I avoided getting my first tattoo for seven years because I didn't feel ready.
I learned that gender dysphoria was keeping me from feeling comfortable in my skin.
My transition freed me from that discomfort, and I now decorate myself with tattoos freely.
I got my first tattoo in December. I'm now up to seven — with more planned.
I put off getting my first tattoo for years because I didn't feel ready. It felt like my body didn't belong to me. I realized I was experiencing gender dysphoria.
My body didn't feel like mine for most of my life
I started planning my first tattoo in 2015 after a life-altering lung surgery. The procedure left a marvelous network of scars I wanted to accentuate, but I kept postponing the tattooing. My eternal excuse was: "I need more time to think."
That excuse conveniently diverted my attention from the actual problem: I wasn't even happy about living in my body, much less decorating it. For those who experience it, gender dysphoria creeps up in insidious and unexpected ways. Without knowing what I was experiencing, I felt only a vague sense of unease in my body.
The constant unease extended to body modification. I was in awe of piercings and tattoos on other people. I wanted to express myself as they did, but I couldn't find the will to start. I just felt disconnected from and apathetic toward my physical form.
Living in my pre-transition body was like driving a rental car. It was clean and functional. I should have been proud to have such a good body. It did everything it was supposed to, after all. But the thing about driving a rental is that it isn't yours.
It felt "off." There was nothing wrong with the workings, but it didn't fit my vision. Merely surviving and dealing with gender dysphoria took so much energy that there wasn't any room left to thrive. There was no space to show me love.
And who decorates a rental car, anyway?
Transitioning freed me in many ways
Most of my transition happened from 2020 to 2022.
My doctors supervised a smooth hormonal and medical transition. I spent every week learning the ins and outs of my changing body. I had the privilege of living with my wonderful girlfriend, who shared in my awe and happiness. It was like being a teenager again — but as a willing participant, rather than an anxious victim.
My transition will never have an end date, but it did have a stage where I started feeling like a whole person. I was ready to meet the world, rather than tolerate it. That's when I knew I was ready for my first tattoo.
As with many people, my first tattoo was an act of bodily liberation. It marked a milestone in my life: hard-earned comfort in my own skin. I was positively vibrating with excitement in the weeks leading up to it. The feeling was beyond rewarding. For the first time in years, I was utterly sure about a decision related to my body, and nothing could throw me off course.
My first tattoo was a reminder of where I came from and where I was headed
I'd been shaking tattoo ideas inside my head for years by 2022. I decided to get a semicolon for suicide awareness and paired it with a colorful butterfly. For me, it also symbolizes transformation and growth.
Its unique placement is the best part. I have a birthmark shaped like the numeral two on my shoulder. I used to joke that I had a twin who bore the numeral one in the same place and that we were destined to duel should we ever meet. Instead, I placed the semicolon in front of the birthmark to form the sequence of a semicolon followed by my numeral-shaped birthmark.
It indicates the painful pause before I claimed my second chance at a future.
In the best way possible, I got the body-modification bug
My loved ones poke fun at me for catching the tattoo bug. Since my first tattoo, I've added decor to my body whenever the time seems right. It's unfortunate that space is limited, but my ideas are infinite. I can't get enough.
My transition freed me both physically and emotionally. My body no longer feels like a rental that takes me from meeting to meeting. It's now the manifestation of my agency and warmth.
I look forward to every opportunity to make it feel like home — whether medically or artistically. Tattoos are just one outward display of that joy.
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