On the regular I get asked the seemingly innocuous question from my clients "are there ever any tattoos you refuse to do?" Most folks are expecting me to offer up a story about a truly offensive tattoo request like something horribly racist or otherwise antagonizing and controversial, or maybe a tale about a belligerent, drunk would-be customer that I had to physically throw out of the tattoo shop because of unwelcome shenanigans and ass-hatery.
My reasons for turning down tattoos is much more practical and yes, I turn people down for tattoos all day, every day.
This blog has been making viral rounds on Facebook lately. The long and the short of it all is its one woman's account of being turned down for her neck tattoo request at New York Adorned; a reputable tattoo shop in New York city and how she was seemingly traumatized that a tattooer had the nerve to refuse her business.
Apparently she was so shaken to the point where she was reduced to tears because her artist had the audacity to tell her that he wasn't comfortable tattooing a name on her neck. She claims sexism (would he turn down a man from getting a neck tattoo?) but really to someone such as myself who's no stranger to being on the other side of the tattoo shop counter, its plain to me that he simply didn't feel comfortable tattooing the side of someone's neck who isn't already heavily tattooed.
For my dear readers who aren't intimately familiar with the politics of tattooing, many of us who make tattoos do so while being guided by a strong moral compass and because of our ethics we will take exception to tattooing what I call 'public skin' on any person, regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, height or eye colour. 'Public skin' being neck, face and hands - the skin that's almost always visible in any social, casual or professional situations.
So why do we care about what we tattoo on our customers? Why would we turn away business and run the risk of offending our customers? We do so because we care about you as our customer and a lot of times it becomes a case of saving customers from themselves and their ill-conceived ideas.
Every tattoo I do is my calling card. I personally won't tattoo someone's face, neck or hands if they don't already have an extensive amount of tattoos already because I know for a fact that these sorts of tattoos will have a serious impact on my customer's lives by way of creating a layer of friction when dealing with authority figures. Job interviews, prospective landlords, border crossings, interactions with police and judges; the fact of the matter is that those of us who are heavily tattooed know how distracting and stigmatizing a tattoo on the side of your neck or on your hand can be.
I would much rather have a turned-away client make a sideways comment to their friends or rant about it on a feminist web site about how much of a sexist tattoo snob I was for refusing their tattoo versus cursing my name for enabling a regretful decision. Although you have to wear the tattoo on your body for the rest of your life, my name and my reputation is inexorably attached to that tattoo.
Your tattoo is as much a part of me as it is a part of you.
The issue here is entitlement, not sexism. Nobody is entitled to a tattoo. I reserve the right to refuse any tattoo for any reason and I do turn away tattoos all day. If I think your tattoo can't be created because of technical limitations or if I feel like I need to second guess my client's motivations I will politely explain the reasons why I can't do your tattoo and usually I'm more than happy to offer suggestions for alternative ways to move forward.
But make no mistake about it, I have the final say about what tattoos get done.
Entitlement is a bitch.
San Francisco, California