Tattoos are no longer the domain of heterosexual head kickers, freaks and regretful fools who wander into a parlour blind drunk on a Saturday night. Inking up your body is considered a legitimate form of self-expression, and the queer community has its finger on the creative pulse.

Lesbian tattoo artist Meagan Oliver says having a tattoo is no longer social suicide.

“There’s been a tattoo renaissance in the last 20 years,” she said.

“The average person in the street now appreciates tattooing as a form of self-expression, as an art form.”

She said “mainstream” society was getting with the program set by the gay and lesbian fraternity.

“Now it is acceptable for straight girls to be heavily tattooed, but probably 10 years ago it was more likely you’d see a tattooed lesbian,” she said.

“Now society is catching up with us. I don’t see being gay or having a tattoo as particularly outside society anymore.”

Celebrities have certainly joined the bandwagon – think David Beckham, Sarah O’Hare, Molly Meldrum and, most prominently, Ben Cousins.

The advent of television shows such as Foxtel’s Miami Ink and its spin-offs LA Ink and London Ink have humanised tattooing. These fly-on-the-wall shows are based in tattoo studios and focus on patrons and their reasons for getting a tattoo, their choice of design as well as the lives of the artists who mark them.

While there are some gay men and lesbians who steer toward the obvious choice – twin female and male symbols for instance – most choose unique designs, not a copycat version of clip art pasted on the walls of tattoo parlours.

“Often the queer customers are more creative and ask for something unique and individual – that’s a nice job to do,” Oliver said.

“I think in the queer community we’ve already had to overcome the boundary of having to be so-called ‘normal’ so we feel as though we can be individual and express ourselves creatively.”

Fashion designer and performer Sprinkle Magic, who has several tattoos including cherries on her breast plate and a naughty nurse and a 1950s-style woman on her thigh, said she had always been drawn to body art.

“I’m a visual person and I like pretty things,” she said. “I see it as if we are a walking canvas. If artwork is done well, it’s beautiful, and it makes your body more visually stimulating.”

She agrees that being queer doesn’t necessarily mean you cover yourself with politically-correct symbolism.

“Some people get tattoos that are very much focused on their queer identity, but I don’t because I am so much more than my sexuality: I’m a dyke but I’m so many other things. I don’t need to put the women’s symbol on my body. But other people do and they find it empowering.”

If you believe the images emanating from gay porn DVDs these days, tattooed men have made a clear path into the sexual fantasies of gay men. In that sense, tattoos play into the hands of voyeurs and art appreciators alike.

Lex Coleman, who has a straight-bladed samurai sword tattooed on his back from his nape to the base of his spine, says tattooing is also a form of mutual admiration.

“I do tend to be drawn to other gay men who have tattoos and I do feel a connection with them,” he said.

“People with tattoos are interested in other people with tattoos and I think there’s a tribal element to that.”

He said it’s also been pretty good for his social life. “I’ve never been one to be shy and not be the centre of attention, and I find this helps.”

Coleman said he chose his design because of his interest in Japanese culture, but also because, when he envisaged himself from the rear, this was how he wanted to be seen. He says tattooing is all about self-branding.

“It’s interesting to see how people brand themselves and market themselves, the same way it’s interesting to see how people dress,” he said.

Above all, tattooing has a personal flavour. Oliver said people choose designs for a variety of reasons, but mostly it’s a personal journey.

“It’s about marking significant events in your life, or significant people. Some people come in and get a little love tattoo with their partner. It becomes a personal diary,” Oliver said.

Despite the pain, Sprinkle Magic says it was all worth it.

“I don’t regret any of them, but some of them I wouldn’t get now,” she said. “I have travelled a lot and each one marks a different point in time. Till I get wrinkly and old I’ll still be proud of them.”

From bnews – www.bnews.net.au.

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