[Note: If you don’t like to think about scalpels, blood, or the bifurcation of normally unbifurcated body parts, you may want to skip the first paragraph.]
Earlier this month, I had my tongue split by a very sweet man from Italy. It was a very intense and surreal experience: he numbed my tongue with a xylocaine injection, made a very swift scalpel cut while he and my partner held my tongue out, and then spent twenty or so minutes suturing the sides of the split while I sat there, eyes closed and whole body vibrating with endorphins and emotion, feeling nothing but a gentle pulling at my tongue and the occasional prickle of sensation – not pain, but a tiny electrical tingle. The first few days were spent with a very swollen and painful tongue, but since the middle of last week, I’ve been more or less pain-free and mostly concerned with relearning how to speak clearly and trying to figure out how to move the halves independently of each other.
I feel like I need to have a deep and meaningful reason for choosing to do this. Let’s face it – a procedure that may have been only semi-legal, will probably go on to freak out a decent number of people in my life, and has left me with a temporary lisp shouldn’t be undertaken lightly, right? But even though I’ve wanted to have a split tongue for about ten years now and it wasn’t something I chose to do on a whim, the only reason I’ve ever been able to articulate is “I want to do this because it’s so bizarre and fantastic that you can even do this to your body.” Seriously, it’s hilarious (there’s that word again) and entertaining! I can stick my tongue out and wiggle the forked bit around! When I lick ice cream or cake batter, my tongue makes a weird groove pattern in it! It isn’t healed enough for sexy experimentation, but that will probably be exciting as well! In the past, I’ve kind of felt like this is a bit of a cop-out reason, but lately “because I can” has started to feel like it might be the most important reason of all.
Anything that brings me closer to feeling comfortable in and with my body, in my opinion, is a valid step. I have felt that I was at war with my body in some way or another since I was very young – I’ve fought with myself over my weight, migraines, assorted joint and wrist pains, and the physical manifestation of my shifting gender identity, among other things – and it’s only been in the past decade that I’ve started to find ways to make the conflict less intense. I still struggle with my body on a daily basis, for a multitude of reasons, but the steps I take in my medical transition and through body modification* are a way for me to put a claim on the body I’m in and say “this is mine to do with what I will.” Each broad category of physical changes feel a little different to me, but I can’t imagine not participating in one or the other, or having to make a choice between which was more important. I’ve spent most of my life seeing a stranger in the mirror, no matter how I identified at the time or who I expected to see looking back at me. Taking control and feeling some sense of ownership in relation to my body is helping that person become more familiar, and very slowly my relationship with my body has been able to enter periods of relative peace.
*I realize that chest reconstruction surgery and my ongoing testosterone injections also count as ways in which I’ve modified my body. But when I talk about “body modification,” that includes piercings, tattoos, ritual events like flesh pulls, and the recent tongue split. I’ve seen some discussion on the blurry line that divides Official Body Modification from Assorted Other Ways We Change Our Bodies; maybe I can go deeper into that in the future.