I don’t flinch usually when it comes to getting inked, the process, finding an artist, the discussion. In my oh, eight years of etching into my body, I have experienced a drugged artist, an artist with their own agenda, incompetent, versatile, adaptive and above all, excited and willing. I could never have imagined the undertaking of finding a shop in this city – it was a deliberate process, filled with many interesting experiences, and most of time, walking out of the tattoo parlor rather than to cozy up on the chair and get stabbed. Oh and then there are those conversations too. Sometimes great, sometimes, let’s just be quiet and put the ink into my skin ok?
I walked through desolate, decrepit blocks in Brooklyn, walked into fancy tattoo shops that were filled, with an echo of “now, now, now” playing in my brain on repeat as I walked around attempting to responsibly pick out an artist whom would firstly understand the concept, relate, be slightly excited by the radical idea of it (what is radical these days?) and eager to add said work to one’s repertoire.
I cannot remember the name of the shop, I know that I took two buses to Wyckoff St late one evening, so hell bent on this image that I have been staring at for weeks. Tattoos for me, are like permanent accessories, statements aligned and denoting specific points of time in my life. At 26, in New York City, operating under Poetry New York, the image is a reverse mimic of the female symbol. A large circle on the bottom, with a front facing forearm, fingers curled into the fist and a quiet little bird perched proudly atop that fist. “Fuck the Gender Binary” it says. And ever since I saw it – hunting one night for a politically sound symbol to remind me where I am right now and what I believe and what my fight is.
So back to horror story, tattoo guy comes over to me, says hello over the blaring heavy metal. A few chairs back another person sits, having some work done. I show him the picture. First thing out of his mouth is:
“No I don’t think so (the hate rises, curiosity follows from me). I mean that text is a little hard to read and it will bleed and blur eventually. What if we kept the arm, kept the middle finger and put the text in like a banner below it (ARE YOU KIDDING?!)?”
Me: “Well that just doesn’t work, do you see this symbol mimics the female symbol somewhat, it is upside for everyone else and right side up for me when I am working or choose to look down on it. The shape of it is part of the draw for me.”
Him: *drawing horrible drawing on my arm, that looks worse than my sketchbook*
“Well look here, I mean it won’t sit quite right and it likely will cover up some of your other work.”
*continues to draw* *reaches for green Sharpie*
Alarmed I remark that he use something else, and not a sharpie on my skin. He scoffs turns around and mumbles something about that being what we use to draw out tattoos on people. He returns and wipes away the kindergarten drawing. And then suggests we integrate the text into a flower.
I tell him no thank you. That I do not like the vibe coming from him, nor wish to compromise the work. I thank him for his time and walk out into the night.
Fast forward to some days later. The East Village and an $11 juice from a shop around the corner. A listless “bro” whom I’ve had a conversation with previously asks if I’d like to do it after all. I say yes and though the shop wasn’t teething with feminist tattoo artists or any women for that matter, me, a lone queer sits in a room as masculine, beer guzzling louds walk over and remark how cool my piece is. They are catcalling and referring to women as objects. She this and she that. And then stopping to show me their faded work on lumpy biceps. I feign excitement and focus on me. Focus on the idea of this tattoo, and most importantly the fulfillment of desire.
I cannot help but realize the irony, of wanting immediate results for a politically sound art piece and using a man, for quick convenience. I felt like it was an experience from the “Gender Twilight Zone.”
Needless to say, just over two hours and some of the most painful fill in work I have ever experienced in my life. I was inked, listless and walking outside, out in to the world forever grinning that the word “fuck” and a middle finger were now permanent on me! I texted a friend and mentioned, this, mentioned that I may not have thought it through to the fullest extent after all: I knew that I wanted it. And only now that it is done do I get to conceptualize what it will be like with this piece. Sometimes things cannot be thought through until they are reality I remark.