Austen Crowder

Pumping Parties in the Heartland

Filed By Austen Crowder | July 23, 2009 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: illegal silicone, indianapolis, organized crime, pumping party, transgender

Let's talk about pumping for a moment, shall we?

Imagine it this way: your neighbor Ted buys a tube of silicone caulk, squeezes it into a dirty coffee cup, pulls a smidge of it into a dirty needle, and jabs it into your breast. One misstep by Ted sends silicone straight into your heart - bam! dead - or to the pulmonary system, where the silicone leads to a slow death by suffocation. If that isn't the case, within ten years the silicone fuses to living tissue, often clogging blood vessels and leading to its own slow, painful death. The price we must pay for beauty, mercy me!

The trans community as a whole is often targeted by these illegal silicone pumping rings. One of the most frequent conversations I have as a transgender woman is the dangers of pumping; dozens of friends have begged, pleaded, and even promised beatdowns if I even considered attending one of these illegal parties. The persistent nature of their warnings really caught my attention; I didn't really see pumping as a problem in Indianapolis, little bastion of metropolitan chic it was. I asked, "Why so serious? It's not like we have people running pumping parties in little ol' Indiana!"

I really wish I didn't have to say this, but pumping parties do exist in Indianapolis. Furthermore, they are directly targeting the Indiana trans crowd for customers.

It's very difficult to get anybody to go on record about these parties. I have a number of sources telling me stories about being propositioned, pressured, or otherwise invited to a party. I have seen the results of these parties in both the short- and long-term. I've heard of people dying due to complications from these procedures, people losing body parts, the whole nine yards. This is not a friendly game of backyard tee-ball: these people are serious about their trade. Oftentimes, pumping parties are also tied up in other illicit markets: parties are often funded and publicized by the same people who deal in out-of-country hormones, prostitution, and, most frighteningly, the drug trade.

Their success among trans people can be attributed to two major factors. One, a lack of trans-friendly careers and doctors means that trans people are often forced to look on the street for transition needs. This is especially true in Indiana, where LGBT issues are outright ignored by most citizens. Two - and this is far more insidious - many people just don't care about the fate of transgender people. (So a trans person dies of an infection from an illegal practice. They had it coming!) Add to this an unhealthy dose of negative self-image, and the pumping parties practically have a captive market.

Ending the pumping party practice is equally difficult. For one, the parties fulfill a need that nobody else can: cheap, affordable, no-questions-asked cosmetic procedures, coupled with access to other illegal services. Even if every pumping ring was caught and disbanded, someone would still want that cheap cosmetic job. Making this harder still is the connections a pumping ring often has to organized crime: again, these people aren't operating out of a backyard shop so much as they are acting as satellite organizations for a deeper-rooted crime ring. This allows them to engender a culture of fear around their practice, effectively silencing anybody who would dare stand up against them. People who stand up to crime rings don't last too long, or so goes the public opinion.

So, in short, we can't stop illegal pumping, even though we know for fact that the rings exist. But we can try to keep pumping to a minimum. In the interest of public service, here are three simple things everyone should take away about pumping parties:

Know it exists. Before someone let me in on the secret, I would never have guessed that people went around injecting illegal silicone into people's bodies. (I mean, how stupid is that?) Knowing these people exist is half the battle. The other half - perhaps more important than the first - is to let others know about their existence as well. Pumpers often misrepresent their services to draw in naïve clientele, and it's up to us to let people know just how terrible the practice can be.

Know about the dangers. Here's the short list: you could die. You could die instantly, or quickly, or slowly. You could die choking on bathtub caulk. You could die of a window-caulked heart attack. You could die when the heavy-duty silicone fuses with the blood vessels in your hip, causing tumors that cannot be removed. The only safe way to have these procedures done is to go to a professional, who will use the correct tools for the job. Anything less is suicide.

Know what you're supporting. Pumping parties are often run by organizations specializing in other illegal goods. A contribution to the party is a contribution to people selling heroin, cocaine, or other heavy drugs. Oh, did I mention that these little operations are sometimes attached to larger crime rings? Just wanted to make sure that got through.

If you do decide that its worth the risk, please do check this site. I should also warn you that there are some graphic, post-silicone photographs here.

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twinkie1cat | July 23, 2009 6:48 PM

This has been going on for decades. I knew a transwoman at least 15 years ago who "rented" her kitchen table for $5 per customer when the "pump doctor", a transwoman from New York, who worked for a plastic surgeon came to Atlanta. The girls pay $5 per hit plus the table rent. But she at least used surgical silicone and clean needles, not stuff from the hardware store. There was a guy who pumped his partner's hips and the guy died. He was charged with manslaughter and that cooled off the pumping. He used silicone tire shiner. Never heard of anyone using caulk. It is too thick.

But a lot of girls cannot afford surgery or are too thin for implants, so the process is going to continue.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | July 23, 2009 7:39 PM

Wow, Austin. As an FtM, I had no idea such "parties" existed. I've known about the back-street surgeries and less-than-qualified doctors--unfortunately, we have those, too. But pumping parties?! When I saw the title, I thought at first you were referring to get-togethers to pump and enlarge cis-guys' or FtM's dicks!

Wish you had been referring to that, rather than to yet another way in which transgender folks are disregarded, mistreated, and taken advantage of by a society that generally despises us. Thank you for writing about this.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | July 23, 2009 7:46 PM

(Sorry, I just realized I misspelled your name. I'm sorry! As someone whose name is constantly misspelled and mis-pronounced, I'm usually more careful. Please forgive me.)

Oh, its fine! I'm still working on shuffling things over from Austin-with-an-I to Austen-with-an-E. :)

If nothing else, be sure to spread the word. People need to know that these things exist.

Thanks, Austen, for this article. I've been aware of pumping parties for 25 years, and I don't doubt they have been happening longer. This practice isn't going away because it is cheap and it provides a desperately desired result - the curves that nature has denied you.

The TS Roadmap link mentions disfigurement can occur as a result of the body's response to the foreign substances (often fillers are added to the silicone) which are injected. I think the pictures at that site should give anyone considering illegal silicone injections pause.

Thanks for mentioning it. I think those shots are, without a doubt, the best evidence against these parties. I didn't share the images here because 1. I didn't want to cross any taste lines, and 2. the site is run by a fellow alumna of mine, and stealing from her would just be gauche. :)

Thank you so much for giving voice to those in fear of silence. I stand with you in this and will not move. The effect of these procedures are irreversible and lead to an inevitable higher cost of surgical procedure; than if the effect had been legitimately done. I am happy to watch and experience each daily change, each subtle curve. Can't beat nature.

If I remember correctly, you have an outstanding beatdown ready and at the waiting if I were ever to make the terrible mistake of attending one of these parties.

We need to continue spreading this news wherever possible.

That is just insanity. Silicone was discontinued as implant filler in the states for a valid health reason...

Jaclyn Desiree Arceneau | July 24, 2009 11:59 AM

As a matter of fact, the United States' ban on silicone breast implants was based on nothing but hysterical fearmongering from the media. There was no credible scientific evidence whatsoever behind it, and every study since performed has conclusively demonstrated that silicone implants are entirely safe. That's why the ban was rescinded.

Free injection of industrial silicone is another matter entirely; you do yourself and other women a grave disservice by conflating the two.

I would disagree Jaclyn;
I know of women who had very serious reactions from leaking implants.
I know that some components of big pharma still want to prove that they can shove artificial organics into women's breasts to play to the fantasies of men; do not lecture to me on behalf of woman catering to these interests on behalf of industry.

I remember when a friend of mine had her lips done at a pumping party. I was aghast at what she'd done; she was rather casual about it. She told me all about it then.

I'm wondering if universal health care will help solve the problem? If anyone can go to the doctor and get the procedure done - especially for a medical reason like being transgender (as versus just "I want fuller lips") - will it help to put these back alley plastic surgeons out of business?

Bil, bless you for thinking that, but I can't imagine universal health care (if it ever actually came to the US) would cover transsexual expenses. Yes, I think such coverage is medically warranted, but politically I think the topic is too hot.

It would seem that it would fall under a medically necessary procedure, wouldn't it? Especially since it's still classified as a medical issue... Why can't the system work in our favor for once? :)

Sadly though, you're probably right.

Marja Erwin | July 24, 2009 2:24 AM

There's a specific law excluding us from the Americans with Disabilities Act, and defining us as suffering from "sexual behavior disorders." You can be damned sure there will be similar laws excluding us from everything else.

There are plenty of other legal institutions which not only accept but enable discrimination against trans people. Other medical expenses are tax-exempt, but transition-related ones are not.

Currently, the majority of insurance companies have exclusions for anything trans related. It blocks surgeries, hormones, etc, but it has also been used in some ridiculous ways. I had an allergy test denied because my doctor took a medical history and asked a lot of questions about my hormones. There was a story of a woman in Washington who broke her arm playing in a lesbian softball league and the insurance company denied it because if she hadn't transitioned she wouldn't be in that league.

That's shifting, and more and more insurance companies are getting rid of those clauses, but we can't get them to abandon them fast enough. If we get federal healthcare in the next year or two, I doubt they will be gone, and I would assume the federal plan(s) would adopt those exclusions if they are still widespread in the insurance industry.

Pumping industrial silicone has been around since WWII, primarily among cis-gender women prostitutes at first. I have evidence (pathology slide of breast scar) of silicone injection 40 years ago in St. Louis, MO. It's going on right now in the St. Louis and nearby Illinois communities, according to a nurse practitioner who works extensively with the trans community.


Be supportive of your friend that is a Nurse Practitioner, help her find the voice to expose the people. Unless a few of us make a stand, making people know........many will die for beauty. This is a cycle of turning heads that must stop. I have heard it said in the GBL community"Well they asked to get it done." or "I really don't want to know".....sounds like the interviews of the towns folk of Dachau. Part of a community can not dismiss the other, without loosing the vibrancy of diversity.

Participating in a pumping party is an intelligence test: if you do it, you've failed.

Cathy Renna Cathy Renna | July 25, 2009 7:38 AM

this is absolutely a story to get out there - has even the LGB (you know I am leaving out T on purpose) media written about this - or even better, have someone from the trans community write about this?

bottom line is that this is a health story that needs to be told so people understand the horrific risks associated with it

Austen, I would be happy to talk to you about getting it out there

You need to talk with Cathy about this. She has connections and is one of our (trans people's) better friends on this blog. Thanks to Dallas Denny, we have had this issue written about in Southern Voice, the Blade and Transgender Tapestry. It needs bigger exposure.

A. J. Lopp | July 25, 2009 9:18 PM

I've seen men effect penis enlargement using silicone injections. One man I saw at a gym in Hollywood, California was just enormous --- that thing couldn't have been used for anything but a doorstop, and it was ugly as hell.

[I suppose it would be inappropriate for me to repeat the old SNL joke, about how Chris Parnell went to every hardware store in Harlem shopping for the best black caulk.]

When i googled for the phrase "silcone injections" the third link I got was this one. It has three photos of what you describe, and thus is NSFW.