In the dimly lit bathroom, as the walls crept closer and closer, I stared at the stark purple lines that took up my entire inner forearm.
“It’s not that big,” I whispered unconvincingly as I examined the stencil of my first tattoo. What was going to be a two-inch proclamation of my queerness became a screaming billboard.
This tattoo was one of the biggest steps in my queer journey. I was freshly gay; ready to proclaim to the world that I found women attractive in every way possible. Just as I spent years questioning my sexuality, I spent weeks labouring over the perfect design, placement, and style.
For my first tattoo, I decided on a snake wrapping around a stem of orchids, meant to represent renewal. I chose a snake because of how sensual and bold they are and I chose orchids because they are a powerful sapphic symbol. I commissioned my close friend to create some sketches and voila! My arm was covered in a silly little snake after a mere 30 minutes in the artist’s chair.
At the time, I was in a committed long-term relationship with a man. Bisexual people, like myself, often feel isolated from and invalidated by both of the communities they align with, and I was lucky to have a supportive partner whom I trusted. He was the first person I came out to, and to this day, is one of my greatest allies. With his support and my new sapphic tattoo, I was starting to dip my toe into feeling like I belonged in the queer community.
While my first tattoo represented my attraction to women, my second, a matching tattoo with my best friend, stood for chosen family — a pillar of the queer community.
My best friend, and chosen queer sister, pulled me out of a shell glued shut by the pressures of religion, compulsive heterosexuality, and insecurity. Her love and unashamed display of her queerness helped me become the queer woman I am today. We chose to get butterflies to capture our metamorphosis from friends to family.
For my third tattoo, I chose to make queer art a permanent part of my body. Throughout my tattoo journey, I’ve discovered who tattoos you is just as important as the art itself. There needs to be a level of trust with your artist given how vulnerable it feels to let someone mark your body forever. And so, I got a stick-and-poke vase holding two sprigs from a queer artist who was based in my college town. We talked through the entire session — covering everything from our love for our pets to the magic of being queer. This time, it was about the experience far more than the final tattoo.
For my fourth tattoo, I went to my girlfriend’s (yes, girlfriend!!!) favourite artist. Empowered by our publicly-facing queer love, I got my boldest piece yet — a kneeling stone woman with an ornate candelabra for her head.
The tattoo stood for a whole array of complex emotions — grief for who I used to be and excitement for who I now was. I felt confident, powerful, and more than anything, ready. The freedom and joy that comes with publicly loving a woman were almost inexplicable. She unlocked parts of me I never knew existed.
My body holds a story of a proclamation of the power of being queer — from renewal and strength wrapped up by my snake, a butterfly celebrating chosen family and friendship, floral sprigs gifted by someone who understands my identity, and a stone woman who boldly holds a light to sapphic love. I came into my own expression as a queer woman, and I get to show off who I am.
As a queer person, my personal style represents defiance, innovation, and perseverance. My latest endeavour: I moved across the country alone and got a stained glass window to commemorate it. My tattoos are an expression of how much I've changed, and continue to, after growing into my queerness and body. I’m not sure where my queer journey will lead me next, but I am honoured to carry every version of myself, etched into my skin as reminders of who I was and all I will become.