Why I Decided to Start Suspending My Body from Hooks
Words by Tamsen Rochelle
My experience of flesh suspension is probably different from what people expect. I am not a masochist — a person who derives sexual gratification from their pain. I don’t enjoy pain whatsoever. I even hate needles.
I first found out about flesh suspension online about five years ago. For those who don’t know, flesh suspension is a practice where people are pierced with hooks and hang from them by their skin. I didn’t understand why people did it, how it felt, or what kind of culture it originated from, but I thought it looked cool and I wanted to try something new.
While living in Utah, there were no local opportunities to try flesh suspension. There are no practitioners with the skills in piercing and rigging, and no teams where I would be able to join in a single meet or regular meets. I found an online forum and posted, “Who can help me try this?” I got a response from a practitioner who was going to be in Las Vegas for a conference, and I decided the five-hour drive would be worth it just for the experience. I booked my room and brought a friend with me for support since I was going into uncharted territory.
The event was in the Red Rocks outside of the city and the suspensions were being performed over a small waterfall. I had no idea what I was going to experience, so I was beyond nervous and let a handful of people go before me. Once it was my turn, the entire team helping was kind and soothing; they all understood the pre-suspension nerves and how to talk me through it. Everything was thoroughly sanitised and the environment was cleaner than most doctor offices, although we were outside. My first suspension was a ‘Suicide’, which means that the hook(s) are placed in the upper back so that the suspendee is hanging upright. I had two people pierce me simultaneously. I went on my second breath, and the piercing process was about 10 seconds. I believe that everything leading up to the suspension is more painful than suspending. This includes the piercings, which are going through a fair amount of flesh, and require a bit of pushing and pressure to get through. The sharps then get disposed and the hooks are set so they are not clanking around before you go up.
I went out to the edge of the water on an inflatable and Will, my soon-to-be friend, was standing waist deep in the water holding my hands and helping to get me set up. Once in the right place under the rigging, the hooks were adjusted and shackled into the line. My nerves were beyond high at this point. I don’t recall how quickly I ended up going up, but once I was up, it was freeing and nauseating at the same time – it was perfect. I started swinging around a little bit, but my brain just knew that I was supposed to be on the ground, not hanging above it. I was able to stay up for a few minutes, and the others were telling me to loosen up and move my arms around. Afterwards, I was cut down and taken for aftercare which involves removing hooks, ‘burping’ the wounds to get the blood and air out — it’s basically like a shitty massage where they bandage you up after.
I didn’t do body suspension again for around two years. I was happy enough knowing “I freaking did this, and my body is strong for allowing me to experience it.” Then in 2016, I was invited to a suspension campout from the same person who did my first suspension. Considering our brief interaction a few years back, I felt like we had a bond and decided to go. I took a plane to the Mid-West and camped with some people I barely knew. During the trip, some people suspended from a crane 50 feet in the air, people on spinning beams jumping around and then a place for more static positions.
I was happy knowing “I freaking did this, and my body is strong for allowing me to experience it.”
I found the crane insane. I know my skin can handle what I am putting it through, but it is easier to justify it when I am only a few feet off the ground. The trust went out the window from just imagining doing it 50 feet off the ground. Most of the people who used the crane were experienced practitioners of suspension. I had always heard good things about suspending from the knees, so I decided to try something new and give it a go; it burned like I was on fire and I could not get settled in comfortably. I realised I had flown halfway across the country for the event and wouldn’t achieve what I wanted out of it – to get fully off the ground. I knew I could do it and that I would be upset with myself if I gave up, so I decided to try again the day after with another Suicide, which was more comfortable for me. This experience ended up changing my entire view on suspension; I loved the people and how welcoming and kind they were. I relished in the experience; pushing my mind and body past where society tells me I can go.
The following year, I wanted to get more involved. I went to two events, one in Vegas and one in Nebraska. I met amazing people on both trips and tried new and exciting things. The person who initially suspended me welcomed me to stay with him and helped me interact with new people. I’m beyond grateful for this person being in my life and showing me how kind a person can be.
This past year was my best year yet, and I have a feeling it won’t be slowing down. I made my personal record of five events and 35 hooks over the year, and I decided to become more involved in the actual events, learn about bio cleanup and how to tie knots, as well as attending discussions and workshops. I also had the opportunity to go to a women-only event in California which made me feel more included and passionate about the art form. As with so many other parts of culture, cis-white men outnumber women, making minorities and underrepresented groups feel un-empowered, vulnerable, and excluded from the larger culture. The women-only event created a sense of inclusivity, encouraged open conversation and vulnerability, as well as a more profound bond to the broader community. It offered a safe space to learn, love, and build human connection, enabling me to meet so many beautiful people and I learned to love a lot more parts of myself than I ever had before.