At twenty years old, I got up out of the first tattoo chair I ever sat in and was warned by the tattoo artist, “too late to turn back now.” A one inch by one inch black inverted spade had been injected into virgin shoulder flesh to reside there among many more soon to come. I’d been nervous, even shaking a bit, but it didn’t hurt that bad. I was now tattooed and proud. But that tattoo artist was right. I quickly learned the more ink I got, no matter how natural and right they seemed to me, the stares and whispers and giggles of others I’d overhear would increase. I’d get mad, and I was still immature enough to think making a scene about it was the smart way to handle it. I couldn’t have been more wrong, which brings me to my first point about being ready.
As soon as you get tattooed, no matter where you live or who you live/work/hang around with, you WILL be treated differently. It’s inevitable, so you need to not only be ready for it, but to expect it. Depending on what you get, where it is, and how large, you might just get some good-natured teasing, or you might get greeted with real hostility. The family I grew up with thought I’d joined a gang, and it took a lot of convincing to convince them I hadn’t. I’ve had a gun pulled on me more than once by law enforcement under the guise that they thought I was a gang member, and that’s an experience that is just as much fun as it sounds. My ink added to their stereotype of what a criminal looks like, but it was how I dealt with them that helped me out, which brings me to point number two.
Depending on your station in life, you might be the first person your family, friends, coworkers have ever personally that’s gone under the gun. How you carry yourself can make or break any potential stereotypes they might have about tattoos or body modification in general. This isn’t to say you have to tolerate being treated poorly or mocked, but as basic as it sounds, the golden rule really works wonders here. Living in a small town at the time, I got pulled over a lot more frequently by the local cops once I became more and more inked. But no matter how irritating and annoying they were, I ALWAYS was courteous and civil. I don’t believe for a second that their experiences with me changed any stereotypes they had, but I’d like to think that they learned that not all stereotypes are absolute and eternal.
I learned in 1998 that the old saw about tattoos and the military going hand in hand wasn’t true anymore when I enlisted in the Air Force. During my in-processing, all was well until they saw my whole five tattoos. That required a separate interview, where I had to explain each one to prove it wasn’t gang-affiliated. They were then photographed, a description of each was placed in my basic folder, and reporting to each new base for the rest of my enlistment required the same explanations. But with each new base, there’d be a few more to explain.
It had nothing to do with rebellion or trying to fit an image. Getting tattooed feels like a natural process to me. I even stacked the deck in my favor by getting permission from my first sergeant every time I’d picked out a new design. Each one is both a marker of where I was when I got it and an extension of my personality. And it was after my fifth, or maybe twentieth, that I established a rule that’s served me well and made sure I’ve never gotten something I regret.
I call it the “3 month rule.” Every time I come up with a new idea (which tends to happen a lot, especially if I haven’t been inked in awhile), I immediately shelf it for three months. I won’t allow myself to get it. If, after that time limit, I’m still psyched about it, then my artist gets a phone call. I cannot count how many people tell me about their ink and inevitably, that they regret it for whatever reason, and I never want to tell a story like theirs. This policy has saved me a lot of time and grief. I’ve scrapped far more ideas than I’ve gotten inked.
When I finally got old enough to both afford a motorcycle and hit the bars, I dove into both pastimes head-on. One caused me too many miserable Sunday morning hangovers, but the bike is still one of my first loves to this day. But being around people emotionally stimulated by cheap beer, I kept hearing the same phrase about both my ink and my ride: “I’ve always wanted to do that, but….you know.”
Huh? What do I know? It’s your body, right? I get mine because they are an extension of me, nothing more. And I got the bike because I was tired of waiting for “someday” to pop up on my calendar. That’s when I got it. That’s why I say I’m free and I’ve fought for it. To this day, I get hassled by cops, but not very often. And I still get looks from all walks of life, for every cool kid who comes up and wants to know where I got my work done, I still see the occasional look of offended disgust. Ten years ago, that would be an invitation to start yelling at them, but nah, no need for that kind of thing anymore. The way I see it, the world I’ve made for myself beats theirs. Although I still do let loose with an internal belly laugh at them. Guess I’m still not one hundred percent mature.
My “someday” is now. I’ll never say I wish I’d because I was afraid of what society or somebody else will say. And while others might be out judging me, I spend my time BEING me. And being happy.
submitted by: dimwit
on: 12 May 2011
in BME Culture