Tattoos, queerness and coming out: Changing all the time
By: Lucy Robin
On the day I got my fifth tattoo – a trail of stars on my shoulder, rippling like water – my housemate messaged: you are the embodiment of once you get a tattoo you can’t stop. i love it.
The artist worked for three and a half hours. We talked about the shams of academia and how travelling to Sydney saps your energy. They had a vape pen among all their needles and inks, swaddled in a paper towel.
I told myself that getting my first five tattoos in six months was not so many.
I started to think that I’d write about the ink on my skin, but I retreated from the idea when I realised that to tell that story, I would also need to tell the story of my being queer – a story which feels aerial and blotchy, one that cannot be rendered in text.
Image by: Annie Spratt
After the fifth tattoo was complete, I had a hunger that could not be slaked. I ate dark baked beans at an Eastern European cafe, with a hunk of Belgian chocolate cake. The adrenaline was gone, and I was shaky, feeble.
I went to wait for Sam at the pub across the road from her work and nearly fainted over my pint. I texted her urgently: I’m going to pass out in the middle of Young and fucking Jackson.
I dragged myself across Swanston Street and sat on the pavement. A man came and started up his motorbike next to me, and for a moment, as the engine sputtered noisily, I felt reinvigorated. Sam came out of work and kissed me on the head.
“Maybe you should stop with the tattoos for a while,” she said. Like a mother, like a saint.
Perhaps I am only writing about tattoos now so I can rationalise what might just be another cluster of bad decisions. In the same way, I might call an argument an expression of my intellectual severity and steadfast feminism, when I am still just fighting with my father at the dinner table on a Monday night, red wine staining my teeth.
I am trying to move through the nervousness I feel at having changed my appearance irrevocably. I write to come to grips with the things I cannot change, the things which have already happened to me – like my tattoos, like my queerness.
I had not wanted tattoos until I came out, which is to say, until I started telling people that I was dating a woman. I tossed it into conversations like a lit match: “I’m dating a girl who has a camper van. Sam, who I’m in love with, has a lot of tattoos.”
I get inked to remind myself that my body is temporary, that any mistake I make in it, with it, or to it, is okay.
My parents are seeing new parts of me unsheathe, seeing me as someone they didn’t know about: someone with permanent etchings on their skin, someone with short hair, someone gay.
Coming out is realising that you cannot stop yourself from wanting – that carrying around your shame in a damp, marsupial way won’t absolve you from it.
I stopped rutting against my nature. I saw a candle in the cave and moved to it. I retrieved my body like one might an old cricket ball that used to be the dog’s favourite, from under the brambles by the back fence: there it is, after all this time.
Mum was confused by the Bruce Springsteen lyrics above my left elbow, the oyster above my right: “Do you even like him? Have you ever eaten an oyster?”
Sam, who has many more tattoos than me, reassured me that mine will heal blotchy. All of my ink will spread out, shift around. They’re going to keep changing, changing all the time.
When I was 11, I found that the chatroom function on the website I used to play dress-up simulation games was being appropriated by tweens and teenagers for sexting. Users were exchanging messages about holes, rubbing, tingles – modulating the register of their lust by way of pastel colours and curly fonts.
I remember knowing immediately that what I felt in response to these words was wrong.
I vowed that I would never let these contraband desires be read on my body. I promised myself I would never let many things happen: never get my nose pierced; never get cancer; never have sex with a woman.
And yet, as soon as I came out – drunkenly, to my housemates, in an unceremonious fashion – all those ways I had tried to control my body and my desires seemed redundant.
Things stopped mattering. I started getting tattoos for the sake of it. Sometimes, I laughed at how they stung.
Nowadays, I spit my queerness onto the table like phlegm, daring somebody to flinch at it.
Lucy Robin is a writer and bookseller living on stolen Boon Wurrung land. She has been published in Voiceworks and Farrago Magazine, where she was also a nonfiction subeditor. Lucy writes about motorcycles, ghosts and post-punk rebellion. Currently, she is working on a novel about a city she has never been to.
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