Wednesday, 2 March 2016

My "Open Wound"

Picture: David Ritchie
I have repeatedly heard that tattoo means “open wound” in Samoan.
I am not sure if that is true or not, because I haven’t found a source reliable enough for me to trust it, but I would love to think it is true.

Regardless, there is still something very poetic and appropriate about it for me.
I had always wanted to get a tattoo, but the whole permanent aspect was a major speed bump that put me somewhat off it.
As I got older, I figured things out and learned more about myself. Over time I changed, as we all do.
Coming out was a pretty big deal for me, it permanently changed my relationship with my mother and my family. It changed how my friends saw me. It changed how I saw myself. How could it not?
That sweet wallflower, that gentle-hearted, ever-the-do-gooder boy I was died that day, and it wasn’t something I realised until writing this.
Coming out broke that boy.
To realise that the fact that I was gay (which was the one thing I was told never to be my entire life) broke the image I had of myself. I loved being the sweet and good boy, the one who made my mother proud and my family proud.
In some ways I still am that boy but it is not the same.
Seeing my mother's look of disgust, hearing her bang her head against her cupboard door, and hearing her wail “Why me?” as if I had just punished her in the worse way imaginable, had forever changed me.
A piece of me died that day, but in return I gained a stronger piece of me.
The piece of me who can stand up for himself when he wants to, a piece of me who does his own thing regardless of what others want, and who is still a kind person (or tries to be).
I gained a piece of me who recognises that I can’t be anything else but myself, even though it can be alienating. I am idiosyncratically me, and I am a better human being for it.
A year or so after coming out, I started falling in love with having a way to commemorate the day that I came out. I had forgotten the specific date that I had come out on, because there were more important things that had happened that day than for me to remember the date.
Anyway, thanks to a Facebook post, I found the date and the fateful post that came the day after I had done the bravest thing of my life.
Some time had pass and in the back of my mind, it was impossible for me to escape the idea of celebrating this act of bravery. To me, it was the scariest and bravest thing that I had ever done in my life, and I felt that I wanted to cherish that.
Fast forwarding a bit, a few ideas would pop up and then pass, and a new one would come along and then go but they all had my coming out involved in some shape or form.
I finally settled on an idea which excited me: why don’t I record myself saying the date I came out and then use the sound waves of that recording as a tattoo?

I thought about this idea actively for over a year and it was the one that stuck. Also it was the one that felt the most “me”.
The idea of a standard (though little generic) LGBT tattoo was cool but it felt too broad, especially for a community that I don’t entirely feel settled into. The sound waves idea appealed to me because of my love for music.
I don’t know where music became so vital to me, but it did.
When I was in primary school and part of the xylophone group performing at school events, when I did choir for a bit, when my mother and stepdad were arguing I would be in my room listening to music, when I was feeling sad, music would be there - when I was becoming depressed because the stress of keeping the gay secret had started killing out every drop of happiness – music was there.
It is why I run my music blog posts because a life without music is not a life at all, it is just an existence.
So...I had settled on it. I had figured out what I wanted and that was most of the war won.

Everyone knows how neurotic I can be and overanalyse everything, so for me to permanently mark my body in such a way, I had to get to a point where getting the tattoo felt so natural. I kept visualising what it would look like on my arm and the more I did that, the more I settled into the idea of getting one.
Picture: David Ritchie
Why the right arm? No reason other than the fact that it needed to be somewhere I could see it. 

Whenever I feel like shit or like I am not strong enough, the tattoo while be that reminded that I did the thing that scared me most. I did one of the bravest things I have ever done, and if I could do so, then I can certainly handle anything else that comes my way?
The only thing left to do was execute it.
Last week was a bit mad because I hadn’t thought out the details of getting a tattoo. I hadn’t even scouted out tattoo parlours and taken my time to settle on one. It was all fast-paced.
In all honesty, it needed to be. I would have procrastinated and maybe not gone through with it if it had been all delayed.
Wednesday - I made sure to record myself saying the date and then get that into a program which created the sound wave.
Thursday – I was off and also found out that I can’t just walk in and do a tattoo on the same day, so I would need to book an appointment. I had already been planning to see them the day before, but this only confirmed it.
Friday – I went into the place only with my design, and the rent money I usually pay my mother, and went to speak to the people at Metal Machine.

(Side-bar: I had initially planned to go to Wildfire but my friend suggested that I try Metal Machine because Wildfire is overpriced. Honestly, I did not put enough effort into finding a bargain because all that mattered to me was the tattoo.)
The very friendly tattoo covered lady at the parlour took my design, went up to one of the tattoo artists and asked him about it.
After some back and forth, he said that he can do it but the design needed to be 25% bigger.
So they made it bigger (who doesn’t like bigger? :P ) and then asked me if It was alright.
It was.
I then committed to it:
Female Trainee Tattoo Artist : “When would you like to make the appointment?”
Me: “Tomorrow if possible.”
Her: “I don’t think that will be possible as Andro has another client.”
Receptionist: “Patrick actually changed his appointment to Monday, so Andro is free tomorrow.”
Lady: “Then you can do tomorrow. We do require a 50% deposit though...”
Me: “Cool...Uhm, Can I swipe?”
Lady: “We only accept cash.”
Me: “Okay then –uses money from the rent money I pay-“
Lady: “Well then, we will see you tomorrow. –hands me a card with appointment details-”
Me: “Okay, cool.”

Picture: David Ritchie

I pretty much then freaked out that I was actually committing to getting a tattoo for the rest of the day.
Saturday- I was nervous, excited and scared, but I knew that it was something I wanted.
I had to do a few errands before, but soon enough 12 o'clock came and along with David Ritchie, a work colleague who came for moral support. I was at the tattoo parlour ready to get my tattoo on.
Filled in the indemnity form thing and then once that was all sorted, I met my tattoo artist.
He seemed super intimidating at first, but that was only because he was questioning me about the tattoo, and also he had a serious demeanour about it.

After sorting out the finer details about the tattoo, we were ready to roll.
He had talked me through everything before, seeing as it was my first time (pun unintended) but he calmed me and just was a really cool guy about it.
Picture: David Ritchie
So they took the design, made a sticker thing out of it and then used that to put on my skin...which is what they do because then they trace the tattoo on your skin and still have another reference to look at the same time.
I officially have a whole new respect for tattoo artists because they make you feel at ease, explain everything and still try to be friendly and sociable even though they have a job to do. Maybe I was very lucky that I got Andro, but he was a legend.
The whole experience was perfect, it hurt but was perfect.
Picture: David Ritchie
For me my tattoo is an open wound for me.
It is a physical representation of an internalised scar that will forever be with me.
Sometimes we forget that we can leave scars on each of mentally, emotionally and psychologically. My tattoo is a scar that I want to wear on me because it is a battle scar. A battle scar I want everyone to see because I am not ashamed of what it means.
It is my symbol of bravery and strength from a battle that I made it out of.

I survived, especially in a world where many LGBT kids kill themselves because they don’t have anything to fight for. If things hadn’t turned out the way it hard, I might not be here today.

It is a sobering thought, isn’t it?
Theo. Over and Out.

Pictures: David Ritchie

PS: The thing that I find really funny was how in all of this, I overlooked the part that someone was going to be puncturing my skin repeatedly with a needle. It hurts people. Getting a tattoo hurts, it did hurt less than I thought it would but it hurts. Those first few manoeuvres were painful but you adjust and try not to focus on it, which is why Andro was so legend.

PPS: Also me and my mom are on good terms now. She doesn't accept the fact that I am gay but she still loves me and respects me which is really all I can ask from her.

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