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JULY 8, 2011 12:17PM


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When I was 20, I got my first tattoo.  I had been wanting a tattoo for a long time, basically ever since my first body piercing aside from my ears at age six (my tongue).  I got several piercings and took them out each time, assuming after pictures were taken of me that these piercings did nothing for my visage.  They came out with barely any reminder of their existence at all.

I remember thinking about my tattoo for a long, long time.  I'm indecisive, partially due to all of the considerations involved in any decision, like what are the ramifications short- and long-term, what will I think of this decision ten years from now, how will I feel about myself after making the decision, etc.  I couldn't decide on any one image to remain on my body for any considerable length of time, and this was why:

My friend Jozie got a tattoo of her long-term girlfriend's name on her leg, only two weeks later to break up with her.  They tried getting back together, I think for the sake of the tattoo, only to end up wildly disappointed with the ink and themselves.  To this day, she wears a band-aid on her ankle, and I'm sure her new girlfriend isn't too happy about that permanent branding, unless her name happens to be Jennifer.

So with that fresh on my mind at such a tender age, I searched and thought about every book I'd read, every image I studied, everything I intended myself to be.  I came up with two items--an artist known as Julianna Swaney and her rendering of "Gathering Roots,"  depicting a bird in a plant bulb which is growing hands reaching downward towards the ground.  At this point in my life, I wasn't really at a spot to say I was putting down any roots, holding my own, or really reaching for anything, so I put aside her picture for then, and discovered the small item worth seeing every day.

In high school, I read Plato's Symposium, which is an older-than-dirt philosophical text that deals in the whys and hows of love.  Of course, as a teenager it makes no sense.  Philosophy is something I've just within the last year really developed an appreciation for, tattoo aside.  But Aristophanes' soliloquy stuck with me for years.  His speech accounts for why we're looking for another half, as well as why that other half could be same sex or opposite.  It is satire, of course, but taken in context it's genius.  If you'd like to read it, you can visithere.

When I was 19, I watched Hedwig and the Angry Inch for the very first time.  The movie portrays the story of a woman whose failed genital surgery for sexual reassignment left her with a "one inch mound of flesh where her penis used to be, where her vagina never was."  Hedwig is also controversial, as a child of communist Berlin always desiring to be a part of American culture, as a gender rebel, as a punk rocker, and as love addict.  I experienced towards the beginning of the movie the rock-opera version of Aristophanes' speech in the song, "The Origin of Love" and my heart sank.  I was at the time so much like Hedwig--in between so many things in my life and nowhere felt like home.  I was separated from my other half, and I was sure I'd never find completeness.

And that's where my excursion at 9PM on a Friday night downtown to a tattoo parlor comes in.  I took a piece of the animation from Hedwig and the Angry Inch (a circle with two eyes, separated down the middle) and gave it to the tattooist, hoping that I'd learn to live with this forever.  He asked me about color, so I gave my tattoo a blue eye (as the women I've dated have always had blue eyes... call it a weakness).  I sat forward a little and let the buzzing effect from the needle lull me into a state of hypnosis while the needle danced along my skin, permanently marking me forever with the sign that I would never be whole.

A few years later (after a rough breakup and a lot of therapy), I decided to watch old movies.  Hedwig came "out of the box" again, and this time I felt so completely different about the outcome of the movie.  I felt different about Aristophanes.  Suddenly, it wasn't about the gods scattering us away forever so we never find our other half.  It wasn't even that Hedwig had found her other half and that she lost him due to ignorance.  It was an internal sense of wholeness, of completeness, that I never understood before, that was metaphorical this whole time.

Gosh, and here I've got this blue-eyed marking on my back that shows the world my insecurity, my sense of esteem at its lowest.  A permanent marker of my lack of sense of self.

People have asked me if I'll remove it, since it's so emotionally charged and part of a past I can barely stand to talk about.  I can say with fervor that I'll never remove it.  I am happy to know that in the past I was so cut off from myself.  Looking back at the lack of self-determination and esteem I had and where I am now makes me feel pretty darn good.  My tattoo plays the role not only of displaying to the world that I'm not afraid of pain, I love animation, I'm into philosophy, and I love blue eyes, but proves to myself that I'm evolving as a person and that we're not just the product of one interpretation, but of many that come to us as we shift thinking and learn how to critically adapt.  My tattoo is a permanent display of culmination of youth:  my lack of critical thinking, my fear of being incomplete forever, my sense of worthlesness.  But also my tattoo is a reminder to me that I've come far from that space in time and have enjoyed becoming a whole person in spite of my lack of belief in myself.

I think now would be a good time for another tattoo.  Those suckers are addictive and it's been too long since going under the needle.  But what should I get this time?  I'm thinking it's time for me to put down some roots.

Gathering Roots 

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"This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs: when he first appears he is a protector."

Tattoos should never be regretted, or effaced. I think they're lovely.
All too often people get tattoos on a whim or for a lover, so it's so nice to know you thought about yours for so long. It may not be you today but it was you then and that's what matters. It's almost like keeping a journal and then returning to that journal a year or two later. You may have forgotten you felt that way about this or that and may not think it reflects you now, but it was true then and therefore, honest.
I love tattoos of all sorts, cute ones and dramatic ones but best of all when they're well thought out and well executed. I'm always mentally drafting out future tattoos.