When I was 17, my mom called my dad to ask if he’d take me to get my nose pierced. I needed a legal guardian’s consent, my mom was working that day and, obviously, Ireallyneededitrightthen, god, Mom. After hanging up, she told me he’d agreed to bring me, but not without feelings about it.
“She’s not gonna like the kind of boys she attracts with that thing,” he’d told her.
The statement was absurd, an entirely foreign idea interjected into my line of thought. Bewilderment soon gave way to rage. Who said what I did and how I styled myself was for boys? I don’t think I identified as a feminist yet, but I was certain, without the academic language, that my choices were not and would not be dictated by heavily gendered, heteronormative societal expectations.
Nearly 10 years later, his comment rings comically quaint in my very queer brain. I now have two nose rings, and never have men’s opinions mattered less to me. What my dad’s declaration foreshadowed – and neither of us could have predicted – was the importance nose piercings would take on in the development of my queer identity.
Aesthetics have always been integral to how I express my gender and sexuality. My style is a manifestation of how I feel on a given day: flirty-masculine? Long shorts with a high waist. Renegade feminine? Dress with boots. My first nose ring, a small, silver ball in my left nostril, became a fixed ornament in this illustrative landscape. It signified my weirdness and made it clear to other kids in my high school that I was proud of being offbeat.
It also served as a primer for becoming queer. Turns out all the ways I was different would not reveal themselves until college, when I started caring less about what “kind of boys” I was attracting. I felt freed from the bounds of stereotypical femininity and archaic conceptions of womanhood. Upon finally coming into my newfound sexuality, surrounded by a community of queer friends, I switched the stud in my nose to a hoop.
Five years later, I broke the last bit of hetero-acquiescence with a septum piercing. I told no one about the plan that I’d contemplated heavily (but only half-committed to), and I went to the piercing studio alone. The artist had to do it twice because the first ring was too small, and I figured if I was going for it, it should be as prominent as possible.
I left with a gold septum ring, my nostril stud and the thrill of making visible a recently developed, very self-assured version of myself. I was asserting confidence in my queerness in a way that, for me, was bold. Just as my first nose ring had when I was 17, my septum piercing told the world I was a bit of a freak, and I was down with that.
I don’t plan on getting anything else pierced, at least not for awhile. I’ve contemplated a tattoo, but that feels too permanent, too ever-present for the fluidity of how I express who I am.
Molly Savard is driven by the intersections of politics, identity, pop culture, and social justice. She works for Shondaland.com.
Collage by Edith Young.