The Intimacy of a Tattoo

I had spoken for more years than I care to remember about getting a tattoo. From the very moment I first mentioned it, I knew exactly what I wanted: a depiction of a Trinacria (the symbol of Sicily). I knew where I wanted it too: on the back of my shoulder. I knew everything, from what I wanted it to look like, to where I was going to have it, how I would need to care for it, how long it would take to heal; honestly, I put more thought and effort into my first tattoo than I have done with anything in my life, and that includes emigrating!

So when it came to actually biting the bullet and having my longed for design inked permanently onto my skin, I thought I was ready and prepared for anything. And indeed I was. Except for how intimate it would feel.

By intimate, I don’t mean that I got off on the pain, or anything like that. Not that I’m knocking it. If having needles thrust into you thousands of times happens to turns your key, then who am I to argue? No, by intimate I mean, up close and personal, comfortable, familiar physical contact. I don’t want to risk you getting any creepy or sleazy images, as that is far, far removed from what I experienced and what I am trying to convey. So, for all our sake’s, I shall attempt to paint a visual picture of the scene.

This was my experience during my Medusa tattoo. After putting the stencil design on my shoulder and asking me to approve it, my tattoo artist, Alex, got to work inking in the actual artwork. The entire piece, from start to finish, took five hours, minus a fifteen minute break for a quick bite to eat. Throughout that time, I was sitting on a padded stool and Alex was seated in a chair behind me. (Had I been having a tattoo on my front or on my arm etc, I would have been seated or laying on the plastic covered tattoo bed that took up a large part of the room) The room in which we were in was, I guess, around 12 feet square and although it was warm, it was not hot. During the tattoo process, Alex’s hand was almost always on me, either on my arm or just above my shoulder. Even though he wore thick black rubber gloves, the heat of his hand permeated through onto my skin. It felt deep and warm and comforting, and is the longest any man (other than my husband of course) has ever touched me without expecting such contact to lead to anything more.

His legs were touching me too. As he scooted his chair up behind me, by necessity, he had to put his legs either side of mine. This, combined with the feeling of his hand on my skin, felt intensely intimate, a feeling of constancy and familiarity, as if I could easily lean back into him and be safe.

Then there was the pain. It was a pain that is difficult to describe, one that built slowly and steadily, a pain that while intense, never caused me to scream or shout out (although many deep breaths were required). This pain only served to make the physical contact feel all the more intimate, comfortable and familiar.

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My Trinacria tattoo!

However, it would be remiss of me to suggest that the intimacy I felt was purely physical. For the fact that I had spent time discussing the design with Alex, telling him what it meant to me and how I had been longing to have the work done, meant that when he began to permanently mark me with something that, I hoped would be a step towards me feeling more like me than I had done in a long time, only served to make the sensations and emotions that were coursing through me all the more intense. It was akin to a communion of souls, a bridge that only we could cross.

The feeling was the same when I had my second tattoo: a scroll with the words “Everything I do I do it for you” written upon it just below my collar bone. I felt all of what I have described all over again, though this time I was laying on the tattoo bed with Alex leaning above me. Sometimes, he was so close, I could feel his breath on my chest, and the warmth from his face. The pain was there too; stronger and more intense this time, due to the thinness of the skin and the proximity of bone, and yet still I felt secure and safe. Laying there for over an hour, there were times when I closed my eyes due to the pain (especially during the shading…f*** that hurts!) but then at other times, I kept my eyes open and found that Alex was so close, I had no option but to simply look at him. This was not a case of “I gazed into his eyes” or any kind of Mills and Boon nonsense. It was simply looking at his face, the contours of his skin, focusing on it as a means not to focus on the pain.

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My scroll. It’s still healing…and apologies for the bad quality of the photo!

With both my tattoos, when it was all over, I stood up and looked in the mirror, admiring Alex’s artwork. We looked at each other and smiled, both of us standing on that bridge of ours, knowing that we had both created a piece of art that would not only last a lifetime, but that meant more to me than I could ever put into words.

I cannot say whether everyone who has a tattoo feels these same emotions as I. Nor does it actually matter. All I can say is what I experienced, and acknowledge the fact that to me, having a tattoo is not only a matter of having a design inked permanently onto my skin, it is an intimate creation of art.

 

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4 thoughts on “The Intimacy of a Tattoo

  1. I was searching to find someone who had the same experience as me, and your words were beautiful and described it perfectly. My first tattoo was a nightmare- I was under the influence of substances, and the artists machine was not working right, but he kept trying for awhile anyways before just giving up. This experience doesn’t really count for me because I was not mentally present, and it just wasn’t pleasant. My next tattoo years later was on my foot- a swallow I got with my brother. It meant a lot, but the pain was blinding. I laid perfectly still with my eyes shut just trying to breath, unable to speak or move the whole time. That experience was special, the tattoo is gorgeous, but it wasn’t really intimate. My text tattoo, several months ago I got on the day of my best friend’s funeral. The artist and I didn’t speak much, I learned I do best dealing with pain in silence with the foot tattoo, but I was almost alarmed at how intimate the experience felt. Not sexual, but intimate on another level. I relate to the feeling of the comfort received from the touch of the artist and the feelings of security and safety, this tattoo was on the front on my shoulder/chest so The physical proximity was intense. Before this tattoo, the last man who had touched me did so during an assault, so this experience was healing. I decided I also wanted him to cover the bad back tattoo I discussed earlier, which we did over the next couple of months through 3 sessions. Again, the experience felt intimate and healing. I love these tattoos, but I decided I wanted a different style for my next, which I had my first session on last night. This tattoo is on my other shoulder and wraps from the back to the front. It is a tattoo that means a lot. I told the artist that sometimes I deal with pain by being silent and centering myself, so if I get quiet, that is why. He said he usually focused and didn’t talk much either. However, about 20 minutes in we started talking. He actually talked a lot more than me, and I chimed in once and awhile and asked a lot of questions about what he was saying. He told me stories from his childhood, his experiences finding his passion in tattooing, and so many other things that I feel I can’t even wright because I feel that our conversation was so personal it wouldn’t be right. I remember thinking that I don’t know anyone I have more respect for hearing what he has been through and all he has accomplished. I also remember being amazed at the contrast of the feeling of the painful needle constantly followed by the paper towel gently wiping away the blood and ink. For about the next hour I was sitting almost cross legged and his elbow was resting on my leg and his arm was leaning across my chest so he could tattoo the front on my shoulder. Again I thought about how healing it was to be that close to someone without being afraid. Even though he was hurting me, it was my choice. He would stop the second I said stop. I trusted him so fully that I rarely even felt the need to peek. Absolutely none of it was weird, or uncomfortable or in any way sexual. But it honestly was enjoyable. The shop stayed open an hour late just so he could finish what we had stenciled- we got started late. Time flew by. 3.5 hours felt like nothing. I guess what also made it special was how present and in the moment I was. Anyways, I am looking forward to finishing it in 3 weeks, but it is so beautiful even as it is now. Just wanted to say, I absolutely relate and I am glad I am not alone. I also know that artists work on hundreds of people a year, it is their job, and our experiences and perceptions are vastly different. And that is ok- but I hope artists know what a gift they give to us lucky enough to sit in their chairs.

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    • Thank you so much for your comment, and for reading! I actually got goosebumps reading your comments, especially about how healing the experience was for you. There are probably a great many people who think that intimacy and sex go hand in hand, but my experience during the placement of my tattoos, has shown me that that is certainly not the case. Intimacy goes hand in hand with a feeling of security, comfort, pleasure on a spiritual level, and the feeling of the warmth and physical presence of another person. Thank you so much again for reading and for commenting, and I’m thrilled that you have the tattoos that you want. Good luck for the final push in 3 weeks! ❤

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      • Thanks so much for your reply! I wasn’t expecting it since you posted this several months ago, but I really wanted to share my experience somewhere, with someone, and this seemed like the right place. I think my tattoos are healing for so many reasons. The experience itself is something I will always be grateful for, but having them on me represents fearlessness and taking control and making choices for my body without anyone else’s approval, regardless of people saying guys don’t like girls with tattoos. That’s fine with me, it will weed out the ones who think they have a right to judge what I do with my skin.

        Also, I got goosebumps while reading your story as well, which actually really hurt the new tattoo lol!

        Thanks again, it means a lot you took the time to respond.

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      • You’re very welcome! You’re right, it’s your body and your skin. What you do with it is entirely your own choice. I have only had one negative comment about my tattoos, and that is the one on my chest. A guy I know said “I like the one on your back, but I don’t like this one” I simply replied, “Well that’s OK, it’s not your body” My tattoos mean the world to me because I had them done for a milestone birthday and the one on my chest is specifically connected to my marriage.
        Oh! And I totally hear you on the goosebumps thing … it hurts like a bugger, doesn’t it? 🙂

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