Joshua Tenpenny would like to thank James and Angela for their assistance with this article. Justin Cascio would like to thank Keith Alexander for his intuitive advice and Shannon Larratt of BME for permission to use an image of a triangle piercing in this article, and for providing an excellent resource on body modification.
Body modification is any practice, surgical or not, that changes the body. Getting circumcised, branded, or even getting rhinoplasty, it’s all body modification. For many FTMs, genital surgery is simply not an option: it’s cost-prohibitive for those without national health insurance, and the results are less visually and functionally satisfactory than is ideal. This article deals with body modifications performed outside the medical community that transgendered female-bodied people can use to masculinize the appearance of their genitals.
WARNING: The following sections cover pumping, piercing, cutting, and implants, and include descriptions as well as photographs. Not for the squeamish. Please also take careful note of which procedures can be safely performed at home (pumping) versus those that should only be performed by a trained professional (implants, cutting, piercing, and saline injections).
Although pumping is fairly simple, it’s possible to screw up and cause damage, so read directions from other sources, including those linked here, carefully before trying this at home.
Being on testosterone will dramatically increase the size of your dick, but pumping can increase its size with or without hormones. It also feels really good. Following guidelines on properly using a pump (such as, “if it hurts, stop”) is the best way to avoid damage to your genitals. An article in the British Medical Journal reported FDA approval of a pumping device for female sexual dysfunction, which operates on the same principle as those available in adult toy stores: “the device consists of a small vacuum pump that is placed over the clitoris to apply gentle suction to the region and increase blood flow, aiding in sexual arousal.”
For more information on how the pump works, how to use it, and where to buy one, see Mike Hernandez’s Gonna Pump You Up!, which covers the topic very well. A ‘how-to’ by Rachel Venning, co-founder of Toys in Babeland, in the February-March 2002 issue of On Our Backs covers not only the practical but the pleasurable aspects of pumping.
An article in Feminism & Psychology links tattoos, piercings, transsexual surgeries, and female circumcision in a dramatic hierarchy of torture inflicted (or self-inflicted, as the author sees little difference) on women, the disabled, and queers (Jeffreys 2000). The same article quotes actual piercees and cuttees on how they’ve reclaimed their bodies in powerful, dramatic acts of body modification.
Despite the dire warnings of Sheila Jeffreys, piercing can help people reclaim their bodies (if we’re to believe the “troubled young people” who are quoted in her article are truly speaking for themselves). Like any body modification— liposuction, rhinoplasty, labret piercing— it can be a bow to the Grand Arbiters of Beauty or This Week’s Fad, or a powerful way to mark your body as your own.
There are, as Josh puts it, “an infinite number of ways to add metal to your junk,” but here are some of special interest to FTMs.
Triangle: This is a piercing that goes behind the shaft of the “clit.” Most standard female bodies are unsuited for this because there isn’t enough shaft to get behind, but if you’ve got enough free skin for it, it is really nice. It can make your dick stick out nicely, especially at larger gauges.
Hood/Foreskin Piercing: A vertical piercing through the foreskin or clitoral hood looks really hot and can provide extra stimulation.
Labia piercing: A pair of side-by-side labia piercings that are worn with a single ring to block access to the vagina. (Actually, you can use as many pairs as you can fit.) This is good if you are uncomfortable with vaginal penetration but want to allow your partners some access to your “bits.” With the labia attached to each other like that, penetration is impossible (provided the rings are well placed). Some sites discuss this piercing as a method of female chastity protection. If you want or need vaginal access (like for that Pap smear you’ve been putting off), the rings can be taken out temporarily, like any other body jewelry.
Check out sites such as BMEzine for more info on “female” genital piercing, but keep in mind, just because they don’t have a name for it, doesn’t mean you can’t poke holes in it.
The “Ghetto Metoidioplasty”
At the True Spirit Conference 2002, Angela and James presented a workshop on alternative genital modification. Josh had already been pumping and planning on doing a labial infibulation, but this workshop really got him thinking. Here is something he’s making plans to perform on himself. It goes without saying, this is one individual’s plan, and is not advice to go out and do this on your own.
A simple metoidioplasty would cut the labia under the shaft from a spot right around where you’d put a triangle piercing, giving the dick freedom of movement. You could gauge up a triangle piercing until you could just snip the little bit of skin that was holding it together, or pull the triangle forward, similar to how a tongue splitting can be done, making sure not to let it close up behind the bar, until it pulled right through. James calls this the “ghetto metoidioplasty. Keith Alexander, a body modification expert in New York City who shared his “instinctual feelings” on these genital modifications based on his experience, suggests that the tissue holding the piercing would become thicker and tougher to support the heavy jewelry rather than thinner as you gauge up a piercing. It may be most effective to simply cut the tissue beneath the dick, as in Josh’s “three step process” below.
After cutting, the two ends of the labia under the dick can be hooked together with piercing (like a frenum ladder), or sutured, or just left as is.
Sub-dermal implants are, well, implants placed under the skin. An interview with Steve Haworth on the BMEzine site includes photos of several kinds of sub-dermal implants. What can be done with small beads can be also be done with veterinary grade testicular implants made of surgical grade Teflon or surgical steel implants. One source is Neuticles, which are marketed to pet owners as “a safe, practical and inexpensive option when neutering their beloved pet.” (We did say they’re veterinary grade, did we not?) They can be placed in the inner or outer labia, depending on your body and preferences, although Alexander suggested that most labia minora are not strong enough to support the size implants needed to approximate the appearance of testicles. This can be remedied, however, in a number of ways. One way is implanting gradually larger implants, much as you’d gauge up a piercing to get a larger hole. You can alternatively use a clit pump on your labia minora to increase their size. A way to find out how capacious your labia minora are is to get saline injections in the labia. For example, if saline injections can inflate your labia to an extra inch in diameter, you could probably safely use a 3/4-inch diameter ball.
Body modification is no less permanent when performed outside an operating room. Just as there’s a real life test before getting hormones or surgery under a physician’s care, you should take the time (in months, not hours) to decide whether a body modification is what you really want, and whether you can live with its permanent effects on the body you’ll be living in for the rest of your life.
Well aware of the disreputable “cutters” who prey on the gay and transgendered communities, Alexander advises those looking for a body modification expert to get referrals from other satisfied customers, and to avoid anyone who calls himself a “cutter.” In addition to finding experts well known within their field on the BME site, you can also check out the credentials of a piercer on the Association of Professional Piercers website.
Alexander K. (26 June 2000). Personal communication.
Jeffreys S. (2000). ‘Body art’ and social status: cutting, tattooing and piercing from a feminist perspective. Feminism & Psychology 10:4:409-429.
Editor’s Note: The original version of this article included a diagram of a triangle piercing insertion point, a photo of triangle piercing, a photo of clitoral hood piercing, and a diagram of a series of labia piercings. Sadly, these materials have been irretrievably lost in the years since this was originally published.