The Powerbear Press

A peek into a perhaps non-typical California mind


Tattoo and Tatdon’t

I read a few months ago that gay men are more than twice as likely as the general public to sport tattoos. The article said that one in three gay men have them; I would venture to guess that the percent is higher among the bear subculture. Whether it’s due to the bear maxim that rejects external standards of sexiness, emulation of bear icons with tattoos, or a rite of passage, a fair number of bears have tattoos.

Of course I’m a big tattoo fan as evidenced by the ink on my back. I guess because of that ink, people regularly ask me questions about tattoos, especially when they’re considering their first one. So of course I thought I should write down some of my suggestions, comments, etc.

  1. Pick the first one carefully. This was the advice I got from a friend in DC many years ago. He said the first one is the most important because “you will either have only one in which case it needs to be special, or you will get several and you’ll want them to look like they belong together”. So think about the first one – can you add additional tattoos that will thematically or stylistically work with it? That is, unless you want to have a mish-mash (which is fine, but that too should be planned).
  2. After the second tattoo, put together a plan. If you have two tattoos, you are likely to get more. This is a good time to take a step back and plan where you will put them. This doesn’t mean you need to design a whole body suit (although if that’s your goal then the earlier you design it the better), but it does mean that you should have a general idea what you’re going to do. Are you going to confine the tattoos to one part of your body? Are you going to have a certain amount of “blank” skin between each one? Are you going to do all black ink? I started with a general idea that a certain part of my back would be air, another would be land, and another would be water; then as I added pieces I knew roughly where each should go. This made linking them all together later much easier, even though we changed the zones a bit and created a “fire” zone in the final result. I also decided early on that I wanted a very dense colorful look, so the pieces were chosen with that in mind.
  3. Be careful with words. It’s a cliche to hear about people who have a tattoo with someone’s name and then having a falling out with that person, but I caution against any words at all. You don’t know what a particular word means in another language or whether today’s slang is tomorrow’s obscenity (or vice versa). There’s a classic story (maybe urban legend) in tattoo circles about a guy who wanted a tattoo that indicated he was a “Crazy Boy”, but he and the artist had language difficulties and he ended up with “Boy Crazy”. Having said all this, there are some exceptions where words can work: I know a writer with the dictionary definition of “writer” on his arm, a Star Trek fan with a message in Klingon, and I have some ASCII code on my arms.
  4. Be careful with logos. You may want to express your loyalty to a sports team and have their logo on your body, but what do you do when they change their logo as the Denver Broncos did in the 1990s? Companies get bought, sports teams move, rock bands break up, radio stations change their call letters, but the tattoo will still be with you. If you don’t mind having a logo on your body of an entity that no longer exists or no longer represents what it used to (think Harley Davidson during the AMF years), then go ahead and do it. I take a different view – I can’t see being a billboard for someone else’s product or company.
  5. Think about what you will see every day. Words and images are powerful. If you see “Born Loser” on your skin every morning when look in the mirror, eventually you will believe it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have that skull with the snake winding through it, but think about what message it is sending you – when you look at it, do you see the skull and think of death or do you see the snake and think of outlasting your enemies? Either interpretation is possible; just be aware that you will be sending yourself that message every day.
  6. Think about who else will see it. Yes, a tattoo should please you and no one else. Yes, one of the purposes of the a tattoo can be to stand out in a crowd. But the fact is when people see a tattoo they will make judgments and/or assumptions based on what they see. The more often the tattoo is visible, the more important it is to think about this. If you have a tattoo of a gun on each hand, you shouldn’t be surprised if you get turned down for a job in a day care center. If the tattoo of the gun is on your chest and you don’t take off your shirt in public, it’s less of an issue.
  7. Go bigger rather than smaller. I rarely hear anyone say “I wish the tattoo was smaller”, but I often hear “I wish the tattoo was bigger”. I’m not saying it has to be huge, I’m just saying that if you’re trying to decide how big it will be, err on the side of slightly larger rather than slightly smaller.
  8. Spend the money to get it right. Unlike any other item you will ever purchase, a tattoo will be with you the rest of your life. (Yes it is possible to remove some tattoos, but the process is not yet perfect). You will change computers, cars, houses, etc. in the course of your life, but the tattoo will be with you, so spending an extra twenty or fifty dollars to get it the way you want it is a small investment. You don’t want to look at it in twenty years and think how much better it could have been if you spent that extra money. Likewise, if you can’t afford the tattoo you want now and you don’t want to break it into pieces that you can afford, then wait until you can.

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