Tattoos: A Reclamation of the Body That’s Always Been Mine
I got my first tattoo when I was twenty-four. I didn’t get my next until last month when I was in Denver visiting my best friend. The last set of tattoos were about embracing and even publicizing my queerness, specifically my lesbian identity. In hindsight, I should’ve gotten them years ago; it’s really cut down on the number of men who approach me out in the world. Also they make me happy.
For my 31st birthday, I doubled my number of tattoos by getting three all at once. They also mean a great deal for very personal reasons. The most personal being the most visible. No one has asked yet, but I know it will be commented on one day. I have no idea how I’ll handle it, hopefully with grace.
After getting my tattoos in Denver, I knew I wanted more. And I knew exactly what I wanted to get. I didn’t have any set plans for when or where I would get them, but I knew it would be sooner rather than later.
I’m going to take this moment to introduce Meghan. A few names pop up in my writing with frequency: Dylan, Alex, Amanda, Kelsey. Meghan has been mentioned multiple times over the last eight months but never by name. I don’t name people often because I really do like to keep my private life private. Also I am guarded, and it takes a long time for me to be convinced someone actually wants to be in my life for the good and the bad. Once they make an appearance in my writing, there’s no undoing that. For whatever reason, people pay attention to me and my writing and ask questions when new people show up or when regulars disappear. Eight months is actually quite fast for me to mention a name, but we bonded fast, and sometimes you just know when a human is for you. I figure she’s probably sticking around at this point; we’ve been through a lot. I might as well let her have her name. Plus, like all my other notable friends, she has an exceptionally generic name, unlike me, so there’s still a modicum of anonymity; except I will tag her on Instagram, so if you really want to know what she looks like: good luck her profile is private. Anyways, Meghan is a fundamental human in my life. Why do I mention her now? Because she’s an important part of this story.
A week before my birthday, Meghan asked what I wanted to do on my birthday. I generally don’t think about it because a) I hate my birthday b) I just let whoever’s in my life plan whatever they want for me c) or I ignore it completely. After giving it some thought, I told her I wanted to have it be very low-key, get tattoos, and have a bonfire. So that’s exactly what we did.
On the day of my birth, we both got tattooed. Her tattoo is her story to tell, but I will tell you about mine. I got an 8 on my left ankle, servive just above my right elbow, and a crocus on my ribs near my heart.
The 8 was not originally a tattoo I knew I wanted. On May 7, Meghan and I buried her cat Ocho, who died suddenly. My gay concentric circles tattoo (read about that here) is partially in honor of Ocho’s dog brother, Nigel, who also passed far too soon. I spent so much time with both Ocho and Nigel since meeting Meghan. They weren’t my pets, but they absolutely stole my heart in every single way. When they both passed, I was truly devastated. I still miss them. Ocho was all but a kitten. He and I played… hard. When he wanted to play and I didn’t, he would attack my ankles like the apex predator he was. He ruined my ankle modeling career with his murder mittens. I still have scars. He was also the snuggliest, sweetest, goodest, most determined, stubbornest, swiftest boy in the world. So when he died, I knew I wanted to get something to commemorate him like I did his brother. Nothing felt more right than an 8 on the ankle he loved to shred. I miss him every single day, but I carry a sweet little reminder of his ridiculous antics.
I love flowers. My best friend, Amanda, is a floral designer who turned me into a subpar designer when she needs me, so now flowers are more than just something to be admired. I appreciate them. I also know a lot more about them than I did a few years ago. So Amanda helped me figure out which flower best represented what I wanted to communicate to myself because… this tattoo will really only be seen when I want to show someone. It’s more of a show and tell kind of thing.
The tattoo placement and color is an interesting choice for a couple reasons. I always said I would never get color tattoos… Woops. I have a very colorful arm tattoo and a very colorful crocus tattoo. I also said I would never get a tattoo on my torso until after I had child[ren] because I don’t want stretch marks to ruin them. The older I get, the less and less likely it is I have a kid, so fuck it.
Crocuses thrive in adverse conditions. They actually can’t bloom without four months of below freezing temperatures. They bloom even when there’s snow on the ground. Year after year, crocuses come back with more and more blooms. Small and delicate flowers with a huge impact and an ability to thrive because of the chilling period. I feel like a crocus that hasn’t bloomed yet. I feel like someday I will thrive because of the chilling period. That I will bloom because of the harsh conditions I have servived. I wanted it near my heart because sometimes I think my heart needs the reminder that all the pain it has endured will lead to something beautiful. I just don’t know what the fuck that beauty looks like yet. Hopefully, I servive long enough to find out. I chose the color purple because it’s my alma mater’s color; the place I met two loves of my life, Alex and Kelsey. I would not be here covering myself with tattoos if they had not chosen to love me all those years ago.
servive was the hardest. It took me two weeks to be emotionally stable after inking myself. I was truly a wreck the day after my birthday. I didn’t get off the couch.
“Servive” is a word I came up with because I hate being called a survivor. I am. I was cyclically raped for years. I’m a domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, psychological abuse survivor. It’s an integral part of who I am. It’s not something I have ever hidden from. But I hate the term survivor. I didn’t survive. The girl I was before is dead. Everything I went through killed that person. Who I am now is not who I was. I will never be her again, and I would give anything to be the person I was before. I am not stronger, I did not survive, but those are conversations for another post another time. So, I coined the term servivor or servive because I use my experiences, my story to serve others, to make change, to bring awareness. There has to be good that comes out of the hell I call my life.
I watched the ink needled into my skin as each letter of servive started to appear. I cried the whole time. It was hard and overwhelming and emotional. I knew it would be hard, but I had no idea how awful it would be. I’m glad Meghan was there because I needed someone who loved me to be by my side. The men who hurt me left their mark on my heart and soul and memory. It’s indelible. I will never forget. But they’re invisible. I only had invisible reminders of the men who killed the person I was before. Now I have a physical reminder. It’s not for everyone. For me, I needed it. I need that pain to be visible, even if I’m the only one who understands.
The process of having servive tattooed on my body felt like I was branding myself with every wrong and violence those men put my body and mind through. It was awful. It was horrifically painful emotionally. I was not okay in any way. Choosing to put it in a visible place was a choice I made for myself. A very hard choice that opens me up to questions because it’s misspelled, but it also opens me up to vulnerability just as much as animosity. I made that choice knowing it would be hard. It’s one of the few times I’ve underestimated how difficult something would be. I do not regret it. I love this tattoo more than the others because it’s hard. Because I earned it. It is a reminder of where I’ve been, so many obstacles I’ve overcome, an allowance to give myself grace, and a message to not give up.
While I was getting the first of the three tattoos, Meghan had just finished getting hers. She sat down to watch me get mine, as much for her own amusement as in support. She asked a question that I will never forget, which she does frequently without meaning to, it’s irritating how accidentally insightful she can be, “After you get a tattoo, do you feel like it was always supposed to be there?” I had never thought of it in that way, but the only tattoo I had up until six weeks ago is not extraordinarily visible. Having it felt right. But it had also been there for seven years, and I go long periods of time without seeing it. With my most recent tattoos, I see them constantly. I can’t agree with her more.
Looking at these tattoos on my body, they feel like they were always supposed to be there. I feel more myself than I’ve ever felt before. I wasn’t the kid who looked at tattoos and thought I would have them. It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I even considered getting one. I’m a cautious person by nature, and tattoos are permanent. These tattoos, that mean a great deal, feel like I’m finally reclaiming my body-something I constantly struggle with. These tattoos make my body feel like my home. Like I’m taking ownership of something that has always belonged to me but was never accessible. Marking it. Making it my own. Decorating it with things that make me happy, turning it into a representation of my truest self.
For my 31st birthday, I got tattooed. I’m slowly giving my body back to myself.
Originally published at https://onthebl.org on June 15, 2022.