My first tattoo: a one year of HRT gift to myself

I’m coming up on one year of HRT. I wanted to do something to commemorate the event and memorialize the past year of my life, so I got a tattoo.

Pictured is Mercy from Overwatch with feathers the color of the transgender pride flag. I’m so incredibly happy with how it turned out. It’s beautiful, and will always remind myself of this past year.

You see, aside from being Transgender, I’m also a co-captain of a competitive Overwatch team. Team Ganymede of the Ganymede’s Girls organization.

I’ve been played Overwatch since the open beta, and fell in love with it. I finally bought it during my honeymoon on a night I couldn’t sleep, much to my wife’s dismay and I’ve played it regularly ever since. It reminded me of Team Fortress and Team Fortress 2, two games I spent easily thousands of hours on, only better and more modern. In those games I played the medic. I found more entertainment running around keeping teammates alive than I did killing. That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the death and carnage of a good first person shooter, just that healing was my favorite part. It should come as no surprise then that my main character in Overwatch is Mercy.

I love her as a character and I love playing her. So much so that my wife made a cross stitch of my favorite in-game spray.

In August of last year, Ganymede’s Girls hosted a tournament called the D.va Cup. It was a tournament only for women. I didn’t sign up. I thought about it, but I didn’t. Imposter syndrome struck hard. “I’m not woman enough,” I told myself. “What if they’re not welcoming to Transgender women?” I worried. On top of that, I told myself I want good enough at Overwatch.

The day of the tournament came, and they were still looking for a few players to finish off the brackets. I told my wife about it, mostly because I thought it might be fun to watch together. She talked me into signing up last minute. So I did.

My team made it to the semi-finals. It was a blast.

After the tournament we were all encouraged to join the Ganymede’s Girls organization as team members. Once again, my wife talked me into doing it. So I did. It was the first all women space that I joined. What I found was a community of amazing, welcoming, inclusive women, and the subject of a future blog post.

Fast forward a few months to October. My favorite Overwatch steamer and Mercy Main, Eeveea, came out as Transgender. The outpouring of support she got was amazing. I spent the next few days following her Twitter replies and mentions for all the good vibes. Among them was the image that would become my first tattoo, but I didn’t know it at the time.

I never understood tattoos. They fascinated me, but I didn’t understand them. The idea of permanently marking yourself was a foreign concept to me. My sister has a lightning bolt on her ankle because she loves Harry Potter. One of my cousins has a tattoo that reminds her off my Grandpa, and one for each of her children. I often stalk the Something Awful tattoo threads and tattoo related instagram accounts. I’d randomly Google tattoos of my favorite games and characters to look at cool pictures.

However, I just never saw myself as someone who could get one. You could say I didn’t truly know myself until this past year, if I even do now.

Early in my relationship with my wife, then my girlfriend, she told me she wanted a tattoo. She even had some good ideas, but I won’t go into those as it’s not my place. Once again, just like with my sister and cousin, they were things that meant something to her. I could get behind that, even if I still didn’t fully understand the appeal.

At some point we started joking (or not joking?) that we’d get tattoos together. She’d get her meaningful tattoo and I’d joke about getting someone terribly obvious and nerdy. Like a Triforce.

I knew I’d never actually do it myself though. I’m terribly afraid of needles. There isn’t anything I like so much that I’d want it in my body my whole life. There was some Catholic guilt from my childhood patched in there somewhere too, I’m sure. Something something running God’s given body or some nonsense like that. My mother wouldn’t approve. So many bad excuses that I used to convince myself not to do it.

Sound familiar? It was all just excuses hiding the thing I didn’t know I actually wanted. Just like my gender dysphoria.

So what happened to make me finally get one?

Being Transgender means blood work. Lots and lots of blood work. My fear of needles quickly subsided after having been stuck with them every few months and getting used to the idea. I think I’ve been poked more in the last year than in my whole life.

In addition, being on a new path of self discovery, most my other concerns about tattoos started to disappear. I didn’t give up that early though. I ended up coming up with a few rules if I were to ever get a tattoo. Rules so stringent that it’d never end up happening.

  1. It had to mean something
  2. It had to be nerdy but classy
  3. It had to be original. I didn’t want up be able to Google my tattoo and see it on hundreds of other nerds

I ended up basically insuring I’d never actually find a design that met those criteria.

Lilakey’s art met all three of those criteria. It symbolized the last year of my life. It reminded me of the good times playing Team Fortress when I was younger. It was nerdy, but not obviously nerdy unless you knew what Overwatch was. No one would have that art as a tattoo, and if they did it certainly wouldn’t be with the Transgender pride flag colors.

The bug bit me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Eventually I worked up the courage to tweet to the artist. Unfortunately her Twitter was barely used. Odds are she wouldn’t even see it. And I was right. She didn’t.

Some time passed and the subject of tattoos came up again among my friends. I once again mentioned my idea, but that the artist never got back to me. That was when one of my friends found her on Instagram, where she was much more active. Once again I worked up the courage to ask for permission.

The response came not long later. “I suppose so, only if I’d get to see the results :^>”

It wasn’t enthusiastic consent, but it was consent. I took it.

The next step was to find an artist. I probably should have researched more, but the bug bite was itching now. I went to the website of the place I got my ears pierced and looked at their tattoo portfolios. To my non-artistic eyes they all looked good. Good, clean lines, bright colors, everything my newbie understanding of a good tattoo artist seemed to require.

One of them was a woman, Lorin Devine. I emailed her for information. I figured I’d support a woman in a very stereotypically male space. She told me to come in whenever was convenient, so the next weekend I did.

I got there right when they were supposed to open. I figured I should get in before they got busy. Unfortunately the parlor opened before any artists were there. Whoops.

I waited for an hour and Nick Jones, my eventual tattoo artist showed up. He took a quick look at Lilakey’s design and explained the issues with it. The amount of white wouldn’t work, especially on my pale skin tone. The pastel colors wouldn’t be great for line work either. All was not lost though, he could do something to make it work and estimated two to two and a half hours of work. I thanked him, and said I wanted to get Lorin’s opinion too since I originally emailed her.

The receptionist texted Lorin for me and got an estimate of 4-5 hours from her. Ouch. Two hours under the needle was rough in my estimation, but I certainly didn’t think I could do five. I booked a slot with Nick.

Based on Nick’s feedback I put together two quick Photoshops of Lilakey’s artwork. I was getting excited.

A few weeks later and the day of the tattoo appointment finally arrived. I was so nervous but so excited. I got to the parlor far earlier than I should have, and people watched as patrons came in for walk in piercings. I listened to the piercing specialist tell stories about crazy customers and pranks they’d play on apprentices. I people watched. I fidgeted. I browsed the internet on my phone. Anything to nervously pass the time Before long, it was my turn.

Nick printed off one of my Photoshops and asked where I was having it done. I told him my upper back and he went to drawing. He came back with a larger than I expected drawing of the proposed tattoo. He asked if the size was good, and I nodded, too nervous to say otherwise.

He led me to the back and scanned his drawing into another printer. He explained it was the template and would give him a design to trace with the tattoo gun. Pretty cool, I thought, but once again didn’t say anything. The nerves were killing me. He took the template and placed it on my back, rubbing it like a temporary tattoo. Then, told me to look in the mirror and see if everything looks good.

I about cried. It looked amazing where he placed it, only it was bluish color instead of the black inking it’d be finished with. Excitement was starting to win over the nervousness. I watched, fascinated, as Nick prepared his gun and ink.

When he was finally ready I laid face down on the tattoo chair, and prepared for the worst. I remember him asking if I was ready, and I replied a surely terrified sounding affirmative. I held my breath, closed my eyes, and clenched my teeth.

The tattoo gun buzzed to life behind me. I remember first feeling the needle touch my skin and briefly thinking “this isn’t so bad” right before the actual tattooing began.

Pain unlike I’ve ever experienced shot through my back. That isn’t too say it was the overwhelming, excruciating, torturous pain I was expecting, but instead it was just pain. Unfamiliar, sharp, and forceful. It’s impossible to properly describe. It didn’t feel like a needle, but it didn’t feel like it wasn’t a needle either. I laid there contemplating this new feeling as the realization that this total stranger could be drawing permanent dicks on my back at this very moment and I’d have no idea until it was too late swept over me.

Heavy metal was playing on the radio in the background, and I started concentrating on it. Some of the songs I recognized. Ordinarily I’d start singing along, but the constant needling in my back prevented me from truly getting into that kind of mood.

I silently compared the variable pokes and prods of the tattoo gun along my back. Straight lines, I decided, hurt the most. Something about the way the needle dragged straight across my back compared to gliding in curves made all the difference, I supposed. Then he got to my spine. Ow. That was yet another a new sensation. More painful than just the straight lines. I cringed silently.

Every so often the needle would stop and Nick would reload with more ink. I’d take those moments to stretch my neck and peer around the room before he would return to tattooing. Before I knew it, he told me that the outlining was almost complete.

I expected time to crawl by. Laying motionless without any entertainment but a radio, and sharp needle endlessly prodding you in the back, didn’t sound to me like a good way to pass the time. I was wrong. Time instead flew by. After what felt like only a few minutes later he informed me that all that he had left was coloring the feathers, and a few minutes after that it was done.

I almost fell out of the chair as I stood up. My whole body was tender and sore. I went to the mirror again to admire his handy work. It was exactly as I pictured it would be, only red. Very very red. I looked like I had been out on the summer sun for hours without sunblock on.

The tattoo was there though. I almost cried again.

Nick bandaged me up, gave me instructions for the care of the tattoo as it heals, and sent me up to the front to pay. I made small talk with the receptionist as she rang me out. The whole experience was surreal, like nothing I could have expected. I tipped well, and left the parlor.

It had only been an hour.

On my way out of town I stopped at my favorite board game store. While I’m browsing the door opens.

“Hi, Nick,” the owner yelled from behind the counter, “how’s it going?”

I glanced over. It was my tattoo artist. Great minds think alike.

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