When trans activist Courtney Demone first got her tattoo (a large Mayan symbol on her chest), she not only loved taking questions about its meaning, she basked in the fact that it made her seem more "cultured" than her cohorts. And though, over time, she recognized the appropriative nature of the design, it wasn't until she posted a topless image of herself online that she was forced to truly check her privilege.
In her personal essay on Mashable titled, "What Do You Do With A Culturally Appropriative Tattoo?" Demone discusses the backlash she faced after her photo (which was part of her, "Do I have boobs now?" project) went viral. That's when people from indigenous cultures started calling her (and her tattoo) out in the comments. "Colonization nearly erased our people, we don't need to be nice about our reactions to people who are so far removed from it that they can comfortably flaunt it as fashion," one commenter wrote. Another expressed concern over the fact that Demone, a self-identified trans woman, could be so "anti-native" when she herself is "supposedly marginalized."
"My intention for the project was to challenge systems of oppression and our complicity in them," Demone wrote in her piece. "In the process, I exposed my own unchallenged complicity in oppression and colonialism. By widely sharing these photos, I was engaging in and normalizing cultural appropriation."
Cultural appropriation has been a significant issue in the fashion and beauty world for some time now. And while the internet is quick to call out blogs, designers, celebrities, etc, on their faults, very rarely do the individuals performing these hurtful acts own up to their wrongdoing. Which is why what Demone did next was such a refreshing turn of events.
Not only is she in the process of having her tattoo covered, she also went out of her way to learn about the history of indigenous people and the trials they faced. She took steps to address her appropriation and learned some significant lessons in the process. "Regardless of our intentions, our actions can hurt people. Explaining our intentions or our ignorance does not change that hurting, and it does not absolve us of responsibility for those people’s pain," she writes. "When people tell us our actions have hurt them, we should not discredit their pain or explain it away; we should instead examine our intentions, work to relieve our ignorance and complicity, and engage in a conversation with those people about how to move forward constructively."
Head over to Mashable to read Demone's story in its entirety. Then tell us: Do you have a tattoo that you regret? Let us know in the comments below.