Tattoo Meanings, Water and Fire

When I was about twenty I decided I wanted to get tattooed. Maybe it was my best friend, the fabulously tattooed Margaret Flood. Maybe it was just because I wanted something on the outside that told a story of something on the inside.

I wanted bands of fire and water around my biceps, fire on my right, waves of water on my left. Initially I wanted them because they told the story of how it feels to be biracial, two seemingly opposing sides, both with their own unique power. I wanted the duality of myself to be right there in every one’s face. I wanted to show how it was a constant struggle to find the balance between races.

When I was 24 I was hospitalized for a psychotic episode. During my research into manic depression, I came across a comment by the esteemed psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamieson about how manic depressives often draw images of water and fire during psychotic and manic episodes. These two elements are hardwired into our brains as symbology which explains our illness to others.

It struck a chord within me. The angry waves of water which now adorn my left bicep represent the seemingly innocuous (compared to high mania) of depression, the fear of drowning in sadness, the danger of suicide. On the other side, my flames of mania threaten to consume me in convoluted thought, rash actions, high energy burning up my seratonin and dopamine. ACTIVE, and also very dangerous.

These are the two forces I have to reconcile within myself, and having them etched into my skin makes me feel proud. Proud for surviving those dark nights when I wasn’t sure if I would live to see morning, proud for living through a really horrific hospitalization and being able to recreate myself, to put myself back together into someone I can live with.

And yes, my own feelings about my race continue to live on through my tats.

I have some further tattoo work I want to complete sometime in the near future. I want some old school stars on my forearms. The next really complex work will be a Virgin of Guadalupe on my chest which will be drawn to resemble even more a vulva. That’s kind of my nod to accepting and transforming Christian iconography into a more sexual celebration. Personally I have never felt more spiritual than when I am having sex with a woman I really love, and so I want to honour that. Plus I rarely ever show off my cleavage, so it’s not going to be a very public tattoo. I have a few more ideas, but before I decide on a tattoo I want it to have a really deep meaning for myself.

Some people say “But what about when you’re old and wrinkly and it all looks weird!” Hey, all of me will be old and wrinkly, and look weird. Why deprive myself of images I feel are beautiful on my body just because I’ll look strange when I’m in the old folks home?

Besides, hopefully by then there will be an old folks home for queer perverts like me, in which case saggy tattoos will be quite common place.

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