Tattoos, Trauma & the Queer Body

There’s been a moment in the process every tattoo that currently adorns my body wherein I freak the fuck out.

I think: “oh, shit. Oh shit, this is on me for life. Fuck, I can barely keep my mind straight about REGULAR things, let alone ‘stuck in you for life with a needle’ things.”

When this moment comes, I usually want to abruptly stand up, upend the table, and run for the hills.

So far, I’ve been successful in that I’ve managed to not do this. Look at me, kicking strangely specific life goals.

I got my first tattoo at age 21 after a particularly rough night.

It’s covered up, now, but:

I went through a particularly depressive stage as a young homosexual – don’t all young homosexuals? – and really and truly considered taking my own life several times. I didn’t get so far as to actually try, thankfully, but it was like “suicidal-light” – the thoughts were quite legitimate, but the actions were not willing.

In the way that brains so often do; I intrinsically linked my discovery of the musical Hedwig & the Angry Inch to my pulling myself – with psychological help – out of this depressive hole. In actuality, of course, it was probably just the fact I was actually seeing a real-life medical professional; an outside party who didn’t know the inner dramatics of my brain but who did know how to metaphorically slap said brain upside its melodramatic and metaphorical face.

I had been toying with the idea of getting the tattoo from Hedwig for about year or two, as a kind of marker for the end of my mental turmoil, but felt intrinsically that I needed something big to push me into it – I needed not a reason but a Reason. If this was to be on me for life it needed to be Deep and Meaningful and something I could Look At Every Day and Feel Proud About My Decision For.

The night before I’d drunkenly hooked up with a friend who was in a relationship. What followed had been a lot of pain, self-loathing, histrionics (some justified, some not; some performed by me, some not) and many emotions. All in all, it seemed like a big enough Reason as any.

I don’t remember much from this time, but I do remember the immense pain this 15-minute long tattooing session caused; seated in the back of some particularly dingy “goth” shop I used to frequent some years earlier with my fellow goth friends. (Now that I’ve been tattooed by wonderful & talented tattooists, I can’t help but think that this immense pain was mostly due to the tattooist in question not being a particularly good one.)

I remember the immense pain, and I remember the feeling that came with it: the feeling like this came with some sort of internal retribution, that there was something coming out of this pain.

Getting a tattoo is somehow both one of the most constructive and destructive things you can do to your body.

On one hand, you’re getting a piece of artwork attached to your body for life; you’re memorialising something through the creation of something new; in a sense you’re collaborating with your artist to find something that suits what you both want to do. And then sticking it to your body.

On the other hand, you’re literally injecting ink into your skin, and, shockingly, bodies don’t tend to like or appreciate that.

When I first began to get tattoos, I felt determined: whatever I got had to have Meaning and Consequence, I had to be able to look at it and immediately be reminded of the reason why I’d gotten it. I thought I was being very deep. Of course, if that’d been the way I’d continued, I would’ve probably gone quietly insane, as it seems that every tattoo I’ve been inspired to get for a Reason has come out of trauma.

REASONS I’VE GOTTEN TATTOOS:

1.     Because a close friend took his own life and I felt this needed memorialising.

2.     Because, as a young child, I used to call myself “Christopher Robin” after the character from Winnie the Pooh, and I felt pretty shitty about being an adult.

3.     Because I thought it looked fucking cool.

4.     Because my heart got royally fucked over and I wanted to remind myself to be more careful, next time.

5.     Because I very nearly died (and I wanted to celebrate my first year of sobriety.)

6.     and 7: because I very nearly died and before I very nearly died I’d been planning to get tattooed by this artist anyway – having the unexpected opportunity to do this again felt like a wonderful second chance. (And also because I fucking love and am fucking inspired by John Waters.)

And then, overall:

1.     Because I fucking wanted to.

In the year and a half, nearly, since my car accident, getting tattooed has become somehow both intensely personal and intensely impersonal.

Confusing, right?

To explain, let’s go back. Way back:

As a kid, and growing up, I had major weight issues.

I fucking hated my body and I fucking hated myself. I was hit, punched, insulted, taunted, teased and so on, relentlessly and endlessly, by people at school and by members of my own family. Unsurprisingly, this created a sharp and heady dissonance within myself; a veritable hatred of self that only in the last two or three years has begun to subside.

By getting a tattoo – by choosing unequivocally what will be placed on my body, where and by who, I’m regaining a bit of my own mental strength. I like the way that I look – and this is the first time in a long time that I can say this – but I really like the way I look with tattoos.

Despite the fuckery of 2014 and my year at NIDA; while I was incredibly cruel to myself in certain facets of myself, I was also weirdly, rather kind. I had always gone to the gym pre-NIDA, but mostly just did cardio in a constant attempt to reduce the imagined obesity that hung about me. As I threw myself into NIDA (and alcohol), I also threw myself into working out on a much tighter regimen, and with a lot more resistance-based training, enjoying and appreciating the new facets of my strength and body that I began to see.

Smash cut to me, somewhere, on a Berlin road, then a Berlin hospital, then a rehab facility. The plugs. The wires. The drugs I was given in secret, the medical additions to my body, the catheter and resulting testicular infection I received and my inability to walk. Aside from this, I gained a casual five kilos, which doesn’t sound like much, but for someone who relentlessly monitored his own weight for the ten years previous, it definitely was.

I’d lost ownership of my body; something I still don’t feel I’ve wholly regained.

There are still problems. Still things that don’t work, and still things that may never do. I’m trying as best as I can, and it gets slowly easier, but there are still problems, and forever things to work on. But, as above: it’s a way to regain ownership of my body and of my self. Each piece of artwork brings me back into the world and hands me back one of the pieces I’ve lost. I get to exercise the power of choice over my body; exorcise my trauma in whatever way I want to and shape myself in whatever way I want to. For someone who hasn’t been able to do this – ever, really – who’s been told that his body is wrong and disgusting or who has simply been unable to even make his body work as bodies should, someone who – like so many others – isn’t afforded the basic liberties and freedoms of most of the people around him, tattoos are a way to get his own back.

So, you want reasons? Well, here you go:

I FUCKING WANTED TO and I NEEDED TO FEEL LIKE I HAD SOME KIND OF OWNERSHIP AND LIBERTY OF SELF.

That’s more than enough. That’s fucking everything.

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