Tattooed Idols: My Patience and the Significance of My Tattoos

by: Mar Curran

When I was a thirteen year old I idolized Lars Frederiksen of punk bands Rancid and Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards. I cannot to this day tell you why I chose him as my first teenage idol, though the influence has lasted for a while: I once sported a mohawk (no longer as I don’t want to be “that white guy who’s appropriating Native American hairdos,” no matter how punk that might be), played guitar and sang in a punk band for three years, still wear tight black jeans with black shirts, often with their sleeves cut off. And the tattoos.

Ever since I was that teenager, sitting in their bedroom listening to too many songs with the word “nihilism” in them for someone who turned out so happy, I admired punks tattoos. Some were to commemorate important life events; as someone with a fixation on retaining memories, this spoke to me. Some were drunken or youthful mistakes; as someone fixated on never making a mistake, I was envious of this flippancy for shame. Some were for aesthetic adornment; as someone who loves beauty, I lusted after the idea of having beauty all over a body I was dissatisfied with.

I decided on my first tattoo when I was 13. I wanted the initials of my brother who had passed away as an infant when I was six on my arm. That event was one of the most life-changing that has ever or will ever happen to me. I love my brother and miss him, the seconds he was there, the idea of him, always. If I was going to ever regret a first tattoo, I knew this would not be the one I regretted. I remember telling my mother about this idea at 14, and her dismissing me with a cluck, saying, “Why would you destroy your body like that?”

I have destroyed my body in a number of ways in my lifetime, some intentional, some not. I knew this was an addition, not a subtraction. Shortly after my 19th birthday, my best friend and I went to get my tattoo.

It’s barely visible, with thin lines in yellow ink. It’s not the most intricate design, or the most artistic font. My parents hate it. One of my brothers told me any tattoo without flames was stupid. A five year old cousin told me it looks like someone used a Crayola on my arm. It has faded in some areas, and is large enough that it’s hard for me to imagine cramming another piece on that area of my arm. I love this tattoo dearly.

In my worst moments of adulthood I look at it and remember that so far I have survived. I remember the only promise that kept me going in my youth was often that I knew when I was an adult I would be the sole owner of my body and could carve it out to not only my liking but my loving. I remember crying and pressing my forehead to this arm, bringing the bridge of my nose to the ink and hoping to harness some special strength I found inside myself to go on living. Today I look at it and see my youth; I am so much further than I ever was before but still so far from where I will be in the future, where my body will be, what it will look like, how I will feel about it.

When I got this tattoo my parents begged me to not get any more until I graduated from college. I expect they thought I would grow out of whatever phase I have been in for almost ten years. This taught me patience; I am a calculated tattoo-waiter now. I waited six years for that first tattoo. I will have waited three and a half years for this next one. I have waited for the next phase of my life to start, to be done with college, to feel happy with my body, to stand up for myself to those I couldn’t for years, to feel content with who I am, to feel like I am truly loved by those in my life. I finally am there. And so, a new tattoo.

Mar Curran is a trans/queer rights activist and community organizer; he is on the boards of Video Action league, Advocate Loyola, the Queer intercollegiate Alliance, and works with GetEQUAL. As spoken word artist, he has read at each All The Writers I Know event. He studies Communications and Women’s Studies at Loyola University Chicago. Curran likes beer and cats.

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