It was long in the coming, actually. It all began when I was 25, standing on the tar-black roof of my apartment building in Browne’s Addition, where we would often go to breathe in a spectacular view of a Spokane night. It was an evening in July, I bet, since we could get a fantastic view of the fireworks shows (either on the Fourth, or for the annual Royal Fireworks Concert), and I had brought my friend M up to hang out with a couple coolers (I still had bad taste in alcoholic beverages, merci).
There, in the cool of the night after what was probably a blisteringly hot summer’s day, she showed me a bright green and turquoise Aztec pattern on her hip. It was quite lovely—not too much black, just the right size, a splash of color.
I mused long over it.
But nothing came of my musing—primarily because I’ve always been a bit on the poor side and a bit more on the cowardly side. Or so I thought. I believe now nothing happened because I had no reason to make anything happen.
Fifteen years passed, and then one day I came out, giving me ample reason to act upon my years-long musings.
As Bill inked my back, the pain was searing. Good Lord, I thought, how in heaven’s name can anyone stand more than one of these? I wanted more color than black (not exactly what I got, alas—but I didn’t make my design clear enough, and there’s meaning in this, too, I bet). I wanted it in pastels. My dear friend R looked at it a couple days later and asked what it meant. She seems to be the only one who knows me well enough to know it wasn’t just a whim, but was rather long-considered and carefully chosen.
I have a triangular Celtic knot in aquamarine and pink on the small of my back, now for the rest of my life. Not only is the tattoo important to me, but the searing experience of getting it means much. The image is a permanent reminder to me that I have come out, and there’s no going back (no pun intended—okay, not intended, but certainly apropos and appreciated).
Like M, I wanted a design that would withstand time and changing fashion. I wanted something enigmatic to those whom I didn’t wish to waste energy explaining anything to but something indicative to the astute that it signifies something beyond itself and some pretty design. The shape, for anyone who reads this blog, should have obvious significance. The colors (black, pink, aquamarine, white) and the knot are also meaningful to me (though I’ll leave their symbolism open for you to anguish over during those long, sleepless nights).
What I wasn’t expecting was the intensity of pain involved in receiving the tattoo. But now, this pain means much to me, too. Bill was patient, giving me breathers between bursts of drawing, making certain I wouldn’t pass out. The black outline, as he drew it, felt as if somebody was cutting deep gashes into my back with a hot razorblade.
I think back on my church-instigated break up some twenty years ago, and I recall writing in my journal that it felt as if I was ripped apart into pieces, gashed with daggers. The ache was powerful, deep, and lasting. And when I finally healed sufficiently to move into forward living (instead of backward living—a life of “if onlys” and regret), a different church felt it proper to rip those healing scars apart yet again, and I felt such pain under their accusations that I hadn’t felt since the earlier church had torn me and K apart and forced me to move back to my parents’ home, two states away. And even a decade after this, a friend I considered close sliced away at me by means of her recoiling horror and disdain and her public excoriation. In fact, many countless times, I have felt a hot jab whenever some damning comment about gays has been thrown knifelike at me from the pulpit or from people in leadership positions I respected. I have suffered much pain over these 20 years, first that which forced me initially into the closet, and then that which swatted at me with barbed wire and daggers every time I ventured to peek out.
I know more than some (less, far less than others, I realize) the pain I risk in becoming (and being) openly gay. And as Bill’s art carved into my back, the searing heat that caused me to half pass out (he said I was white as a sheet) reminded me of this. And it reminded me of how I have overcome much pain already, and survived—indeed, eventually flourished because of the lessons learned and character developed. Thus, not only the pattern but the experience is meaningful to me. I cannot—unless I wish to experience greater pain than I already have—remove the pattern. So it is with my choice to come out. And though it yet itches some, I’m growing comfortable with the notion of visibly being who I have been all along, of wearing its indelible mark.