In 1992–a year before Lesbian Avengers was founded in New York…two queers were killed in Oregon (a lesbian and a gay man in a wheelchair) when skinheads threw a molotov cocktail into their home in retaliation for their working against passage of an amendment to the state’s constitution which would have labeled homosexuality “perverse,” among other things. When Avengers eat fire, we take that very element that was used against us and consume it in a symbolic act while supporters (non-firing eating Avengers) chant, “The fire will not consume us– we take it and make it our own.” Whenever you are asked why Avengers have to “show off” by eating fire for an audience, explain its background. (This isn’t to say that we don’t get off from the act–it’s a major rush.)
The tools are simple. Straighten out wire hangers and wrap one end with cotton string (shredded cotton jersey works fine too). Less string makes smaller flames, suitable for beginners. An average torch will have string about one-and-a-half inches on the end, about half-an-inch wide. Really important that no loose string ends are hanging around. Tie them off in knots and tuck the loose bits under. (Torches can be stored and re-used several times. Just make sure each time that no string ends have unraveled. They interfere with a smooth flame.) Then soak the torches in either of the following for at least 5 minutes before you eat: lighter fluid or “white gas.” I have no idea what white gas really is, but if you go into any camping goods store and ask for “white gas,” they know what you mean. There might be another substance that some Avengers somewhere use, and if you hear of anything else that works well, please let us know. Store your flammable liquid in a glass jar with a lid so that you can easily bring it to actions/events, remove the lid, and let the torches soak. Torches can be stored together with the string ends in a plastic bag until next time. When they become too brown from burning too many times, toss ‘em.
When you’re ready to learn, practice on torches before you soak them until you’re comfortable with the motions. It’s a one-two-three step process.
1. Hold the torch at the very end, hold the torch straight up in front and above you
2. Tip the torch straight down towards your face
3. Place the torch right in your mouth and immediately close your lips fully on the hanger.
This process should not take any longer than two rounds of the chant typed above. If you wait too long, blow out the torch because the hanger will become too hot and will scorch your lips. (Again, first practice with unlit torches.)
*tie back loose hair keep eyes open (you wouldn’t believe how many don’t do this!)
*close lips fully–this is the key! If you don’t cut off the oxygen supply, it will keep burning.
* Just closing your teeth over it won’t do. if it didn’t go out, blow it out (no more than two chants while torches are lit)
* make sure it’s completely out before you put it back in the jar of fluid have one person
* remove the jar from the area once torches are lit (so if one drops there won’t be some explosion)
Will I get burned?
Perhaps. If you let your torch burn too long you will undoubtedly blister your lips. (In eating fire about 20 times, this has happened to me twice, and for that very reason. So it’s important to make sure everyone is ready before you all light together. Oh–and do all light together by standing in a circle with the torches together and one other person lights them with a match or lighter. Nice effect.) To my knowledge, no one has actually burned her mouth. It is not fire like you think of fire, where the roof of your mouth gets scorched or anything like that. I have seen a few singed mustaches, though, and that’s because they brought the torches straight in instead of coming down from above. The goal is to keep the flame burning along the hanger, not perpendicular to it. (this is really hard to describe in writing.) Oh– another new twist we recently discovered is tongue piercings with the little ball made of plastic (instead of silver). These balls might melt, so you might not want to try it.
Do I breathe in or out?
Neither. Hold your breath. Breathing out makes the flame too big (unless you want that effect), and breathing in supposedly can make your lungs explode. There might be a funny aftertaste, and you could burp gasses later, but these are relatively harmless.