter at True Blue (the shop he's currently working at), filling in for the regular counter help and had been hanging out at the shop on a fairly regular basis for a few months, helping where I could. I had been interested in body modification and so had been educating myself for the past few years, but hadn't considered an apprenticeship because of my day job and other responsibilities. I had been a regular at two shops in town to the point that I'd normally end up sitting behind the desk dispensing aftercare information and discussing piercings more often than the times I'd just hang out. Finally after a discussion/debate Ron and I had on scar aftercare and the long-term benefits of silicone vs. Teflon implants Ron said to me "I don't care what you think, I AM going to apprentice you." That began the journey that has taken the last 11 months of my free time has given me an incredible education and look into all the facets of body modification. Through Ron I've been able to learn piercing technique, bedside manner, history of body modification, history of modern suspension, and many other things that I couldn't get anywhere else. I'm truly honored to be working with Ron only hope that I can represent that in the caliber of my work. I still have a long way to go before I can consider myself a true professional (a word that's thrown around too loosely, IMHO) in the art of body modification, but with all the help and guidance I've gotten from Ron, Bear, Vanessa and the other True Blue staff I feel I'm headed in the right direction. In November of 2002 Ron told me that my piercing apprenticeship was over, and I started piercing professionally. Of course I still have a lot to learn about branding, scarification, implants and other advanced forms of body modification, but being able to work with people who are at the forefront of those fields will keep me on the right track.

Is the apprenticeship just for piercing, or will you be exploring cutting and other forms of modification as well?

Honestly I kind of went about doing things backwards, and had split a penis before I had ever pierced one. My apprenticeship has included assisting on scarification projects, assisting (and performing) surgical modification such as subincisions, tongue splits, corrective modification (scar removal), dermal punching and various other aspects of modification. While the basics of body piercing have served as the foundation for my apprenticeship, I believe that we can build on top of that general knowledge with more specific studies such as the scarification and surgical modification. A lot of the knowledge of sterility, cross contamination, aftercare and healing, the way the body scars, etc can be carried over from one style of modification to another, so it's felt like a pretty natural progression through my apprenticeship.

I'm lucky to be apprenticing with an incredible artist in many different mediums, and to work at a "full service modification shop" of sorts. I also have many friends who are interested in the more advanced forms of modification we offer. Because of this I've been able to learn more than just basic body piercing. Not to say that a body piercing only apprenticeship is in any way inferior to what my experience has been, but I've enjoyed the more well-roundedness of my apprenticeship and the breadth of skills I've been able to learn and hope to utilize once my apprenticeship is over.

What is the most interesting modification procedure you've performed as an apprentice?

I don't think I've done a piercing yet that wasn't interesting. :) I guess I'm not jaded enough to navels and nipples yet, but I really enjoy the challenge that everyone's different body types and dispositions brings me. If I had to choose one modification I've done as the most interesting I'd have to say it was either my friend Jason's subincision or working on Ron to remove a piece of his frenum so that a scalpelled apadravya piercing that he had done on himself would sit straight. Both of them presented unique challenges and were tons of fun to do.




What type of involvement have you had with suspensions, considering your mentor is involved with TSD?

Ever since seeing A Man Called Horse I was intrigued that people had the ability to hang from hooks and go through what I envisioned as a torturous and incredibly painful ritual. Other than that movie I really had no exposure to suspension until I discovered BMEZine in 1998. After seeing pictures of non-tribal, "normal" people performing suspensions I really started researching the practice, but it wasn't until 2001 that I had the opportunity to actually take part in a suspension. I saw my first suspension in May of 2001 after a friend set up a suspension rig at his shop, and about 2 weeks later I was hanging out and he asked me if I wanted to try it. It was a slow night and I had nothing else to do so I agreed, and 30 minutes later I stepped off a ladder and changed my life. My first suspension was a 6 point suicide suspension and lasted a little over an hour. I was very dynamic and had a lot of fun doing it. It really opened my eyes to what the human body could withstand and endure. Since then I've suspended around 20 times so far, have assisted in a number of suspensions shows (performing fire, doing gopher work, rigging), have pierced others for suspensions, and have attended two Suspension Conventions. Recently Ron Garza has gone about forming an offshoot of TSD here in Austin, and we're preparing rigs and equipment so that we may perform shows at a local venue. Later this month is our first show and I'm currently in charge of the piercing and aftercare side of things. I'm really looking forward to doing more performance suspensions, but I still love to do private suspensions as well.




You also work a white collar job...what type of reaction do you receive for your mods at this job?

Beyond the initial shock I haven't had any real problems with my mods, except for when I deal with business people from the Northeast. For some reason unbeknownst to me it seems that they have an issue with my appearance and I've been looked down on and my opinion has been disregarded a number of times because of it. Among my co-workers and partners in the South, West, and Midwest I've had no issues whatsoever. We do joke about my mods from time to time, but it's all in jest. My current boss likes the mods because it helps me intimidate vendors when the need arises and we've been able to get better deals and quicker responses because of it. A month ago we had a corporate offsite party and mid-way through the event I had to leave for my apprenticeship. A few hours later about 20 of my co-workers decided to visit me at the shop, and one of them ended up getting both her tongue and her navel pierced by me. Afterwards my boss showed interest in an eyebrow piercing, so hopefully he'll come in sometime and get that done.

Have the mods ever interfered with or threatened your employment in any way?

I did have one boss that had issues with my visible modifications. At the time I had a few facial piercings, but all my tattoos and scars could be covered. He did voice disapproval to me, but after discussing it with both him and his superior I decided to change my jewelry out to something a little more discreet and to flip up my septum ring when I was at work. Eventually he was let go, as was the rest of my team, but my employment was retained so I guess the company didn't discriminate based on appearances. When I first started branding ('98) I was running my own network support company and would wear long sleeves so as not to offend our clients, but now that I'm out of the public eye I can look however I want.


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