The tattoo world is changing; new spaces are being carved out by the people who previously have not been given the representation they deserve in mainstream tattoo culture.
Similarly to how the LGBTQ+ community still face a myriad of challenges in a variety of industries and workplaces, traditional and commercial tattoo studios aren’t always the most welcoming places for people who are LGBTQ+. They can feel very heteronormative, very white, very male dominated. To get a tattoo is an extremely empowering but also vulnerable experience. It is important that the person getting tattooed feels secure, able to have a safe and collaborative dialogue with the tattooist about to ink them; to ensure this mark on their skin will forever be a positive memory and a symbol of their own autonomy. This experience should happen on the individual’s terms - which is exactly what the LGBTQ+ community are making happen.
To celebrate the strong and powerful presence of the LGBTQ+ tattoo community, TTTism reached out to artists and studios from around the world to hear in their words what the current shape of the tattoo world is for LGBTQ+ people, and how the community is remolding this world for themselves.
The first project featured is Queer Bod Mod Compass(@queerbodmodcompass), a global platform launched by tattooist and studio manager Guik (@misanthropie666), in response to the needs of the LGBTQIA community.
Just one of many projects making tattooing a safer place for the community, Queer Bod Mod Compass is a world map of LGBTQIA tattoo and body modification artists. It is an interactive solution to help artists connect with each other, allow clients in the community to find spaces where they can feel safe and cared for, and make visible this community in the wider tattoo sphere. The map is composed of studios and artists who have submitted their details. A huge administrative and logistical project run on a voluntary basis, it is to be used a tool rather than a watertight guarantee. However, Queer Bod Mod Compass ensure to respond to any complaints of problematic behavior if the situation were to occur.
Guik discussed the disparities between the visibility of queer artists around the world, and the ways this is dramatically evolving (particularly in parts of Europe and North America) – opening up possibilities for people in the community.
What is the current shape of the tattoo world for LGBTQ+ people?
It is quite difficult for me to give a proper answer to that, as we're speaking about a huge industry with a lot of systemic problems, but also improvements that are always different depending on the area we're talking about.
Through Queer Bod Mod Compass, we can see that some areas of the world don't really showcase any queer or queer friendly artists. This might be because the industry there is less developed, less open to our community, or the situation in certain areas might be difficult or even dangerous for queer people to be out and open. Even in countries that are more accepting of us, there are still some areas that remain less easy for us to be openly queer. Hiding is sometimes a matter of survival.
I have been working mostly with artists in Europe and North America on the project, and we can definitely notice that the tattoo "scene" allows us to be more open about our identities than was possible ten or 20 years ago. I am grateful to see the evolution around me though. Ten years ago, queer studios almost didn't exist and now we see them open quite frequently in big cities. This allows our community to develop new skills by being present in professional spaces. I think we also push the boundaries of contemporary tattooing because our practice has been excluded from studios for a long time. The queer community allowed itself to develop some ways of expression through tattooing far away from the codes of traditional tattooing, both humanly and graphically.
"...pushing not only the conventions of what tattooing is graphically, but also creating new norms around general behavior and sensitivity towards the people who walk in a studio."
Noelle Longhaul (@laughingloone) Beyon Wren Moor (@beyon.wren.moor)
Jose Vigers (@joesloveslife)
Philippe Fernandez (@philippefernandez)
What I wish for the future is to see more spaces open in remote areas or less welcoming parts of the world, but also to see the world of traditional tattooing and queer tattooing work more hand in hand. We need a strong sense of community and the creation of our spaces is vital, but I wish for it to not be a negation of what existed before us. I never rejected the traditional tattooing industry in itself, only certain ways and people. We are now making ourselves respected, legitimate, and building new techniques, which is very exciting in my opinion. There was a time for us to rise up and make space, and I think this process is now made easier in some areas of Europe and North America. I now hope we can start building something new and more accepting – pushing not only the conventions of what tattooing is graphically, but also creating new norms around general behavior and sensitivity towards the people who walk in a studio. To create standards for the whole industry and not only ourselves.
And not forget that not everyone has this privilege, so to keep pushing in order to make more space for queers in areas that are less accepting of us. Homosexuality or the fact of being transgender are still illegal in many countries, some of us still have to hide to survive, and we need to support them as much as we can.
Sven Eigengrau (@sven.eigengrau)
Tom Matthew Maldoror (@tom.mldr.tattoo)
How is the LGBTQ+ community remolding this world for themselves?
I can't express anything else than my opinion on this question, based on my thoughts and experiences – which aren’t relevant to the situation everywhere and for everyone.
Currently living and working in Berlin, I can say we have quite a strong queer tattooing scene here. People have opened queer spaces and moved their practice from being self-taught at home to the light of official studios. Some queer individuals are still not comfortable enough to walk into a studio, whether it's queer or not, but we are working a lot on reshaping what tattooing really is. In my opinion, it is more about human relationships than anything else.
In the end, being queer allowed us to think differently about how we want to create relationships with the people who come to us, how we can make space for them to be themselves and feel respected for who they are. The level of vulnerability that getting tattooed sometimes requires can be immense. It is not only our role but our duty, as good professionals, to make the people we work with feel good about who they are and completely accepted in their identities. They might have to get completely naked, showing a body they have a troubled relationship with. They might have to open up about their past traumas, abuse or bad life experiences. Being able to do that with someone who respects these experiences, and understands them to a certain level as they are part of the same community and living with similar oppressions, is very important in my opinion. It is necessary for some of us.
I want people to feel they can be vulnerable with me, and to feel empowered by it. Sometimes our craft is a lot more complex than "putting images on people" and that's what I signed up for, even though putting images on people is already pretty cool in itself! I am grateful that people come to me for the tattoos I make, but also for what I put out and try to promote in terms of human care and attention. We open up people's skins, but also spaces for them to exist fully and be respected as equals, no matter who they are or what their life experiences have been. I want them to feel like they leave their traumas behind, that we work together on healing them and making them feel more powerful. I want to help empower their identities. Seeing them walk away with their head up high is a lot more rewarding to me than a good tattoo.
My main concern with queer tattooing at the moment is that I am afraid we are creating two parallel universes that don't communicate so much, and I want these spaces to coexist and work together instead of bumping heads. I see people from the non-queer industry rejecting us for the way our work might look, and queers rejecting the more mainstream industry for the ways we've been treated. Maybe there is a way to pull everyone up instead of pushing the other down. In the end, what matters is whether the artist is a good person or not, no matter their gender or sexual identity. Being LGBTQ+ is one aspect of who we are, and how we decide to define and shape our practice is the most important. There is a lot more work to do in order to better ourselves and our industry, but it's very exciting to open doors to so many possibilities.
Caro Ley (@caroleytattoo)
Mattia Piagneri (@anti_tattoos)
You can find out more about the Queer Bod Mod Compass on their website (Queer Bod Mod Compass).