My Tattoo Timeline
I remember reading all the comments splayed across the internet before I got my first tattoo. So many people would warn against it for a multitude of reasons. Some would stick to the traditional reasons: you’ll regret it, it’ll look awful when you’re older, you won’t get a job, blah blah blah. Some would point to newer reasoning: Everyone has a tattoo now, the person without a tattoo is the unique one. Despite all these warnings, I knew that I was going to do it. I’ve always liked tattoos, and you may be able to blame that on my love of the NBA. Moreover though, at the time that I went to get my first tattoo, I was desperately searching for anything that could help me to accept myself. This is my modern, barebones sentiments regarding my tattoo story: what I have, when I got them, answers to questions about them, and some thoughts on tattoos as a whole.
Milwaukee, WI – The Banksy Balloon Girl
The Pain and Process
For my first tattoo we travel to Milwaukee during a period of my life that is marred in repression, denial, and realization.
I made the rather ill informed decision to begin my undergraduate university life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, home to Marquette University. My whole Marquette adventure and my thoughts on the school and the city are best saved for a later discussion. As a fledgling youth I believed that I needed a fresh start in life, and I also believed that by getting away from the Utah County environment I had always known I would be able to come to terms with who I was. Personal identity and sense of self have long been struggles that I have faced in life, marooning me in a sort of dissociative state where I would constantly consider how best to maintain the facade I presented. I believed that I could conquer those dissociative feelings a by moving out, removing myself from the rules and restrictions I had been forced to follow, and working to create a new image.
I was wrong, obviously. As a friend recently conveyed, running from your true feelings doesn’t solve anything.
Within a month in Milwaukee I had determined I was going to get a tattoo. The Banksy Balloon Girl, tattooed on my chest, right above my heart, with the balloon right where I basketball jersey would end. I spent hours looking for the right shop to go to, and I eventually settled on one. On a Saturday in early October I hopped on the bus and travelled into downtown Milwaukee to find the shop I had picked out.
As much as I wanted a tattoo, it should be made abundantly clear that my desire did nothing to abate my nervousness. To this day, though I know the pain is mostly minimal, it takes a bit of time for me to muster the necessary courage to actually step foot into a shop.
In Milwaukee, I walked by the shop, looking through the window as I did so, and continued on my way before crossing to the other side of the street at the next intersection. I then walked by again, staring this time from afar, and continued until I arrived back at the bus stop. I waited at the bus stop for 35 minutes before the bus came back around and I headed back to my dorm room.
Here’s the thing: Did I have nerves about the pain? Yes. Did I have reservations regarding all of the internet warnings? Yes. Did I have concerns about how my parents would feel? Yes, although I believed wholeheartedly that they would still love me. My biggest issue was how scared I was about all the people on the street who would watch me, an 18 year old kid, walk into a tattoo shop. I was afraid of being judged by all those around me, particularly, those I didn’t even know.
Don’t live your life for other people, kids. God knows I’ve done that long enough in my own life.
About a month later I re-mustered my courage, convinced myself that the reason I didn’t walk into the previous shop was its appearance (I’ve never been a fan of the goth-scene that often seems to go with the tattooing world; this shop definitely gave off goth vibes), and I found a new shop. Custom Tattoo Milwaukee, a very clean shop and modern shop, that had just the sort of calming atmosphere I needed.
If anyone is interested, my banksy girl tattoo was done by Greg Foster, the shop owner, and he was truly fantastic. He was pleasant to talk to, which has not been my experience with all artists since him, and he was quick, detailed, and exact.
I scheduled an appointment because I knew my sense of responsibility would compel me to go. Greg had me lay down on the chair and we had a pleasant conversation about Banksy and the art he’s produced. In a little less than an hour, the tattoo was finished. It wasn’t very painful. The one thing I remembered was the heat. Tattoos have this weird sensation of heat, I guess because of the friction from the needle? When he got to the balloon part towards the end I did start to struggle a bit, but I think that was more due to anticipation for it to end and the fact that I had been under the needle for 45 minutes. Pain rating: C-.
This picture doesn’t show the actual girl since it’s kinda not an area I want to show everyone, but there’s the balloon and text.
Tattoo Meaning and Feelings Down the Road
I’m still mostly okay with this one. It’s in a slightly less than optimal spot for me now, which makes the whole wearing dresses thing more frustrating, but the art itself is still beautiful. Tattoos, initially, were my way of trying to reclaim a body that I have long hated. Basically, I used to believe that by getting tattoos I could make my body my own. That, I tried to tell myself, would allow me to be happy, and to accept myself. This same idea really came into play with my next tattoo.
Don’t repress who you are. Everyone deserves her or his best chance at happiness, and I can promise you that the only way to find your best chance is by being your true self.
The Banksy girl represents my hope. A girl with an outstretched arm, looking to grasp something in the distance: Authenticity, and acceptance. I have always had hope that I might be able to live my life as a ‘normal’ human being. The Banksy girl was representative of that eternal hope.
Salt Lake City, UT – The Symbol of Anubis
The Pain and Process
In the summer after my first year in college, I determined I was going to get another tattoo. I didn’t have a good reason for this one, and I certainly didn’t put a whole lot of thought into it.
My time at Marquette really broke me down. It brought me face to face with the person I knew I was, but who I had also worked so hard to repress. It was time for drastic measures. I would get another tattoo and this one wouldn’t be so easily hidden. I wanted it visible. A big, blazing symbol of masculinity. I chose the symbol of Anubis for a few silly reasons.
This was a period in my life where I had become a massive, massive fan of the acapella group, Pentatonix. In particular, I took a liking to Mitch Grassi, in part because of his obvious confidence in who he is. Mitch has the Aphex Twin logo on his left arm, in roughly the same location as my Anubis symbol. The Aphex Twin logo, like my Anubis symbol, has a circle with an image in the center. My Anubis tattoo was my Mitch tattoo. Anubis was chosen in particular because I kind of love the Egyptian gods, and Anubis is one of my favourites.
I dragged some friends with me to Salt Lake in the middle of the Summer. I had planned to just do a walk-in at Oni Tattoo Studio, but they were full so the owner called up to Heart of Gold and sent me up there. I cannot tell you the name of the tattoo artist I had. He said it to me, but they guy mumbled everything he said and spoke really softly. He also didn’t say a word at all and seemed annoyed when I asked him to move the stencil down a bit. He did a good job. The lines are fine, and I’ve actually had compliments from people who actually know tattoos about how nice the line work is. It’s also quite dark. He was a little heavy handed, which I think caused a few lines to be kind of elevated. I remember him concentrating really hard, sweating like crazy.
Also, word of advice. Always bring cash for tattoos and piercings. I was stupid and forgot to get some. So I had to run to an ATM down the street after we had finished. In addition, my arm was aching pretty bad once we finished, so I had to ask a friend to drive the car home. One other word of advice: be sure to ask the price before you actually get tattooed. I have not done this for any of my tattoos; I’m always so nervous and I don’t even think about it. My first one was priced right where I expected, this one cost me the SAME as my first one. It has one colour, was finished in half the time, and is considerably smaller. I still feel like I got ripped off a bit, but what can you do when the work has been done and you didn’t ask??
Pain rating: B-. This one hurt considerable more than my first. Part of this was how heavy handed the artist is. But I’m also a pretty skinny human being, and there is basically 0 padding on my forearm, so it was bound to hurt a little more. It wasn’t bad, just made me wince a bunch.
Tattoo Meaning and Feelings Down the Road
I kind of despise this tattoo now. It has very little meaning and was mostly just a plea to try and accept myself as a male so that I could move forward and live a normal life. It was silly. It was stupid. And I hate talking about my dislike for this tattoo because then I hear from people about all the “That’s why you shouldn’t do it, you’ll always end up regretting it.” I don’t feel like that is a fair judgement. I feel like my situation was a little bit unique, and frankly, if I didn’t see this tattoo as so grossly masculine, I wouldn’t mind that much. As a woman, I just want it gone. Nowadays I wear long sleeve shirts or a jacket almost every time I leave the house.
I haven’t decided what to do with this tattoo yet. I may try and get it lasered off, though the price and pain deter me. I may just get it covered up down the road, but that begs the question of what would I cover it up with. The real issue is that it’s much larger than I’d like it to be, and a cover up will make it even bigger. One thing I’ve resolved for tattoos in the future: I will pretty much only be getting small ones in the future, if I get them at all. I don’t know what it is, but I really love a lot of the small tattoos. As you’ll see below 🙂
Cedar City, UT – ‘We’re All Mad Here’
The Pain and Process
It took about 6 months before I began to reach my personal tipping point. My life was kind of a mess at the time and I was ready to stop caring about what others thought of me. I was ready to be myself, and here is where it began.
I’ve long been a major fan of Lewis Carroll’s Alice Adventures. The packed full of philosophy, hardships, and improbabilities, all bundled up in a whimsical package. I have written academically about Alice a few times already in my life, and her adventures are such that I will forever be returning to study and to share. Though there are many passages in the books that I hold dear, the moment when Alice encounters the Cheshire Cat at a crossroads is near the top. I’ve included a bit more than just that passage, but the whole book is brilliant and I have a difficult time not sharing all of it. Read it all, or, if you must, read only the bold portion:
`Cheshire Puss,’ she began, rather timidly, as she did not at all know whether it would like the name: however, it only grinned a little wider. `Come, it’s pleased so far,’ thought Alice, and she went on. `Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
`That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
`I don’t much care where–‘ said Alice.
`Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
`–so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.
`Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, `if you only walk long enough.’
Alice felt that this could not be denied, so she tried another question. `What sort of people live about here?’
`In that direction,’ the Cat said, waving its right paw round, `lives a Hatter: and in that direction,’ waving the other paw, `lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they’re both mad.’
`But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked.
`Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat: `we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’
`How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice.
`You must be,’ said the Cat, `or you wouldn’t have come here.’
Alice didn’t think that proved it at all; however, she went on `And how do you know that you’re mad?’
`To begin with,’ said the Cat, `a dog’s not mad. You grant that?’
`I suppose so,’ said Alice.
`Well, then,’ the Cat went on, `you see, a dog growls when it’s angry, and wags its tail when it’s pleased. Now I growl when I’m pleased, and wag my tail when I’m angry. Therefore I’m mad.’
`I call it purring, not growling,’ said Alice.
(Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter VI).
If we’re all mad here, what matter have it if I, myself, am a little less than ordinary? What reason have we to judge others for that which we find peculiar? And, on account that you read the entire selection above, what right have we to insist a thing is growling when it may, it truth, be purring?
Honestly, I could go on about Alice forever. I truly am smitten with those books. But I had this tattoo done at the point in my life when I resolved to make an effort to allow my real self to show.
Pain Rating: F. On the pain scale, I felt nothing. It was over in 10 minutes and didn’t hurt a bit. I guess I should state, I had it done in Greek. I say this is because Alice is sort of my own personal mythology, but it was also because I didn’t want people bugging me about what it said. Also, it looks cool 😛
This was done by Annie, at Tattoo Annie’s in Cedar City, the same place I had my ears pierced. She was great!
Tattoo Meaning and Feelings Down the Road
I look to this tattoo now as a daily reminder to not be ashamed of who I am. I can’t speak for others, but I think it’s a fairly common feeling among the LGBT community that even when we make efforts to be ourselves, we have a little nagging thought that we are seen as an abomination. I know that thought nags at me every now and again, but when I employ the idea that all are mad I can be rid of that thought.
I really love this tattoo. It’s small, unobtrusive, but still visible. It’s kind of like a permanent bangle bracelet on my arm, and most other people seem to like it too. It’s nice to know that Alice’s teachings will always be a part of me and my conscious.
Cedar City, UT – Utah Shakespeare Festival
The Pain and Process
As I watched my time in Cedar City grow closer to ending, I knew I wanted to do something to remember the place by. I didn’t necessarily want a tattoo at first, but as I considered it more I decided Murder for Two at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, my favourite of the many plays I saw while at SUU. I remember looking down at my ticket and seeing that redesigned festival logo. It was an epiphanous moment for me, as I immediately knew that was what I wanted to get. It was small. It was representative of my favourite event in Cedar City. It was almost perfect.
I went home and opened up Photoshop. I love the logo but I didn’t think the outline nature of it would be best for a tattoo, so I inverted everything, filling in the outline and removing the lines afterward. Now it was bold and perfectly suited to be a tattoo. The last questions to answer were when and where to get it done.
I’ve come to really love the idea of having tattoos that represent landmarks. I like the concept of having each tattoo be representative of a moment, a time, and a place in my life that has personal significance in my journey and my development as a person. Importantly, they must be done in that place they are meant to represent. I almost had a tattoo done in London based on this idea, and I’m kind of upset that I didn’t go through with it. I knew the festival logo needed to be done in the festival city.
Mack’s Tattoo Shop in Cedar City runs a Friday the 13th special every time the date comes around. Twenty bucks for a tattoo less than 2 sq inches. In January, Friday the 13th was set to come around and with it a three day weekend for Martin Luther King Day. The stars had aligned perfectly!
The last decision I had to make was where to place the tattoo. I was really thinking about the back of my elbow but I couldn’t decide for sure. I then saw a video of my favourite creator on YouTube, Emma Blackery, and noticed her YouTube tattoo on her foot. Once again, it was as though everything for this tattoo was happening perfectly. That was location for my tattoo, even if the stories of pain did kind of scare me.
Friday the 13th came about and I arrived at the shop as soon as they opened so that I could get my name down on the waiting-list. I got the call that they were ready for me while in class, and rushed over to the shop as soon as I got out. The shop is CRAZY busy on these days, so it still took a bit for them to get me to the back, but I was so eager that I didn’t care. My artist came and got me, folded out the table for me to sit on, and then made sure this wasn’t my first tattoo after I told him I wanted it on my foot. I wish I could remember his name, but it was so loud and busy in the shop I’ve forgotten. He was fantastic. Pleasant to talk to, and he did an incredible job, despite the desire to cycle through everyone.
Pain Rating: A+. Look, I had heard that the foot and ribs are the two most difficult places to be tattooed. I had been warned about the pain. But oh my god did this thing hurt. The woman next to me having her own done kept commenting about how painful it looked. She was admiring my ability to keep my composure. This was good, because it gave me someone to talk to in-between needle attacks. The thing about tattoo pain is that it only hurts while the needle is on the skin. As soon as the artist removes the needle, you’re alright. Every time the needles approached my skin I had to grit my teeth, hold my breath, wince a little, and hold strong to my knee, occasionally resting my forehead on it. Every time the needles pulled away I took a bunch of deep breaths before preparing to do it all again. I limped away from the shop, grateful to have the three day weekend ahead of me. It was the perfect opportunity to stay off the foot, let the tattoo breathe, and allow it to heal.
Tattoo Meaning and Feelings Down the Road
The meaning is simple. Cedar City was a major part of my life, and Shakespeare Festival was probably my favourite event in the city. I love theatre, and my first semesters were always better than my second semesters because I was able to escape to the festival whenever I pleased.
I love this tattoo more than I can really say. The placement: perfect. The logo: perfect. The significance: perfect. There is not a tattoo I love more, and I am slightly sad more people don’t get to see it. Sure, the pain may have sucked, but it led to my favourite piece of body-art yet, and it only cost me 35 bucks! (Always tip your artist: they’ll be more inclined to do touch-ups for free and work with you down the road.)
So that’s my tattoo story. I may keep writing it. We can learn a lot about a person based on their tattoos, and I cannot wait for my generation to take over the job market and destroy the mantra that tattoos are unprofessional. Be what makes you who you are, we’re all mad here and there’s no shame in the that.