The (slightly) illustrated man

This is a response to http://quixoticautistic.wordpress.com/2013/05/16/autistic-tattooed-heres-what-its-like/ which kind of made me think about the reasons why I went for a tattoo. The reasons were nowhere near the traumatic events that the original poster must have, and is still, going through, but I think there were aspects of my life I wanted to mark. Finishing my PhD and emerging from the many years of isolation from doing that (mostly in my spare time) required. Marking some events over those years – (a new year’s eve party spent as a dragon on the Isle of Wyrms, spending six years sharing a house with my best friend, the body modification stuff i experimented with on my avatar … classic identity tourism behaviour a la Nakamura). The identity thing is, of course, one of my research areas, and I was curious about how it would affect my identity. The idea of having a tattoo still occurs to me as something counter-cultural and although I don’t think I really am much of a counter-cultural person, I would like people to think of me as one. And of course, as people develop a perception of you, that can lead to your own behaviour changing as you adapt to those perceptions. So those sorts of changes do lead to being a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I found a design I liked, and thought about it for a while. The trigger for getting it done was staying with a friend in Lillehammer. When we first became friends I thought of him as male, but a short time before staying with him, discovered he was transgender and is actually female. So bodies, identity, gender, and how these play out in the physical and virtual worlds was an area we were both interested in. Her son’s partner is a tattooist (a brilliant one) and I mentioned this and passed on the design I’d found. And decided to go for it.

I think the point that I remember most was waiting before, quite nervous, not about the procedure, but about the one-way transformation. RL isn’t SL, if you don’t like it, you can’t go back at the click of a button. That is me now, this will disappear and there will be a new me on the other side. In actuality, that transformation is quite common. Drink a bottle of whisky and fall down a hole, and the next day you find you have a permanently weakened ankle. Have molten plastic drip on you while trying to beat out a fire and you will have permanent burns on your wrist. Prolapse a disc in the wrong direction and the nerve damage will mean a permanent numb feeling in the other foot. The only difference is that you know ahead of time that change will happen.

The tattooing was calming the only moment of alarm was looking at the final result in the mirror and seeing that instead of it being in an ‘S’ shape, the S was important to me, the curled dragon was in a reversed ‘S’ shape. I realised after a few moments that of course it was, it was in a mirror :-$

I’ve presented a paper with my transgender friend on the role that body modification has had on our sense of identity and our sense of presence, and how that plays out across RL and SL in both learning and in performance. I think it perhaps has made a difference to me, evidently it has for her, but in my case I think the impact has been a lot less than I anticipated. The first realisation was when I got back to the UK and Lufthansa hadn’t managed to get my bag onto the plane in time, so I needed more lotion to rub on it to stop it scabbing. I mentioned to the shop assistant at Boots what it was for and she started talking about all of her and her husband’s tattoos. Of course, they’re not counter-cultural, that perspective is both outdated and probably shows off my middle-class origins. Which I really haven’t escaped just by getting a tattoo. The second is that, it’s on my back, so people rarely see it. I live in the UK so am completely covered up nearly all of the time. I very rarely even remember it’s there. I should have gone for an arm or something.

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