Self-Acceptance & Butt Cover-Ups: 8 Queer Women’s Tattoo Stories


On a warm afternoon this past fall, I finally did something that I have wanted to do ever since I was an angst riddled 16-year-old with a love of side bangs and Paramore: I got my first tattoo. I’ve always admired others who adorn their bodies with art, but I was too nervous about permanence to ever get inked until a recent life change removed my doubt. While it’s far more commonplace than it used to be, getting tattooed can still feel like an act of rebellion, much like owning your sexuality, gender, and self-worth. It’s the purest form you doing you.

The tattoo I eventually chose – which I dub “Escape to the Night” – was symbolic of me taking control of my life in a very physical way. For the first time, having earned the money to pay for it, I was living on my own! I realized the design itself mattered less than the meaning behind it, and the whole process was super fun and bizarrely emotional. I’ve been endlessly curious about others’ tattoos, so I decided to talk to several smart, artistic, and wonderful inked-up queers in my life about what inspired their body art.


Jess


“I’m terrified of needles. I have a habit of head-butting the fears that my counsellor says I ought to be proud of, but it’s safe to say that going from crying at every blood test to “I’M GETTING A HUGE BUNCH OF SUNFLOWERS TATTOOED ON MY THIGH” was a bit of a leap!

“When I planned my tattoo, I was thinking a lot about what it might mean to live with depression. Something that gave me hope was a kind of internal voice that pointed to the things that made me better; even if couldn’t always hear it, it was always there. I had a dream of living in a safe home with a vase of sunflowers on the coffee table. It was so vivid and so insistent that I did a lot of hard and scary things — including running away from an abusive situation — to make that dream come true. And it did! I was happy for five whole minutes! But then the sun went down, and I got hungry, and that girl I liked didn’t text me back, so I knew I needed those sunflowers tattooed on me somewhere.

“Being well is hard and sometimes boring work, and life would be so much easier if I could just remember to trust the light inside of me. When my tattoo was done, I knew that even though it was scary and it hurt, the sunflowers were totally worth it.”


Fran


“My first tattoo was shit. When I was 16, I had a girlfriend called Katie. We each got kicked out of our parents’ houses around the same time, so I moved in with my dad and Katie pretty much moved in with me. A few months later we were in this town in England, and we discovered that you could get tattoos there without ID — you just had to sign a form saying you were 18, weren’t pregnant, and weren’t scared of blood. I had no idea what to get, so I picked something off the wall in a panic and we both got inked at the same time. It’s a daisy chain on my foot. Terrible.”


Hannah


“I got the robin on my arm because I like robins. Honestly, there isn’t a whole lot more to it than that. I love that they’re curious and friendly (not to mention adorable). Where I live in London is not quite far in enough into the center to be convenient and fun, and not quite far out enough to enjoy its nature — but I could always easily see robins where I grew up, which I found comforting. I never wanted to get a tattoo with a deep or mysterious meaning because I was worried that my feelings would change over time. The robin, however, is something I will always love.”


Jancy


“The gross condom man… I was at a tattoo solidarity party and my friend Sierra had a bunch of weird leaflets she’d designed about how to make your own DIY vegan dildos and I was like “that would make a good tattoo.” A few hours later I was on her table. Now I have a tattoo of a withered old man being stuffed into a condom and I couldn’t love it more. Everyone asks me if it’s Lord Voldemort.”


Fabi


“I like to think of my first tattoo as a coming of age symbol marking the birth of a new me. I got it when I was 24, after going through a dark phase of my life: I had ended a four-year relationship with a man and had been battling depression for over a year. The state I was in, I was forced to search for help to understand what was happening with me and why I had been so unhappy for so long. Through therapy I was finally able to admit some truths to myself, including that perhaps I wasn’t entirely straight, but that realization didn’t make my life any easier. What was I supposed to do now? Being gay was not something that my family supported, and having a queer daughter was definitely not what my parents had envisioned for me.

“Soon, I started going to queer events and met some new people. Hanging out with others who shared similar experiences gave me the courage I needed to open up. I decided that I had been living a life that was not mine for too long, and it was time for the real me to come out of the shadow. I came out to my parents, and their reaction was not what I expected; they were worried about me more than anything, because being a black queer woman in South America is not a walk in the park, but they said they would always be there for me no matter what.

“The months that followed served as a rehabilitation of the soul. I started to accept and love myself more, and in that process I shed layers of self-doubt, hatred, and feelings of not being good enough; I saw the real me coming through in the way I interacted with people. I was finally happy to be living in my own skin. The day I went to get my Phoenix tattooed, my mom sat by my side. It was only appropriate that she was there on the day that marked my rebirth.”


Karly


“This tattoo was done by my ex-boyfriend who ghosted me after two years of dating; he’s given me really bad tattoos in the past, but now he’s really, really good. I used to have ‘Nur Für Dich’ written on my butt, which means ‘Only for you’ in German, but then I moved to Germany and decided to get a cover-up. I wanted something big and good and cool – all my other tattoos are enormous, flowers and nature and things I’m always going to like, so this continues the trend. Oh, and he gave it to me for free.”


Laura

Photo of Laura by Abbey Sacks

“On my ankle I have a little stick-and-poke ‘me’ written in a heart; it’s to remind me to look out for and continually love myself, and to not allow myself to be walked over because of the kindness I so often extend. I got it when I was traveling alone to the U.S. for the first time. I had just turned 25 and had been staying in New York for a couple of months. It was during an unsure period for me creatively, but I met some of the most gorgeous people who really made me assess my interests, and aided in me finally pursuing photography and modeling work.

“I’ve had two exhibitions this year showcasing my work, which I don’t think would have happened if my friends hadn’t shown me how to respect my own creative power through taking up space in the modeling industry as a fat femme, and through creating photographs that celebrate queer joy, which is so often overlaid with trauma and devastation. The tattoo itself was done by a lover and friend who really looked out for me while I was traveling. I still look at it and remember how giddy they made me feel.”

Click here to check out Laura’s photography!

What’s your tattoo story? Let me know in the comments!

Update: Since the initial publishing of this post, the meaning of “Nur Für Dich” has been corrected.

I am freelance writer livin' and workin' outta Berlin. I am very into pop culture, trashy TV and queer women, and I am always thrilled when those three things come together. You can find me on Twitter @emrbrowne!

Emily has written 2 articles for us.

25 Comments

  1. I love this!!! And I second the question of whether it’d be possible to make this into a series. I love tattoos! I love talking about tattoos! I love hearing about other people’s tattoos! Also, Karly, your butt cover-up is absolutely beautiful! (And a good thing too because “nur für dich” doesn’t mean “not for you”, it means “just for you”! So not really what you were going for possibly.)

    All of these different stories and reasons to get tattoos are just lovely, including the Terrible Daisy Chain. Love it. I may come back to this thread later to do my own tattoo sharing story, but for now I just wanted to express the love!

  2. I have too many tattoos to count now, but my very first tattoo is of several bird silhouettes on my collar bone area. I literally printed out a picture from Flickr to show the tattoo artist. I loved the simplicity of it and in my 21-year-old mind it was incredibly classy. I got the courage to do it my senior year of college after breaking up with my boyfriend of 3 years because he didn’t have the guts to do it himself and our school was too small for him to ghost me. It’s not a particularly radical tattoo but it was one of my first acts of irreversible rebellion and proof to myself that I should trust my own courage. When people asked about it I usually just said I was really into Hitchcock films.

  3. I have so many tattoos that I want but $ and also I’m afraid to get them bc theyre tattoos of art & if the tattoo isn’t REALLY CLOSE to the original I’ll be mad

    Like whenever I see a little tattoo of a famous cartoon character but it’s just Slightly… Off

    Kills Me

  4. I carried on my tradition of literally never being asked for ID ever and got my first tattoo on my 17th birthday. I got it for depression reasons, and really want to add to it (though boo so much money…). It’s one of those tattoos that even if I really don’t like the tattoo in the future, I know I’ll never regret it.

  5. I’m about to (like in the next 10 minutes) make an appointment for my next (4th) tattoo. I’m nervous because I work a day job now where I’m basically the only person with tattoos, but no one’s ever said anything about it, so I guess it’s a you-do-you thing. I don’t know why I’m so nervous about getting this one, but the artist is visiting for only a week, so if I don’t book with her, I’ll probably never get her to tattoo me. Eeeee!

    • I’m sure it will be wonderful. Literally until today I was super nervous of what my dad would say about mine, so I totally get that feeling of anxiety. Thankfully it was all fine in the end — I can’t hide it forever! But like both you and I said, it’s you doing you! That doesn’t take the nerves and anxiety away, but I love that it was a decision I made that no one can ever take away from me. Would love to see what you get done, shoot me a DM on Twitter :)

  6. So uh I don’t have any tattoos, but I do have a tattoo story.

    It goes like this newly 13 year old me is to sum it up angry at the world and really strangely into Christian symbols. I think it had to do with all the bleeding and tortured deaths; drew many a bleeding crown of thorns, once on my newly menstrual thighs. So I tried to tattoo a black upside down cross using a needle intended for denim and a busted bic pen on the inside of my ankle.
    Hurt a lot and did not stick because it was the wrong kind of ink thankfully.

    Reasons I’m thankful include the fact I felt like shit about myself and not just wrathful back then. I’m culturally Catholic, at that age was well read on the deaths of the saints and knew that Saint Peter was crucified upside down because he felt unworthy of dying like Jesus.
    I’ve seen it phrased like it was a humble act that one would die that way rather than have their death risk rivaling that of Christ’s death, but I will always think of it in terms of feeling unworthy and how 13 year old me felt so angry and unworthy of good things.

    So I feel very much Hannah’s thoughts in regards to getting a tattoo that’s something aesthetically pleasing you know you love is pretty darn valid despite being a meanings freak that might get a runic tattoo someday that I doubt I’ll ever meet anyone who’ll know what it means unless they’re Icelandic or hardcore SCA Viking.

  7. My first tattoo rests on my back left shoulder…it’s a jar of jam. It’s inspired by a song but I figure if even if I grow out of the band I’ll never grow out of jam. I’ll always love jam. And I’ll always be that weird chick with the jam jar on her shoulder.

  8. My first tattoo was a stick and poke that I did myself on my hip one night. It hurt like hell but the little star under my pelvic bone was near perfect. I had to redo it a month later with the proper ink; I’d used water-soluble ink the first time and it had started to fade. Something about doing it myself, pushing through the pain, makes this tattoo really important to me. One of my favourite quotations is “ad astra per aspera”: to the stars through hardship. Giving myself that stick and poke helped show me what stars I can reach if I stick to it.

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