Those who fight against them fight hard. If you have the misfortune of being a corporate wage slave, for example, you are probably told very fiercely that you cannot have a visible tattoo, colored hair, or “alternative” piercings.
If you have a tattoo, or a desire to get one, you may be worried about possible judgment from your friends or, more likely, family members. Having a tattoo can be a very strong taboo in many religions. But you wouldn't expect a tattoo to be a taboo among tattoo artists themselves.
It never occurred to me that an artist would refuse to give me a tattoo based on moral judgment, let alone that this judgment would be rampant within the tattoo community. Yet, when I went to the SLC Tattoo Convention to get a tattoo, I was hard pressed to find an artist who would give me the tattoo that I wanted.
I wasn't asking for a tattoo in a “private” area. I could honestly see being refused that, especially at a convention, and especially in Utah. I could even reasonably understand a given artist not feeling comfortable in giving me my first tattoo. I'd get that, even if it annoyed me. But the consensual refusal was in something as shocking as this: no one would give me my tattoo because it was visible.
Step back a moment. Aren't tattoos supposed to be bad-ass? Even if it makes sense to consider whether you might need to hide a tattoo at work, isn't that for the you to decide? Yet, when I wanted my tattoo, nobody asked me whether having a visible tattoo would be a problem for me at work, or whether I had considered the possible consequences, implications, and permanence of getting a tattoo. I was simply met with a flat refusal. I never thought that I would be so harshly judged on my prospective tattoo by the tattooist community itself. It is still baffling.
For the record, I am not getting a tattoo recklessly. My partner and I have devoted a significant amount of time over the last few years studying tattoos and designing them for ourselves. This was the first of at least five tattoos that I know, for certain, I want to get. Why this one first? Because it's visible. I wanted an absolutely visible tattoo in order to make a statement. The design of the tattoo doesn't make that statement. The location does. Most people would not have a clue what my tattoo might mean. Most would assume that I didn't either. But I wanted it to be visible.
I am not the type to hide who I am from the outside world. I color my hair, and have moderately gaged ears. I wear sexy clothes, and apologize to no one. I am not ashamed of myself. I certainly didn't expect anyone in the tattooing industry to be ashamed of what they do.
In truth, this is much more upsetting to me than the much harsher judgment found amongst religionists. Opposition from those who have always been known to oppose you is not difficult to see coming. But such opposition of self-expression in part of the community that helps to provide it comes as a devastating blow to our freedom to be ourselves. Imagine, if Harvey Milk had encouraged the LGBT community to stay closeted? To not be flamboyant? Or even if he had said, “only come out of the closet if you intend to be full-out flamboyant.” Only have a tattoo in a visible place if that's the only place left on your body that isn't tattooed.
Now imagine what it would do to our community if everyone “came out” about tattoos. If everyone who had a tattoo refused to hide it, how would they fight us? Do you really think the country would spontaneously the estimated one-third of Americans under 40 who have tattoos? Why are we still conforming to the outdated idea that only “evil” people would get a tattoo? What are we hiding from?
I did eventually find someone who was open-minded enough to give me my symbol of bad-assery, Sarah de Azevedo from Oni Tattoo Gallery in Salt Lake City. She didn't take my case lightly. She was simply willing to hear me out and ask me questions to be sure of my commitment, as I had expected from any seasoned tattoo artist. Thank you, Sarah!