11/23/09

Geek Tattoos

I want to talk about why geeks and tattoos go hand in hand, or if you'll allow the cliche, ink in skin. I recently got my fifth tattoo, the Rebel Alliance symbol from Star Wars on my right elbow area. I also have a Star Trek symbol on my right forearm, the Next Gen communicator symbol minus the background circle. I have plans for a Beauty and the Beast inspired quarter sleeve and eventually, I'd like to have 3/4 of my right arm covered.

What most people want to know is why? What will you do when you are old and wrinkly? What if you get a job that doesn't allow tattoos? (You cover them up!) All common questions, all completely understandable. Curiosity is only natural.

Here are several things to know about people who love tattoos and why they get them. This is, of course, not true of all people who have them. But you can think of it as my personal mission statement on the matter and all of these points are true for me...



1. We're sentimentalists. We like to mark special occasions, loved ones who have passed, friendships and relationships that mean the world to us, hard times in our lives that we've survived, and more. What may just look like a pop culture reference might have roots that run deeper than they appear...you can never judge on sight why someone has the tattoo that they do. But you can always ask and typically, people are more than happy to share!

2. We're creative. We're usually artistically inclined in some way. To us, designing embellishments for our skin is just another way of expressing ourselves. We see our bodies as a canvas.

3. We (I, at least) understand their permanence. Especially as we get older and still desire tattoos. I'm 27, hardly the wisp of a girl I was when I got my first tattoo at 18. (Some admittedly cliche Kanji.) Those of us who are invested in the tattoo culture understand it. We get that they last forever, we really really do. So you can trust that we've weighed the risks involved with making a permanent body modification and are prepared to make whatever trade-ins come our way.

4. We're not all impulsive. Every tattoo I've ever had, sans the first one, and every one I will ever get, I will live with for at least a year. Some of us put the image on display somewhere where we will see it every day to see if we'll grow tired of it. Some of us have time limits on how long we have to want something before we allow ourselves to get it. There are many methods to this, but tattoos aren't always rash reactions mixed with alcohol that you see in the media. In fact, I don't know many tattoo artists that will give one to someone who has been drinking.

5. Tattoos mean something different to our generation. We understand that in years past, they have meant something different over various cultures and generations and we respect that you might have a different idea about what they mean and why. But just like any other art, tattoos are subjective. Just because they may have a negative connotation to you doesn't mean they are negative to everyone.

6. We typically like to defy cultural stereotypes. Many of us have normal everyday jobs, traditional family structures, or even advanced degrees. Maybe our ink is lurking underneath our clothing where you might not ever suspect it, but we're not all bikers and bartenders and there's something about that juxtaposition that we enjoy!

I personally love the idea that I can be confrontational about stereotypes without being antagonistic. I don't like to embarrass people, but I do like to challenge their perceptions and maybe serve as a walking object lesson from time to time that you should never judge a book by it's cover.

I'm a "Christian" (Kind if struggle with that word, paints a picture that's not always true...), fairly conservative in many ways, I'm a professional, a wife, and I intend to be a mother eventually. And I like the idea that maybe I could get to know somebody someday without them knowing I have tattoos and remind them to be less judgemental of others without even having to say a word when they eventually learn that I do have them. Did that make sense?

7. We're collectors. Archivists and often romantics. Think of us like a living scrapbook. You put it in a book, we put it on our skin. We like to collage who we are, we find it relaxing, especially those of us bubbling over with inspiration all the time. Put it down in ink, and there it is. No need to be talking about it all the live long day, it's there and there's the proof that you really really love it. It's on you forever. Whatever it is on your body, you are past the point of no return with it, and for those of us that obsess over things, it's a strange kind of relief to know that you can prove it to people and move on and not have to always play the expert.

8. Many of us have a very eternally-focused perspective. Most people look at a tattoo and think, "What will it look like when you're old?" (To which I always reply, "Who cares, I'll be old and wrinkly and hopefully living the Golden Girls lifestyle by then? And I'll still be me!) But many of us are thinking, "I could die tomorrow", as macabre as that sounds.

Personally, my faith also informs that perspective. This body that I have now is not my real body, not to sound creepy. Someday, hopefully a long time from now, I'll pass away and be in a completely different form forever and ever. So as much as our body is our temple and our treasure, it's also our temporary transportation. I have spiritual tattoos as well, an alif and a tav, the first and last letter of the Hebrew alphabet in honor of the man himself, Jesus, and who he said he was.

Plus, I think they're pretty.

9. We identify with counter-cultures of many kinds. We often want to stand up for the little guy and even stand with him. We feel for people who are judged based on their appearances and we want to join. Not that they need our help, but it's sometimes our way of defying mainstream culture when we feel like we don't fit in or when we resent what mainstream culture stands for if we see injustices.

And again...pretty.

10. We like them. Honestly, it's as simple as that. Everything else on this list has been a kind of justification. Because I find that more often than not, I'm having to defend them to people who have the same handful of disagreements or hesitations. And that's part of the culture too, you have to be prepared for the fact that some people are going to judge you. But those same people would probably find something else to judge you for if it wasn't your tattoos.

I wonder, what is it about tattoos that makes people believe that they have license to be openly judgemental. Would they walk up to their neighbor Bertha and tell her that they don't like her hair or her dress or her husband? Where do they draw the line? Why are tattoos one of the most popular areas for people to insert their own opinions so publicly? I wonder, and I don't know the answer at all. I just know that it's like everything else, some people for religious reasons or cultural reasons think it's wrong or ugly or stupid. And they have every right to think that.

And I have every right to wear my tattoos.

Mega-Awesome Haunted Mansion Tattoo