Over the weekend, our very conservative city unrolled the red carpet for drag queens and kings alike, held a parade in their honor and hosted a three-day celebration for Gay Pride. Years ago, when I was an active member of the religion in which I was raised, I was intrigued with what may be happening in the city center during these particular festivities. I never ventured there to check it out, however, because it just wasn’t “acceptable” to do so, according to my religious circle. Now that I am a grown woman and have realized that the commandment to “love one another” and “do unto others as you would have done unto you” includes everyone, I have learned that there is an amazing world outside that circle.
In support of several of my friends who were out and performing with prideful exuberance, I attended the festivities this year for the second year in a row and was moved by the heat – of both the sun and the high energy. I cheered loudly, adding my voice to the large crowds sitting at the feet of my friends as they rocked the house, filling the air with music and laughter. And although my lifestyle choices are not a match for theirs, I felt more welcomed there than I ever had when walking into a church building.
As I perused the booths, I was instantly drawn to a booth that had the longest line there. I got there early, almost directly after the parade ended, and already the line was five people deep by ten long. I didn’t see this until after I saw the sign, “Contemporary Body Art” and felt an innate tug from within. The artist was able to create dimensional, colorful airbrushed art in seconds flat and for pennies. It was a steal and I had to do it. A butterfly for me. A gecko for my daughter.
Tattoos can have a hidden meaning. My brother has a tattoo that each of his childhood friends also have. One of my good friends has an elegant moon/star tat on her ankle and the story behind her tattoo is as marvelous as the art itself. Both of my sisters have tattoos, which have special meanings for each of them individually. One of our lifelong family friends has an entire galaxy tattooed on his left arm and upper back with such stunning artistry it takes your breath away. I know a man who has a “prison tats” to remind him of why he was there and why he will never go back.
The people I have listed will show you these markings with pride. At one point in history, though, tattooing was used to mark slaves, as well as concentration camp prisoners. These markings were usually very rudimentary – serial number or symbol – and were looked upon by the bearer as a disgrace. Like branding an animal, that kind of tattoo puts the owner’s mark upon someone. I imagine that when it came time for branding slaves or the prisoners, that none of them were willingly lining up to have their skin permanently marked. I have heard gruesome stories of self-mutilation while attempting to remove one of these tattoos.
What makes the difference in the mark? It isn’t the artistry, the color or the design, although that does add to the overall beauty. It’s what it means to the person who bears the mark. It’s whether that mark was applied with or without the bearer’s consent, ifthe bearer chose into being marked for life.
Like many things in life, the choice to get a tattoo is a decision with lifelong consequences. Granted, ink sometimes fades and dulls, but the mark is still there. And, yes, the tattoos can be surgically removed – sometimes leaving a slight scarring as a reminder – or wiped away with some supposed miracle cream, but, whether removed or faded, the essence of that mark lingers.
When anyone makes a choice – even if it seems there is no other choice at the time – there are lifelong effects. When somebody chooses into something, such as a tattoo – even when there are other, and seemingly more socially acceptable, choices – there are lifelong effects. When someone is born into a situation – whether that is slavery, race, religion, or sexual preference – they are permanently and invisibly “marked” as different. Some of these markings evolve into painful scars that are as blatantly visible as any willingly-received tattoo.
There are some who would say that having an entire weekend in this conservative city dedicated to celebrating a lifestyle that is so blatantly scorned by the moral majority is a complete farce. There are some that would say that it only enforces the difference between the gay population and the “normal” population. And then there are others who would say that the gay population is here to change the world – to bring to this world a diversity that can come through no other means; that “they” are here to show everyone what it truly means to be accepting of all people – despite race, religion or sex.
I say “they” are my sisters and my brothers, my friends and my loved ones – as are you. Who am I to judge “them” – or you – to be less than me based on different markings – be that skin color, tattoos, brands or same-sex partnering? I wear my temporary butterfly with pride (while contemplating making her permanent) and remember where I received her and why I chose her. I choose to treat others as I would have done to me and accept, with a warm embrace, all of my brothers and sisters into the network I am creating. I choose to stand up for the rights of those who deserve rights as much as I and I will bring love wherever I roam.
And I believe that is what Gay Pride weekend is really about.
©Angie K. Millgate 6/5/07