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Trans And Gender-Nonconforming People Share The Stories Behind Their Tattoos

"For me, tattoos are an investment in self-love."

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Behind every tattoo, there's a great story (or a poor, drunken decision — but usually, there's a great story).

We reached out to trans and gender-nonconforming people to ask specifically about the tattoos that represent or reflect their identity. Some pieces were inked to mark important milestones of self-discovery while others serve as small reminders of the bumps along the way. Here's what they told us:

1. "It reminds me that I'm blessed to still be here."

"I have a caduceus symbol tattooed on my left forearm. This image was adopted as the symbol for medicine sometime in the late 19th century. It has been used to represent modern medicine and for me, it is used to represent my medical struggles. I suffer from several chronic illnesses, some invisible and some not, and I have battled them for almost my entire life. I got this tattoo to show that even though some of my illnesses may be invisible, even though they may get the better of me sometimes, every single new day is a day I've fought these illnesses, and won. It reminds me that I'm blessed to still be here."

— Kendall

2. "I've spent too long believing that my queer, trans and black body was disposable, and I've done my part to chip away at myself."

Submitted by Britt

"I finally finished covering up my bodily reminders of self destruction. I've spent too long believing that my queer, trans and black body was disposable, and I've done my part to chip away at myself. I've gone from destructing to decorating this body I was given. Loving my trans black ass is the best ways to stick it the systems that try to keep folks like me down. A patch of kente cloth to remind me of where I've been, how far I've come, and to follow my path no matter how it twists and turns."

— Britt

3. "This song kept me going through a lot of hard times and means a lot to me."

Submitted by Jamie

"My tattoo has the lyrics: 'Even on a cloudy day, I'll keep my eyes fixed on the sun' from Cage the Elephant's song 'Shake Me Down'. This song kept me going through a lot of hard times and means a lot to me."

— Jamie

4. " I decided to get it to be a permanent reminder to myself, and others, that I am beautiful, inside and out."

"I am a transgender girl from Western Australia and this is my tattoo. I got it whilst attending Beauty School to become a professional makeup artist. I wanted something that was going to be meaningful and also represent the person that I am today. This tattoo was extremely therapeutic. I decided to get it to be a permanent reminder to myself, and others, that I am beautiful, inside and out. Despite not always feeling that growing up, I can guarantee that I do now. It shows a side of me that is generally quite easily noticed from my appearance, glamorous.. But that isn't what it is about. It's about how I feel, not how I look."

— Rhys

5. "I decided to get the chemical molecule of testosterone with one of my syringes going through it. Just to be a nerd."

Submitted by Logan

"I came out as a trans guy at 16, and started hormones at 18 years old. Testosterone has saved my life and changed the way I look at my existence significantly. I'm so grateful for it. I'm confident, strong, and I finally see the person in front of me that I've always felt on the inside. So, I decided to get the chemical molecule of testosterone with one of my syringes going through it — just to be a nerd."

— Logan

6. "For me, tattoos are an investment in self-love."

Submitted by Natt

"I have a green carnation on my right hip and a violet on my left hip. Both flowers have significance in queer history — violets stretching back to the Greek poet Sappho. For me, tattoos are an investment in self-love. Even on the bad days, I can look past my troubles and remember that I am not alone in my struggles, and that my body is pretty no matter what my dysphoria says."

— Natt

7. "I am coming closer to representing the man that I know I really am."

Submitted by Lee

"It's a tattoo to affirm to myself that each day I am coming closer to representing the man that I know I really am. It takes work from me in doing so (mentally and physically) and sometimes it gets a bit much so it's good to have that permanent reminder that I'm doing okay."

— Lee

8. "The butterfly is a traditional representation of transition but I needed it to be more than that."

Submitted by Maxwell

"I have many tattoos that tell a story but this is the tattoo I did to symbolize my transition. The butterfly is a traditional representation of transition but I needed it to be more than that. I added the inverted triangle to represent the black triangle given to trans men and lesbians during the Holocaust to remind myself about the people who have suffered before me and to keep in mind that others are still suffering because of who they are. I also filled in the black triangle with baby blue to represent my colors in the transgender flag. Last, within the butterfly there is a skull which serves the dual purpose of stating 'transition or die' and making my butterfly super manly.

I put the tattoo on my hand because my transition has been such a great and healthy step for me, even though it has been difficult. Lucky for me, even though I live in a state where I can still be fired for being transgender, cis people have no idea what the imagery represents. I look forward to the day where I can be out all the time without sacrificing my job, but until that day I have a rad tattoo right out in the open for people who know what to look for."

— Maxwell

9. "Doesn't matter if it's a wave or a tsunami, I'll persevere."

"The anchor symbolizes strength and stability and being transgender in today's society, that's hard to find. I see the ink as a reminder that no matter how tough my gender dysphoria is, how difficult it is to be respected, or how challenging it is to fight the social constructs of gender that attempt to strip me from my masculinity, I can get through it. Doesn't matter if it's a wave or a tsunami, I'll persevere."

— Britt

10. "I'm attracted to the old fashion style needles and wanted the colors not to be bright but to be almost like black and white but with a bit of blue to make it pop."

Submitted by Alex

"This tattoo was done for my one year on Testosterone. I collaborated with a tattoo artist on this design as i wasn't sure how the syringe would look, as it's often associated as rough or drug users. We came up with using the idea of the Testosterone molecule to be placed inside the syringe, symbolizing Testosterone. I'm attracted to the old-fashion style needles and wanted the colors not to be bright, but to be almost like black and white with a bit of blue to make it pop."

—Alex

11. "The tattoo itself is a stylized two, representing my second rate past and broken apart to symbolize my stubborn need to get better."

Submitted by Madison

"The story behind my tattoo is simple. I grew up feeling second-rate compared to my contemporaries. I wasn't strong, fast, or particularly smart, so I decided to work harder, get ahead, and stay ahead. I decided that I was going to be the best of the best, bar none. This was going to be true of whatever I did, from fast food to athletics, to police work.

The tattoo itself is a stylized two, representing my second-rate past and broken apart to symbolize my stubborn need to get better.

I'm getting into police academy training at the end of the summer, and by then, will be able to enter ready to graduate at the top of my class. And I will do all of this as a transgender woman."

— Madison

12. "Bumps and scrapes may cause us pain but our truths are what make us who we are, take pride & self love in your truth."

Submitted by Cohen

"My tattoo says 'True Self'. The day I got it was my 29th birthday and the day I was able to book my hysterectomy. Just over three years ago I came out, this June will mark my second year on testosterone and one year post-op. I got my tattoo because I am finally becoming the me I have been inside all along. With everything I have accomplished in my transition and with all I have been able to give to other transmen I am so comfortable with myself. The truth is always the best way to success & a happy life.

Bumps and scrapes may cause us pain but our truths are what make us who we are, take pride and self-love in your truth."

— Cohen

13. "I was told when I was younger and transitioning that it was just a phase. The moon has phases, and no one ever questions that."

"My birth name means 'bound in chains'. A year after I legally changed my name (about two years after I came out as trans) I broke the chains that had been on me through this tattoo. It's a chain of grass and feathers for the freedom I have gained through transitioning.

I also have moon phases and an elephant. The elephants name is Milton! I got the moons for my 4 year top surgery anniversary. I was told when I was younger and transitioning that it was just a phase. The moon has phases, and no one ever questions that! I've always felt very connected to the moon, and I wanted to hold that close to my heart as I move forward.

I get tattoos as a way to cope and celebrate life events. The dandelion celebrated a year of being out of an inpatient hospital, and now that experience is four years behind me. The heart and flowers is a way to celebrate my identity and pieces of myself that have been told they are hard to love."

— June, a queer trans femme with a lot of tattoos!

14. "Trying to live without fear was my motto at that time, so I wanted to get a tattoo that evoked this."

"I got this tattoo when I was around 6 months on T, because I was going through a rough patch: my family wasn't talking to me. I had come out about three months before, and I found myself having to find my own strength. Trying to live without fear was my motto at that time, so I wanted to get a tattoo that evoked this. Since I'm half-Persian, it was important to include part of my culture in the tattoo. After searching online, I found this phrase in Farsi online. It was the perfect match, and translates to 'do not fear'. My tattoo serves as a daily reminder to live without fear and stay strong."

— Tony

15. "Before starting testosterone I was just waiting for my life to start. I got this tattoo so I will always remember the day my life changed because I'm finally living."

Submitted by Alexander

"I got this tattoo a few months after starting testosterone in 2014. It reads III XXV MMXIV, the day I started T in Roman numerals. Before starting testosterone I was just waiting for my life to start. I got this tattoo so I will always remember the day my life changed because I'm finally living."

— Alexander

16. "I’ve survived all the self hate and misgendering I’ve gone through, with not only family and friends, but at work and during very day life."

Submitted by Michael

"My second tattoo is on my outer forearm. It’s an American traditional rat in the crouching panther stance. Most people ask why a rat, and I joke saying it’s a way to represent Baltimore MD. But really there are multiple reasons. They are smart, they are playful, can survive in just about any environment — the list goes on. Other then really wanting a rat tattoo, I feel like the idea of a rat is part of who I’ve become while I’m transitioning. I’ve learned to survive the mental changes I’ve gone through so far. I’ve survived all the self hate and misgendering I’ve gone through with not only family and friends, but at work and during very day life. There are two sides to me and to rats.

— Michael

Got some ink with a story? Share below!

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