Christian A. Young's Dimlight Archive

Fan ink and stigma

tattooI've been thinking this week about fan tattoos, and stigma, and the way stories matter.

When I met Kate Bornstein, my brain interrupted my moment of being starstruck with the very important information that ze has a TARDIS tattoo. This of course led to excited geekery, me showing of the giant Seal of Rassilon I have on my right calf, and hir pulling the sonic screwdriver out of hir bag. It was a short, magnificent, amazing, wonderful moment of connection, not least because I got that tattoo to celebrate starting on testosterone as part of my transition.

I have others. I have the spider from Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys on my right bicep as a reminder of the salvific power of creativity. I've got the Corsair's ouroboros (albeit turned 180) on my left wrist to remind myself that my complicated body and gender is beautiful, and that I don't have to feel guilty and afraid about it with other people.

I have other tattoos, too. A rose on my back that I got with one of the first friends I made when I moved to Columbia. A wren with a needle through its ankle from the Mabinogion to celebrate my name change. Gautama Buddha, from when it looked very much like I was going to become a lay minister with a small Buddhist church (and possibly the only story I regret putting on my skin because without context it looks...well, not great from a social justice perspective). A drawing I did based on the Burney Relief that was the "ring" from my messed-up, failed marriage in my twenties. The pseudo-nautilus a friend got me for my eighteenth birthday.

I even have a scar on my shoulder from the tattoo a friend's friend did for me when I was a teenager using a sewing needle and India ink, which was summarily removed by the dermatologist my mother dragged me to. I like this scar. There's nothing else like it on my body. It's the memory of a story.

People can be weird about fan tattoos, though. I'm not sure how much of that is the stigma associated with being really into a thing -- or, rather, certain things because it's apparently okay to be really into sports but still kind of weird to be really into a sci-fi show -- or the idea that those stories aren't important enough to get etched into our bodies, but John Lennon quotes and pin-up girls are. Or maybe it's the idea that these things are ephemeral or imaginary? Or that somebody else's story is the wrong language, and we should all be required to make up our own stuff using an acceptable symbol set? It it too close to brand names?

And yeah, I think there's an element of misogyny happening here -- women in fandom get a disproportionate amount of flack for profoundly irritating reasons, and body policing is a thing -- but that can't be the whole story.

This is really bothering me. I'd love to hear what others think about this, not least because I'm getting the ink itch again, and there are things I'm considering that fall into this range, and that's more emotional than I expected it to be.

Wow me, Internets. I love you all.

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  1. Most of the fan ink I’ve dealt with other than yours (and mine — which is not obviously fannish and pisses people off because it’s my own words) is on young women (or women who were quite young when they got it) in the Harry Potter fandom. And the drama seems to come down not around fannishness but about women not making the right decisions for their body or male pleasure in their bodies.

    So yeah.

  2. I know some of what that looks like should be pretty obvious to me, particular re: how young women are treated as not being smart enough to make correct choices about anything, and the presence of story ink being evidence that this distrust is warranted, but could you tell me more about what this actually looks like in practice? I was never in HP fandom, and so I’m curious about how some of that played/plays out.

  3. HP fan conferences are 90% female. They therefore attract a lot of male attention not from men at the con (who get how to behave mostly — the exception being the recent YouTube stars scandal that has overlapped with HP fandom), but from other men at the hotel, city, etc.

    I’ve seen like 50-year-old men go up to girls with like a golden-snitch on their arm and declare that they’ll “never get a husband because no man wants to fuck some girl with Dumbledore staring at them from her back.”

    Like one piece of ink leads to assumptions about other pieces of ink and a lot of concern trolling and assumptions about orientation.

    I’ve also seen HP-related ink lead to assumptions about people’s ages. I’ve seen a 40-year-old woman I know told she’s a little girl who doesn’t know what she’s doing with her life because of her ink. She looks young, so it’s complicated, but it’s also definitely super gross.

    I should note there is also some, non-gendered discussion in HP fandom that can be very intense about people who tattoo the Dark Mark on themselves, but that’s an in-group conversation and not what we’re talking about here.

  4. Sweet mother of pearl, that’s rage inducing in all the ways I was expecting but hoping against.

    Interesting about the Dark Mark being an intense choice to make — and as someone who loves the books, I think it should be if we’re also assuming that stories matter — and I’m not surprised that there’s in-group discussion about that. I’m actually pretty delighted. So.

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