The Unexpected Reason Why I Regret My Tattoos


I love having art on my body, and do not regret my choices, but tattoo culture is itself an often regrettable phenomena that is full of authoritarianism and toxic masculinity.

Of all of the reasons I was ever given as a kid or young adult to not get tattooed, none of those have since informed any misgivings. I am not disappointed in younger Joshua’s subject choices, placement or the metamorphosis of image as my aging body takes on new dimensions. Nor have they ever stood in my way, as I had been warned that they might.

In fact the only time I was ever concerned about the tattoos on my forearms is when I took a job at a fairly conservative office supply store in a small town. After a few weeks of wearing long sleeves to work in the sweltering summer temperatures, I was asked by the owner of the company why I was doing that. When I explained the tattoos and my attempt at decorum I was informed that tats weren’t a big deal so long as I didn’t have anything too egregious marking me, which was judged to be the case.

There is nothing I really regret about my tattoos at all except that they could be construed to mark me as part of a tribe whose inclusion into I wish to avoid. The culture of tattooing is often full of macho scoundrels who ironically lick authorities boots, and my ink might seem to some as tribal markings that identify me as one of their own.

I have seen this up close and personal. In my years working in head shops there was always a tattoo place next door. I was lucky enough to be in Iowa City’s Hall Mall during the height of its glory when both The Hemp Cat and Electric Head Tattoo & Body Piercing were both in their prime. We became like one big family of freaks, even though there was always an ideological division between us. Where we pipesellers were anti-authoritarian leftists and anarchists, the girls and boys slinging ink across the hall had far more conservative proclivities. Some of them had been in the military, but all of them made money working on cops, soldiers and other blue collar conservatives, which lent their empathy to those perspectives far more so than ours.

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