The Powerful Connection Between Tattoos and Sexual Identity

My tattoos remind me of who I am and what I stand for.

I got my first tattoo at age 16, right after I hooked up with a girl for the first time. Actually calling it a “hook up” undermines the epic experience! I fell in love with this girl. It was classic, short-lived, first time, teenage lesbian love. It was soul-scorching, powerful, all-consuming and forever changed the course of my life.

Photo by Istock

We hooked up in the summer and when the school year started up in the fall, she left for boarding school in Switzerland (she was a bougie euro babe, I was a tri-state baby punk) and we never saw each other again.

I knew, the moment my chapped, teen lips touched hers, that I was gay. Not bisexual, like I had thought. Not fluid, like the cool kids. I was G-A-Y. This was confirmed labor day weekend when I went to Provincetown with my best friend Suzie, for a little pre-school-year vacation on The Cape. Have you ever been to Provincetown? It’s a lesbian mecca. My lackluster heart, for the first time ever, soared into the pale blue P-Town sky.

Related: Seven Minutes in Heaven with Queer Tattooist Virginia Elwood
Photo by Wiki Commons

Lesbians were everywhere! They clutched hands while walking down the streets of the quaint seaside village. I unflinchingly stared at them as they made-out over heaping plates of the world-famous Massachusetts lobstah in cozy, chic restaurants. There were lesbians with shaved heads and tattoos. Lesbians with pockets full of money walking around town with fluffy, perfectly-groomed dogs. There were femme lesbians, butch lesbians, goth lesbians, lesbians with suntans and honey-blonde-hair and lesbians that didn’t fit into any kind of lesbian category.

I was elated. I had never felt like I fit in at my perfectly manicured (snooze) Westport, Connecticut high school. I wasn’t weird enough for the “four building freaks” (the theatre kids that spent their Friday nights singing the RENT soundtrack). I wasn’t basic or bitchy enough for the “popular” girls who collected hideous pink Juicy Couture tracksuits for sport and would kill a bitch for a brand-new silver Tiffany ID bracelet. And I was too polished and too fashion-crazed for the stoner-faux-hippy-chicks, the non-deodorant wearing lady teen potheads, who wore sarongs to school in the depths of the New England winter.

But in the lesbian underworld of Provincetown, I belonged. I could feel it.

I went saw on a fortune teller on that trip. She was an older dyke, with a shaved head and lip-ring. “Am I going to date women, or men, when I’m older?” I asked her, praying to the lesbian goddesses that she said women. I was really loving this gay thing.

“Oh, definitely women, honey.” She answered staring into my eager, gay eyeballs. There was a sudden shift in energy. I felt something I had never felt before in my life. Validation.

In that moment I vowed to get a tattoo as soon as I was home, to memorialize my newfound sense of self.

I spent the rest of trip staring at lesbians and the creative tattoos that peppered across their lesbian bodies. Almost every lesbian I saw that summer had tattoos. Didn’t matter if they were high-fluting power-babes with sprawling mansions in the mountains or day-tripping 21-year-olds with torn-up backpacks; they were all adorned in ink. I might have been a clueless sixteen-year old, but I felt an intrinsic understanding of the desire to be tattooed.

Tattoos were about affirming your identity.

Related: Alternative Isn’t Dead: Why Queer Women Unite Over Their Love of Tattoos
Photo by istock

Sexuality exists at the core of our identity. Cut off our hair, rip off our clothes and strip away the flesh; our sexuality is what remains, grotesquely gleaming in all its raw glory. When we oppress something as innately human as our sexuality, it’s a direct attack against ourselves. It’s painful. Brutal. It’s why so many of us queer kids grow up statistically depressed, vulnerable to the shackles of addiction and sadness.

When we finally come out the other side, and we accept and embrace our gayness, we’re accepting and embracing our truest selves. Our core. And what celebrates the wild, unabashed expression of identity, of individuality, like a tattoo that’s engraved onto our skin until the day we die?

I decided to get an Oscar Wilde quote for my first tattoo. I got it down low on my hipbone so my parents wouldn’t see it (that lasted a whole 24 hours).

“And wilder and wilder grew her song” it read in all-black ink because Angelina Jolie’s tattoos were all black and like all gays who came of age in the early 2000s; I was crazy for the proud bisexual actress Angie. I carefully chose that quote because it was from a short story my mother had read me as a child. The story was called “The Nightingale and The Rose” and it was about a nightingale who killed himself with a thorn in order for his blood to stain a white rose red, so a man who was in love with a woman who coveted red roses, could give it to her and win over her fickle heart (the woman sadly tosses the red rose to the ground and walks away, a dark but beautifully honest take on love, huh?). The entire quote read “Bitter, bitter was the pain and wilder and wilder grew her song.”

It resonated with me and my newly realized queerness. I decided that no matter how hard being a lesbian was, no matter how dire the social ramifications were, no matter how bitter the pain, I was going to be proud about my sexuality. Wild about my sexuality. Vocal about my sexuality. Out about my sexuality.

My tattoo was there to remind me of this when I felt weak to the looming heteronormative pressures of society. Of high school. Of life.

Queer women, traditionally have had an interesting, loaded relationship with tattoos and tattoo culture. Maybe it’s because tattoos make us more visible to our own kind. Maybe it’s because tattoos dismiss the idea of being traditionally feminine, and redefine what it means to be a woman. Maybe it’s because tattoos are about flaunting your thoughts and feelings to the world, and us gays love to flaunt what we have.

Or maybe it’s because, regardless of how far we’ve come, coming out of the closet, is still a radical thing to do in this cruel, cold world. It takes guts to be out. We put ourselves in emotional and physical danger by being out, especially in post-Trump America. But once you rip the band-aid of fear off and say “I’m a fucking lesbian, and I’m proud of the fact that I fall in love with and have sex with my own gender, regardless of what my family, my religion, my president or what society-at-large thinks!” you’re filled with this amazing rush of power. Once you muster up the courage to come out, you realize you can do anything. It fills you with this relentless desire to live your life honestly! You become addicted to expressing yourself, authentically.

Related: GO Tattoo Contest 2017, Submit until August 1, 2017

THURSDAY MOODS + FEELINGS. (captured + styled by @owengould)

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All of a sudden we start dressing in the way we want to dress. Some girls cut off their hair, some start sporting bold red lipstick in the daytime. Whatever it is, we’ve opened up the floodgates of being true to who we are. And tattoos, are the ultimate way, to dramatically make a statement about who you are and how you feel.

Maybe that’s why we like tattoos so much. I don’t know.

But what I do know is this: My tattoos are directly connected to me feeling, after a dark and tortured adolescence, at peace with my sexual identity. They’re there to remind me of who I really am and what I really stand for when my moral compass gets blurred in the mess of life.

And you know who I am? I’m a lesbian. And I stand for love.

My sexuality is my religion. Because my sexuality represents the most important thing in life; love, babe. And my tattoos serve as a reminder to follow the unwavering mission of love, no matter how much hate is thrown my direction.

So Queer Ladies, show us your tatts.

Related: America, Show Us Your Tats: 2010 RESULTS

We want to celebrate you and your raw expression of self at GO Magazine. Deadline is August 1st. This gives you an opportunity to flaunt your ink in our September print issue and win a trip to NYC or LA (and a score a photoshoot with a professional photographer). So upload those pics, tag GO Mag on Instagram and hashtag the hell out of whatever category you feel as if you should win, my lovely lezzies.