I am a fan of ink. I admit this freely. I am also a fan of art, which I admit freely as well. I have always loved to draw, and as far back as I can remember, I wanted to have tattoos, to put art that was somehow special or meaningful or interesting to me on my body. I got my first tattoo when I was 20 and in college, a rather primitive and geometric looking spider, done on my left calf. It’s fairly small, and I got it done at Bill Clayton’s Tattoos in Fayetteville, NC. Others soon followed: a spiral design on my hip bone, a black hand print between my shoulder blades- I had heard three was the decision making point, the line that was the one people crossed or did not cross- the magic number that decided if one was addicted to ink or merely a person with a couple tattoos….three came and went, more tattoos found their way on to my skin; the Arabic symbol of the Hashishin and a naga form Kali on my back, a black, three-leaf clover, a bar code, and the Egyptian god Set on my arms, a set of crossed claw marks and why yes, Magneto from the X-Men, on my legs. Stars under my collar bones…and yes, there are still tattoos I would like to get: a scorpion and the Scorpio zodiac symbol, the Roman Eagle, the symbol my SCA persona has as her standard…hey, I can still get ink because I still have skin….and should the Broncos ever win another SuperBowl within my lifetime, there are plans afoot for myself and the inkless Brother Evolution to go get the Horse together. Each of my tattoos, well, I have drawn them out on paper myself, made them look as I wanted them to, then taken them to the artist for putting on my skin. Everyone who has given me a tattoo says I’m a great customer…I don’t flinch, I don’t whine, I don’t do anything other than sit there, very still, even though it does hurt. The one time this was not the case was when I got the Kali done…the woman who was doing it for me saw my Magneto, and also being a huge fan of comics, asked me if I could draw Marvels Thor for her….so while she was inking me I was drawing Thor. She finished my tattoo then proceeded to put my rendition of Thor on her own leg. I thought that was really pretty awesome. I liked her a lot, and did get other work done by her afterwards. Her place, by the way, she owns it, and it is Ancient Art, in Orlando FL.
I have gotten tattoos with friends, we’ve gone together to get our ink. I’ve gotten them with people who were pondering getting ink and wanted to see just how bad it hurt first ( I am not a good person to gauge that by, however), I have gotten them with SCA buddies and college dorm mates and life long friends. And each one, as silly or strange or even offensive (like the bar code) might seem to others, well, they are all special to me. I like ink, I like art, and I like my tattoos.
But they do come with consequences. My mother, for one, comes from the school that tattoos are for military men, convicts, and bikers, and I am none of those things. When it became evident to her that I was not merely going to stop at the odd spider on the calf, the spiral on the hip bone, and the hand on the back, she made a great attempt to warn me about how having so much ink would play out, how I would be judged for it. She was even willing to admit that it did seem to be socially acceptable for a woman to have a flower on her shoulder or a dolphin on her ankle…but tattoos that could not be hidden, on places like ones arms or collar bones? Well, she found it to be…tacky. She once voiced the concern, as we were sitting around the pool at her house in FL, that no one would ever know that I really was a loyal and decent person because they’d be scared by or turned off by my ink. I never bothered to tell her that hey, I just as soon people not approach me and think I was nice and all that crap, and well, anyone who was gonna judge me flat-out and straight off the bat because I had tattoos was not a person I would want to hang around with anyway. When we all went out to Colorado for my cousins wedding- in which I was a bridesmaid- she was very aware of the fact that the dress would not cover any of the ink on my upper body- and that I had no intention of trying to cover it. Turned out that no one but her really cared, and my race car driving male cousins immediately ran up to me after the service and showed me their own ink…all of them sporting race helmets with crossed pistons underneath, ala a Jolly Roger, with their racing team name arched over the top. Something that is undoubtedly special and meaningful to them, and designed by the youngest one of the lot. She was enraged (as were other people in my family) when I got the bar code, seeing it as a huge insult to my Grandfather who also has a number on his arm, albeit for a far more horrible reason. This rage was chopped off at the knees when at family BBQ my grandfather noticed this tattoo and said it was nice not to be the only person at the gathering with numbers on him. Then again, he always did have my back when it came to being the black sheep of the family…Nowadays, my mother has become resigned to the fact that I have ink, and not much she has to say about it is going to change the fact. Upon seeing me, she immediatly searches for new ink, and if she finds it, there is merely a resigned sigh.
But you know, I cannot bear to tell her, in some cases? Her insight and thoughts on the matter were right. There are a lot of people out there who, misguided or not, have certain opinions about folk with tattoos, and are perfectly willing to judge them merely by their ink alone. And I am not even talking about people with tons of prison or gang ink or sexist racist shit splattered all over their bodies. I am talking about anyone with ink at all. Ive been turned away from straight jobs because of it, and hell, even been told I have too much ink to work in various strip joints or hired for various porn/nude modelling work. Even though there is a huge market for “alt girls” in the sex biz these days…well, aside from the ink, I am too tan, too buff, and not nearly pierced up enough to be an “alt girl”. I have had people look at my ink then look at me like I am something they scraped off the bottom of their shoe, assume because of it I am a criminal, or a junkie, or some biker’s bitch, or unintelligent and uneducated. I have heard countless people say that folk with ink, especially women, only have it because they are seeking attention…
And you know what? That, at least in my case, could not be further from the truth. My tattoos are not “pretty” or “cute” or “inviting”, they are not colorful. They are pretty well-done, but I am not so sure a six armed half snake half woman wielding swords and axes is adorable or an open invite for conversation. In fact, I think of my tattoos more like armor and a warning label; something that just might say if you are of the mind to judge me by them, maybe I really am everything you already assume me to be so perhaps it is just best to stay away.
And I have noted, as Kim mentioned in her epic post, that even though tattoos have become somewhat commonplace, they are still far more socially acceptable for men than women. And I do not have half the ink she does. You don’t see a man with a lower back tattoo (and they do exist) getting told he has a “tramp stamp” or a man with a tattoo along his side being told he has a “ho handle”. But people automatically assume women with ink are sluts (even if they aren’t), nevermind the lower back IS the perfect place for a woman to get a tattoo if she wants one-it is precisely because women PICK this spot that tattoos in that area now have their own special little name. And as Kim said, how do you think a woman who has a tattoo there, something she probably loves and thought hard about and endured the pain (and spent the money) to get feels when she hears her art refered to as a “tramp stamp”? How do you think any woman with tattoos feels when it is assumed, because she has them, that she is just so easy and okay with making decisions she might regret later? It’s almost laughable if you are a grim twist like me. A dude with a lot of tattoos? People assume he is a tough guy or a bad ass or someone you best step away from. A woman with a lot of tattoos? Well, she’s an easy piece of trash. Nevermind both the inked up man and the inked up woman have endured the same kinda pain getting their ink and endured the same kinda bullshit from other people for having it and probably both love their art and find it meaningful and special…at least he gets some sort of respect with his, and she gets the exact opposite. It seems with not even something so once upon at time as counter-culture and “different”, and now mundane as, ink, can the sexes be equal.
And its funny, because now when people ask me about tattoos, and they still do, and I try to be nice about it even though I have been asked about mine a billion times before, my advice and conversation about it has changed a bit. It used to be the simple “yeah, it hurts” kind of thing. Now I will say, if the person is a woman, they might want to think long and hard before getting something on their arms, or that will show in a backless dress, and if they are prepared to have the art they love called a “tramp stamp” or have people assume they are skanky trash because they have tattoos. A woman I know wanted to have the name of her son who had passed away tattooed on her, but decided against it because she did not want people asking her why she had a mans name other than her husbands tattooed on her body. Smirk. Hell, any dude who wants to say sexism is dead should try flipping bodies with a woman who has tattoos for a few weeks and see how that goes. People make assumptions about folk with lots of ink period, but as seems typical, women get it more and worse.
Be that as it may…I still love my tattoos, and I love art, and yep, sure enough, its been awhile since I got some ink and with everything else that has been going on in my life, I figure I’m probably justified in treating myself to a new one sometime here soon. I already got enough that I get all the bullshit that goes with having them, so what’s a few more…still got empty skin after all. Heck, I even know Kim knows a great artist, maybe I should make my way up to her neck of the woods and spend my tattoo money on an artist who I know is good and hang out some with another inked up gal who knows how it is…maybe I’ll even get a tramp stamp…after all, by then, my lower back will be used to needles and I might as well put something I love over a part of my body I have come to hate.
::Raises her red bull:: here’s to tattoos and the tough ass women who have ’em and put up with everything that goes with ’em.