America Show Us Your Tats: Meet The Winner’s Of GO’s Annual Tattoo Competition

GO scoured the nation for the illest ink in our America, Show Us Your Tats! contest. The winners are in, and we dare you to find cooler (or queerer) “skin sin.”

Photo by Connie Kurtew

Renee Phoenix

The moment we caught a glimpse of rock musician Renee Phoenix’s unique, colorful, and dynamic array of badass tattoos, we had a feeling she might capture the title for Best Overall Tattoo in GO’s annual tattoo competition. What struck us the most about her bevvy of tats was how each one seemed to tell its own unique story. Renee confirms our instincts were right: Her tattoos directly relate to her life’s milestones. “Each tattoo is significant to a different point in my life. For example, the phoenix piece on my right arm expresses the changes I was going through moving away from home,” Renee tells GO. “My chest piece is Italian for ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ They all mean something to me, even the snail trapped in the ‘Phantom Zone’ from Superman 2 on my left arm.”

Renee’s taste in all things ink has grown since her first tattoo, which she says was a “tiny black heart” on her right wrist. “I thought it would be a good ‘test piece’ before I went ham,” Renee tells GO. “Shortly after, I got my phoenix half-sleeve completed.”

Photo by Michael O’Brien

Renee believes that getting inked is an integral part of queer culture and queer identity. “I feel like tattoos give you the freedom to express yourself and live authentically,” says Renee. “From my personal experience, I believe that queer individuals are more drawn to tattoo culture because it is so vast and so inclusive. It gives queer people an opportunity to identify with other like-minded individuals.”

Renee is the lead singer and songwriter of the rock band Pink Fly. As a queer woman, Renee recognizes how her identities play a role in her life as a rock ‘n’ roll musician. “There aren’t that many out female artists in current rock. Being one of the few, sometimes I feel like I’m sitting at Regina George’s table on a Wednesday and forgot to wear pink. It’s hard to feel like an outcast, but I’ve always found comfort in using those feelings as a driving force in my melodies and lyrics,” Renee tells GO. Renee just signed an exciting deal with Sumerian Records and Jeff Blue.

Music and tattoos are both bold forms of self-expression that Renee seems to have mastered, and it appears both will play major roles in her future. She’s headed to Los Angeles to record her new album in the next few weeks and already has her next tattoo mapped out, one that will be done by her tattoo artist, James Ranieri of Solid State Art Studio in Jacksonville, Fla. “I have a leg piece I need finished up by James and I’ve been thinking of blacking out my entire right arm. After that, I’ll have some leg space I’ll be looking to fill. I don’t think I’ll ever be done.”

Photo by Nicholas Gore

It’s hardly a surprise that Renee has no intentions of attempting to curb her appetite for tattoos, as she tells us she’s very much empowered by their presence on her body. “I’m a relatively introverted person, but my tattoos make a statement wherever I go. It allows me to be quiet and bold at the same time.” When asked if getting a tattoo is a cathartic experience for her, her answer is perfectly (and quite refreshingly) honest: “No,” Renee says, “But I do feel kind of badass afterwards.”

Be sure to stay tuned for all the awesome musical content Renee will be putting out this year, and check out the new music video she just dropped for the song “Swallow,” a single off of her recently released solo EP:

Desiree Cardona

Courtesy of Desiree Cardona

Desiree Cardona is a fashion entrepreneur who hails from Providence, R.I. where she owns her clothing line, ∆RT CLOTHING. We were transfixed by the intricate beauty of her sleeves, which Desiree says is inspired by her life-long interest in the natural beauty of the sky, outer space, and her love of all things autumn: an orchid, faces, and leaves. The creativity she harnesses in her work as a designer also leads her towards stunning, unique, and conceptual tattoos. “I’ve always thought the sky and outer space are so cool,” Desiree tells GO. “On my other sleeve, I have my favorite flower, the orchid, and some leaves because I love fall. I could go on and on because I have so many tattoos,” she adds. Her very first tattoo was a little bit more simple than her gorgeously ornate sleeves: the word “Imagine” on her ankle. “It was for a boy group I loved growing up,” Desiree confesses. “I know it’s silly but I was young and just wanted a tattoo.”

We couldn’t resist asking Desiree to speak a little bit about queer identity. “Love is love no matter if it’s between a man and a man or a woman and a woman. It has gotten easier for people to come out and not be afraid because a lot of people have accepted it. Queer culture has come a long way,” Desiree tells GO.

Desiree is positively loyal when it comes to her tattoo artist. An artist in Rhode Island who goes by “Alicia Tattoos” has been tattooing Desiree for the past six years. “A woman can do anything a man can — my tattoo artist is a woman and she’s amazing. Women are amazing!” We couldn’t agree more. Women are amazing and so is the incredible artwork on Desiree’s sleeves.

Jaxon Cat Williams

Courtesy of Jaxon Cat Williams

“My chest piece was designed to help camouflage the scars I had from breast cancer surgeries. It memorializes the fact that I can face anything with grace. It represents my choice to live, not merely exist,” Jaxon Cat Williams (who goes by “Jax”), our Best Statement Tattoo winner, tells GO. The chest piece, which deeply moved the GO staff, is as dynamic and multifaceted as Jax, a self-described “queer, transgender (non-binary transmasculine, to be precise) warrior, survivor, eternal optimist, activist, athlete, and doctor.” One can’t help but notice that Jax’s deep-rooted passion for activism is reflected in his chest piece, which symbolizes “courage, hope, humbleness, introspection, self-expression, authenticity, gratefulness, compassion, philanthropy, self-care, self-love, and motivation.”

Jax, who co-founded the increasingly important non-profit Gendrfwd, is particularly invested in working directly with youth, many of whom are grappling with their identities and finding themselves feeling more disenfranchised than ever before. “My current focus is helping transgender and gender non-conforming youth via Gendrfwd, which celebrates gender nonconformity and seeks to expand the binary,” Jax tells GO.

Jax believes that there is a strong connection between queer identity, queer culture, and tattoo culture, namely because of the ways in which we use tattoos as a means to express and empower ourselves. “Tattoos are an important means of visual expression in queer culture, a way to claim chosen identity, to serve as an outlet for rebellion, to act as a record of the struggle to live an authentic life, and to celebrate uniqueness and individuality,” Jax tells GO. “Tattoos memorialize the fight against discrimination and imposed societal standards.” Jax’s beautiful chest-piece was done by artist Zoey Taylor at The Warren Tattoo in West Hollywood, Calif.

Shakivla Todd

Photo by Brittany Hewitt

Shakivla Todd is an Assistant Director of Residence Life at Juilliard. As a person who plays an active role in molding the leaders of the future, Todd possesses a creativity that is all her own. “My tattoo is me wearing my identity on my sleeve, literally. Very Black and very queer. Some people don’t jive with labels, but they’re home for me,” Shakivla tells GO when asked about the tattoo that stole our collective hearts and crowned her this year’s winner of the Best Word category. Shakivla’s word is literally unique. She wanted to find a word that blended her race and culture with her sexuality — so she went ahead and created one for herself: BlaQ. This powerful tat was inked by an artist at Anger Ink in Montreal, Quebec, which Shakivla got right before running to board a plane. (It’s the kind of tattoo we happen to think is more than worthy of risking missing a flight!)

Shakivla is no stranger to tattoos. She got her first tattoo when she was 18 at the Knotty Heads Tattoo Factory in Columbia, S.C. “It’s a sketchy-looking sunflower on my upper back that says ‘Daddy’s Little Girl.’ It’s cute but def[initely] needs some love and care!”

Shakivla is quick to acknowledge the powerful link between queerness and tattooing. “Tattooing is just another way to tell your story and truth,” Shakivla tells GO. “Some folks do that by spoken word or by writing novels or making movies. Often times queer voices, specifically queer and trans people of color, are erased and silenced. So I think tattooing is a way to show up and show out. You have silenced my voice BUT you will see these tattoos. Tattooing is queer storytelling.”

Christina Hedges and Jennie Hedges

Courtesy of Christina Hedges

There is nothing cuter than a couple unafraid to express their weirdness, is there? Christina Hedges and her wife Jennie Hedges got their matching “mutual weirdness” tattoos on Valentine’s Day to celebrate not only their unabashed love for one another, but also their shared love of all things wonderfully weird. “My wife and I fell in love with this quote when we first started dating because, let’s face it, we are both VERY weird. This quote describes our relationship perfectly. I know that there is no one in this world that can handle my weirdness the way she does,” Christina tells GO.

The dynamic, super-in-love couple currently resides in Tucson, Ariz. with their foster son and two dogs. They trusted artist Haji at the Red Sky Studio in their hometown of Tucson, Ariz. to commemorate their favorite Dr. Seuss quote on their arms — which (quite cutely) match up when they’re holding hands (aww). Christina is quick to tell us that this isn’t her first tattoo nor will it be her last. Her first was “H In My Life” to honor her late father and her favorite Beatles song. “[It] reminds me that everyday my dad is still with me,” says Christina.

Christina loves the way in which tattoos serve not only as an expression of personal identity but as a way to further connect with the people she loves the most. “I think tattooing is a great way for people to not only express themselves, but connect with others,” she tells us. Christina has already started to map out her next tattoo, which will be of two “Dia De Los Muertos” brides. “Tattoos are such universal things that I believe can transcend all boundaries and connect people from all walks of life, both queer and straight,” says Christina.

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