I was going to leave it there, because i am not one to seek approval or praise when it comes to tattoos. I hate being the center of attention. I often feel like people posting tattoo pictures on social media are fishing for compliments, and it's a loaded hook, because you can't really say "well, that looks shit" to something that is a lifetime commitment. It just feels awkward all around.
However, just pondering the point of whether or not i should post some pictures as tsuki_no_bara suggested (spoiler: i will), it occurred to me i don't think i've written much about tattoos, so let's make it into a writing prompt.
Untattooed folk often ask two things of tattoed people: 1) "does it hurt?", and 2) "what does it mean?" The answer to number 1 is yes it fucking hurts. The answer to number 2 is please stop asking that question. I know there are some people out there to whom a tattoo is an intensely personal, deeply considered expression of their inner psyche, but to plenty of people it's just about inking some cool shit on your skin because why not? There's no shame in getting a giant tiger on your bicep because you think it looks badass. Why should it matter? No one asks what people's clothing or make-up or hair choices mean.
My tattoos don't mean shit. Well, not directly. But, like any memento, they all remind me of a particular event or period in my life.
I remember getting my first. It is a tramp stamp. I got it because all of my friends sported tattoos, and i thought they looked cool, but i didn't really have an idea of what i wanted. I got no shame. I still think it looks neat, although these days i think getting a tattoo where you can't see it very easily is a bit of a waste. I have a matching piece of 90s tribal flash on my arm that i got after being hospitalized due to a suicide attempt. In a fit of rapid cycling, i escaped out of the hospital and walked into a tattoo parlor. My third totally-generic-and-i-don't-care tribal thingy is on my upper thigh/hip/private parts, which i got shortly after surgery as a sort of celebration that there would never again be a bulge in my pants.
The first really considered tattoo i got was a Mortal Kombat symbol on my shoulder. I got it because of a strange sequence of events in my online life that Mortal Kombat catalysed. For those who don't know, Mortal Kombat was a notorious arcade game that featured scandalous amounts of blood and gore. Not only were the usual suspects convinced that its violence was corrupting our youth, but all the high-brow fighting game fans pooh-poohed it as well because it was all about the storyline and the gimmicks and it wasn't "skill-based" like Japanese games. Mortal Kombat was peak 1990s American pop culture - balls-out, xxx-treme, culturally inaccurate brashness and who fucking cares? I loved it in the same way i love Xena, or Cable, or professional wrestling. I found it delightful in its earnest embrace of silliness.
Mortal Kombat became a media franchise, with games, movies, comic books and - bizarrely - music. I think once upon a time i was enough of a fan to know how this happened, but i have forgotten now... Somehow the Chicago-based pinball company that made Mortal Kombat got in touch with a couple of Belgian electronic music artists to make a techno album based on their computer game about wizards and ninjas and monks and cyborgs and a movie star who punches people in the nuts. Unsurprisingly, the music was just as silly and over-the-top as the game. I loved it. It turned out the production duo was better known in America as Lords of Acid, an unremarkable pop techno band whose main schtick was sexually explicit lyrics. It turns out all it took to make techno popular in its country of origin was to add a verse/chorus structure and pornography. America, fuck yeah.
Anyway, via Mortal Kombat the game, i met jenndolari on usenet. She is my oldest friend both online and off. And via Lords of Acid i met T on IRC. She was my one true love - or at least that tremendous first love that consumes your every waking thought, engulfs you in fire and passion and heartbreak. All that emotion, coupled with being trans and bipolar, led me to do lots of dumb and regrettable shit in my 20s. Not one of those regrettable shits was getting the Mortal Kombat dragon logo tattooed on me. Since it's on my back i rarely see it, and when i do see it i notice it's well faded and scarred up because i went to a rough biker tattooist, but it reminds me of a whole stretch of my life from teenager through 20something. Of which none of it has to do with Mortal Kombat directly. So, yeah, that tattoo doesn't have much more intrinsic meaning than my tramp stamp.
I got the broken black triangle on my left wrist because i was doodling one day on some paper and i thought it looked cool. But also because the black triangle is a (rarely-referenced) lesbian symbol, and i feel like a broken lesbian. Also it looks kinda like the Adidas logo and everyone knows how much i love my Superstars. I got FUCKING TECHNO tattooed across my right arm partly as a reference to an inside joke that only existed in a very small segment of the Melbourne rave scene, partly as a reference to my exhaustion with Toronto techno fans who split hairs over "real techno" (Berlin/Berghain style) vs "not techno" (every other type of electronic music), and partly as a reminder to myself that music is most important.
When i left Berlin i went to a small tattoo place on the Rigaer, two blocks from my apartment and exactly around the area the police had branded a Danger Zone. For my new readers - that happened over a summer when cops in riot gear lined the streets of my neighborhood in a months-long anti-leftist action that felt more violently authoritarian than anything i have personally witnessed in China. The tattooist was a young Spanish guy who didn't speak much German or English. His style was old school, which means daggers and anchors and hearts. All their flash was festooned with antifa flags and emblazoned with vegan and anarchist slogans. I don't like old school style, but he felt like the right choice because he personified my Berlin experience. So he gave me two old school shapes - a street cat and a rose - but instead of coloring them in, he blacked them out. He was also incredibly rough, so the end product is criss-crossed with keloid scarring, which just makes it feel even more punk.
And that's a recurring theme for me. I don't really ever expect my tattoos to be perfect, or even exactly what i planned when i went in. They don't have to be masterpieces, they just have to remind me of a moment in my life.
I neglected to mention the house on my arm, which is a masterpiece. It's the only tattoo besides the one i got yesterday where i went out of my way to find a top-notch artist to do it. It's a stick figure house with the number 303 on it. To most people it just looks like some kid drew on my arm with a pen, but the fact it still looks like a kid drew on my arm with pen 10+ years later is exactly why it cost so much. Invariably i get the question: "is that your house?" Is that my house!? Like, what? I don't have a house and probably never will. But i will always have house music and rave parties, and a tattoo that reminds me of being a kid during the acid house boom of the 1980s.
Perhaps that question about the house is the best way i can describe my feelings on tattoos, though. Because i move around a lot, i don't own very much stuff. I don't want to own very much stuff. Every time i cross the threshold where my amount of stuff no longer fits into a backpack, i start to feel uncomfortable. It's like the countdown has begun - sooner or later i will leave. I don't have a house, so the best way to store stuff i want to keep is on my body. That's why i like tattoos, they are little bits of memorabilia that don't take up any space in my pack.
I have a personal style, of course. I don't like old school, i don't like new school, i don't like irezumi, i don't like biomechanical, i don't like black-and-gray. I want bold, black, abstract shapes. Block out as much skin color as possible. That used to be called tribal, but i get the sense people are shying away from that nomenclature now because cultural appropriation. In China they just call it 图腾 (tú téng), which means totem. It's not a very hip style these days. Maybe it never was? Whatever. To me that's just what tattoos are supposed to look like. All dots and dashes and barcodes and swirls and squares. Fucking Spider Jerusalem. Fucking, the Belters.
The in-universe reason for the Belter neck tattoos is to commemorate other Belters who were injured or lost their lives due to faulty helmet seals on their EVA suits. They wrap around the neck with a boldly off-center gap. I wanted an off-center gap, but my artist wanted to make it symmetrical. I also wanted something more science-fictional, but he liked stuff that was more Austronesian inspired. He drew up some neat dot art that extends to a traditional-looking band before breaking off to a couple of fiercely xxx-treme throat swirls. And, fuck, it's off-center. Not deliberately. It is very obvious if you look at it straight-on. It's mildly annoying after spending a couple hours lining it up and several hours under the gun and a shit-ton of money... but that's life. You get it, it becomes a part of you, flaws and all. Actually this one looks fine from any angle that isn't straight on, so by the time it's healed I probably won't care any more. And if i do still care, then i can pretend it's because of the Belter tradition.
I don't feel much like a badass science fiction character right now because i need to do groceries and tomorrow i have to go back to my boring office job. But my neck does feel like it got melted to shit by a broken EVA suit, so if i make another pot of coffee and close my eyes perhaps i can roleplay a little longer.