dinsdag 23 augustus 2022

Dutch Ava first time attendee at the APP conference 2022 as a Legacy Scholar

Ava LaBeija


Hello everyone, my name is Ava LaBeija!
I’m an Egyptian-Dutch piercer with an academic background in Comparative Gender Studies and Art History, a writer, a restless busy bee and a lover of body modification in every sense of the word.
This year, I was extremely fortunate to be the recipient of the APP and Pupil Hall’s Legacy scholarship, which made it possible to attend Conference in Las Vegas for the first time in my life. In every single way possible, this experience has completely transformed me and my life. 


When you grow up in a restless and unsafe home with little to no money or family but pretty unlimited Internet access, I think one of the websites you’ll find sooner or later is BMEzine. Or at least; that’s what happened in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I had always felt like an outsider (believe it or not: I was the darkest, most exotic looking kid in my village!) and was mesmerized by the unconventional things I’d see on late night television and in the local library, from medical textbooks to BDSM ads. When I found BMEzine at around 8 or 9 years old, I felt two things: like I had found my people, and equal parts disgust and admiration for a good 70% of everything I encountered. If any of you are unfamiliar: BME was the biggest website for piercings and (extreme) body modification – you can imagine my face when I saw a penile split at age 10, very much confused about anatomy in general.
I religiously read every article and believed all of this to be real, including the April Fool’s jokes I was too young to understand. So my initial inspiration comes from those early years spent on the Internet – Shannon Larrat, Fakir Musafar, Bear, Paul King, Ryan Ouellette, Farrah Flawless, Steve Haworth… and it sort of progressed into body modification in a broader sense from there. I started waist training as a teenager, got pierced a lot and pierced and tattooed myself, and then got into the kink scene and started my collection of vintage erotica.
Many of my inspirations have stayed the same over time, with a few notable additions: Fakir Musafar, Ethel Granger, John Willie, Paul King, Mr. Pearl, Michaela Grey, Irving Klaw, Jef Saunders, Charles Guyette, Ryan Ouellette… and I would be remiss not to mention Nahuel Burgos, the person who in one conversation will make you fall in love with piercing and life all over again without you even realizing.


Since I’m chronically ill and can’t work full-time, there is no way I could ever afford to go to Conference by myself. I live just below the poverty line, so my ex-mentor/boss encouraged me to apply and wrote me an inspirational letter of recommendation. Then more people wrote letters of recommendation. Then clients asked if they could write me letters. And then… I did it. I jumped in.


I honestly felt nothing. Caitlin, Mama Duck, sent out an email that said something like “we’ll finish up our meeting at this time, which will be around 3AM your time, so if you would prefer to wait and hear our decision the next day please let us know”. And I did. But because I was so anxious, I stayed up and texted Caitlin at 3AM sharp: “hey Caitlin, umm, I’m still up, so if you want to… you can tell me the results”. Fully knowing that I would not get the scholarship. Caitlin called me back a few minutes later, told me they had picked me, I probably shed a few tears and said thanks and then went to bed. I think it took a few days for me to realize what had happened. And when that did, panic set in. 


After Conference, all of the scholars were asked to write a short piece about their experiences. Although I haven’t read all of the other scholars’ letters, I know mine was a compilation of fears and intrusive thoughts instead of a celebration of life – because I definitely didn’t feel like celebrating. So if you don’t mind, I’ll take out a paragraph of that text I sent in to fully describe my pre-Vegas-experience.
“In life, I’m convinced that good things don’t tend to happen to me. They cán most definitely happen, and in most instances I’m a full-blown cheerleader for the people I love and the great things that befall them. I’m just not really built for all of that good stuff myself. So when it came time to tell people I had won the scholarship, I was taking in compliments and seeing the people around me turn into the type of cheerleader I usually am. And when I heard them speak about “the Vegas adventure”, I froze. I counted down the days until my flight, obsessively packing and unpacking my bag, isolating myself from the people around me because I was in high-functioning panic mode. I metaphorically stopped breathing, and planned on holding my breath until it was all over. There was only one thing on my mind: “I need to get through this”. The fear of not being liked, of being an outcast in a group of outcasts, people finding out I’m a fraud who can’t pierce, and perhaps worst of all; having to admit to myself that I ám a fraud who can’t pierce”.


The airport alone is bizarre, with casinos in between
the gates, American flags as far as the

eye can see and the not-so-soothing background music of the Star-Spangled Banner interspersed with COVID-precautions-announcements. When I stepped outside, it felt like I had just sat in front of an oven with my face pressed up to glass and then opened it. It was totally different from what I had expected: it was dry, beige and other sad shades of brown. Where were the lights and the fountains? Where was the mini Eiffel Tower? 

A shuttle bus took me up to the hotel, a gigantic mall/casino/hotel-combo, and I immediately fell in love. I wish you could have seen the room: I felt like royalty, with a gigantic bed, a view of the Vegas strip, my own bathtub and, most importantly, air conditioning. Wandering through the “hotel”, I started to feel like I was in Vegas. Something a little unexpected: you don’t actually go outside unless you GO OUTSIDE. The ceilings are painted to resemble the sky outside, and they pump a weird sort of air into the casino which means there is no sense of time and you barely get tired. It’s wild. 


Remember that little paragraph about me holding my breath until it was all over? As soon as I met my volunteer family, and especially the other scholars, I felt like I could breathe again. And not just any old breath, but a deeper breath than I have taken in years. It was also super special that you, Angie, sent a care package for the group with Dutch goodies and an emotional letter that included Aiko’s and my name. 

I haven’t been this happy in years, so surrounded by people who I loved as soon as I met them. It sounds really cheesy and like something out of a movie, but there’s no other way to explain it. When Caitlin (the person who literally IS the conference) told us about this connection beforehand I thought “not this year. We barely know each other”. But there was no need to. There is this unconditional love and admiration for one another that feels unlike any friendship out in the “real world”.


When asked about my favorite people at Conference,
I always mention the Skellies – on my

second night there, I worked registration and had the pleasure to hang out with Serena and Orion. Both kids outsmart any given classroom filled with the smartest piercers in the world, and I was fascinated by their passion and joy and the way they marveled at the world around them. Having met the mini-Skellies, meeting Brian seemed a little less intimidating. He shook my hand, wrapped both hands around mine and really looked me in the eyes to tell me what a pleasure it was to meet me, and it was the epitome of the phrase “it felt like a warm bath”. The other person I was nervous to introduce myself to was Paul King, because his life is the stuff my dreams are made of. He could not have been more wonderful and gave me vegan donuts (for Dave).
Besides these two, I wasn’t too starstruck because I was too busy to feel anything but excitement and exhaustion! I got to meet people I really appreciate and admire, and have come to like them in person even more. Some favorites are my angel baby Monica Sabin, Pablo Perelmuter, John Johnson, Ed Chavarria, Gus Diamond, Cozmo Whitest, Cassi Lopez-March… and I could go on and on! I now look up to a whole new host of people because of who they are and what they represent, such as John Robberson, Lani Soleil, Em Brzakala, Shorty, Ken “Captain Face Ring” Seyler, Sosa, Alicia Lowe, Jacob Spjut and many others off the top of my head.


Conference is kind of like a high school party that lasts days and days, except for the fact that there are no cliques and you spend your entire day telling people they’re “like really really pretty”. At least, that’s what I did. For the scholars, Conference meant early morning shifts to work doors or help out the more experienced volunteers while looking out for each other and getting each other coffees. We took classes, spent time on the expo floor, worked some more, then had dinner together that turned into drinks that turned into time on the steps of the hotel talking about our lives which in turn turned into a group of scholars gathering in someone’s room for an “after party”. Sometimes, it turned into gathering Escort cards on the streets, writing love notes on them and sliding them under someone’s door. Other days, it was crying while staring at the Belaggio fountain and thinking life is pretty fucking magical. Other days, it was grocery runs and hair-holding when one of your fellow scholars was violently ill. And on my very first night in the States ever, John Robberson and I were stopped in a grocery store because 2 evangelical Christians asked us permission to pray for us. We were shopping for tacky shot glasses.


Not a class, but hands down the Body Piercing Archive tour; both Matt Lodder and Paul King are excellent story-tellers. In terms of classes, I was most excited about a class about Trans Anatomy and (what I expected to be taught was) piercing people on HRT, but that turned out to be a class that had nothing to do with piercing whatsoever. It was still really valuable, but since I already have a BA/MA in Gender Studies I felt like I would have gotten more out of Brian Skellie’s Bevel Theory class that happened at the exact same time.



Let’s just say… that we have a little collection of pictures of one of our group members who
had (or still has?) the tendency to fall asleep naked. In the bathtub, on the floor, pretty much anywhere that isn’t a/their bed. 


Yes. There is no place I would rather be. Besides, I left my heart there so I really need to go back.
(not necessarily Vegas though. Vegas itself is not so great).


Do it. Keep in mind that most people who want to apply don’t do it because they think they’ll never make it – so sadly but luckily for you, there is much less competition than you think there is.

Furthermore, you have every right to be there. No matter your skill level, your “connections” in the industry, the way you came into piercing… you belong, and you will find a new family that will wholly understand and unconditionally love you. That alone is worth the stress of applying.Oh, and don’t get intimidated by the fact that you’re not an APP member, or don’t work with high end jewelry, that you’ve never sold gold in your life or that your main supplier is Hollywood Body Jewelry. You’re there to learn and enjoy, not to be perfect.

And if you’re a person of color, definitely apply. We really really need you in this industry. This year felt like a true victory where Egypt/the Middle East was represented for the first time, with two scholars and one attendee from Egypt (Dina Mady, Fatma Tarek and myself). If you’re from the Middle East and want to chat, I’m sure all three of us would be more than happy to help you.



Photo's and answers : Ava LaBija

donderdag 11 augustus 2022

Dutch Mike Leijs, First timer at APP conference 2022

Mike Leijs


My name is Mike Leijs, a tattoo and body piercing artist from Sint Willebrord, The Netherlands.
 I’ve been in the piercing industry since late 2006 / beginning of 2007, I first started my own studio by the name Mike’s Body Piercing at the age of 16, which after a year changed to the current name of the studio: Shot of Ink Tattoo & Piercing.
At the moment I’m 31 years old.

I was told to go to Vegas for the APP conference by some piercers from the Netherlands at the beginning of this year, they were all so enthusiastic about it so I thought why the hell not?! Let’s go on an adventure.

After booking my flight tickets and arranging all of the other necessities I started searching for classes that took my attention and i closed the deal. I’m going to Vegas, flying solo, meeting up with people there and especially meet new industry professionals.

After an 18,5 hour flight (due to delays) I finally made it to Vegas, took a cab to the PH hotel and was ready to go enjoy my time. The hotel itself was really nice, big rooms, a double kingsize for myself, ground floor casino, just what you would expect when in Vegas. 

I met a lot of new people, all of them so kind and accepting! Made new friends who i’m staying in touch with through social media, but hoping to see again next year, because once you feel the vibe of the APP conference you’re hooked and instantly want to go back.

Everyone who is a bit hesitating about going there, please don’t hesitate and just go! It will be a life changing experience.

Shot of Ink
Dorpsstraat 34
4711NG Sint Willebrord

Photos: Mike Leijs
Mike & Me
Tattoo convention 2022