Queer Life and Culture

Queer Identity and Tattoos

By Dannie Levine

Queer identity and tattoos | PD: woman sits on a bed with two dogs. her left arm has a tattoo of a coffee plant.

Tattoos have always been part of one’s identity.

From its beginning, the history of tattoos has been inherently rooted in showcasing one’s identity to the world. For some, it’s showing cultural aspects of their life. For others, they are memorials and more. They’re also a huge part of queer identity with some awesome history that carries queer tattoo culture into present day.

Queer identity and tattoos.
Semicolon tattoo as part of Project Semicolon. Artist, Chris. Insight Studios

Queer Identity and Tattoos, The Nautical Star

Queer Identity and Tattoos - The Nautical Star and 1940s Lesbians

A great example of this is the nautical star tattoo. In the 1940s, lesbians would often get a nautical star on their inner wrist to show their preferences. During the day, this could be covered up with a watch. At night, take off your watch and subtly let other ladies know you’re interested and available. Keep in mind that this symbol is also used by sailors and punk rockers so it’s only worth so much. But placing it on your inner wrist makes the sign all the more queer.

Queer identity and tattoos.
Coffee plant. Artist, Jordan Lentz. Copperplate Tattoo

Creating Community with Queer Tattoo Artists

Artists like Sam Steward (known as Phil Sparrow) linked queer culture with tattoo art as early as the 1950s. While being officially out may not have been safe at the time, he created the connection simply by virtue of being queer and tattooing. Now queer tattoo artists aim to create safe spaces that span so much more than sexual identity and can make spaces comfortable and affirming for folx of all gender identities as well. Being able to transform your body in such a permanent way and take control of something that can cause so much distress can be a truly transformative experience. Queer tattoo artists make this happen in a safe space.

Queer identity and tattoos.
“And it’s hard to dance with the devil on your back.” -Florence and the Machine, Shake it out. Artist, Roman. Chi Town Tattoo

A Cultural Acceptance

Over the last 50 years or so, American mainstream society has become somewhat more open and accepting of tattoos. At the same time, the queer spectrum is being more accepted by mainstream culture as well, and that parallel cannot be ignored. As a community we use tattoos as a way to reclaim our bodies, our lives, and our identities.

Queer identity and tattoos.
“Home.” Evil from the Needle, Camden, London, UK

Dannie’s Queer Identity and Tattoos

My own tattoos are a huge part of my identity and I often go out of my way to showcase them at queer events, more so than anywhere else. Attending Flannel Friday at Mary’s Attic presented by LezBe Events, for instance, I specifically wore a sleeveless shirt to show off the three tattoos on my arms. It’s part of my identity and when I’m with folx who I’m comfortable enough to share that identity with, I want it proudly on display! My tattoos currently aren’t specifically queer symbols but they tie in to my queer identity because of their origins. From the branch of coffee leaves on my arm, to my nugget’s paw print on my elbow, I carry my tattoos with me as a part of my identity and a part of my community’s history.

Queer identity and tattoos.
Paw print. Artist, Jesus. Chi Town Tattoo

An Interview with Jordan Lentz

Stay tuned for an interview with a Chicago-based queer tattoo artist, coming to Fashionably Femme soon!

Queer identity and tattoos.
Deathly Hallows from Harry Potter. “I show not your face but your heart’s desire” Artist, Angel. Chi Town Tattoo

Do you have tattoos that showcase your identity? Do you know a great queer artist or LGBTQ+ friendly tattoo studio that we should feature? Let us know in the comments!

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