Arts & Entertainment
5 min

Queers reveal themselves through their tattoos

The stories behind the ink

It could be argued that tattoos, once a marker of folks on the fringes of mainstream society, have lost their edge. Statistics suggest that at least one in five Canadians has at least one tattoo, and that the popularity of “getting inked” is still on the upswing.

But according to stats in the US, queers still account for a disproportionately large percentage of the tattooed population, and if an examination of all that bared but decorated flesh at Pride is any indication, it’s likely that those statistics hold for Canucks as well.

Many queers wear their sexuality on their sleeves, so to speak, with rainbows, triangles and other homo signifiers. But in addition to being indelible markers of sexual identity, tatts can tell a much more complicated tale about their bearers. Here’s just a peek at some Toronto-area queers, their body art and the stories behind them.

INTERTWINED IMAGES

Vietnam vet Robert Maglione’s attraction to tattoos began when he was in the US military in the 1960s.

“I saw the US Navy Seals running around on a base in San Diego in tight shorts with really big muscles and tattoos,” says Maglione, aka Mag. “Being a fag, it made an impression on me. When I got out of the military I wanted to get tattooed.”

Maglione, 59, got his first tattoo in 1975: the words “Live free or die” are on his bicep along with an eagle and a setting sun. He later covered up the image but kept the motto.

“I went to Daemon [Rowanchilde] to do a cover up of part of my first tattoo when he was on Church St. He did such a good job that I kept going back to expand on it.”

Jim Crewe, 48, was inspired to get his own tattoos because of Maglione, his boyfriend of 12 years.

“I have only one tattoo, but it’s a big one that covers my back…. I consider myself an introvert and I wanted something to help break me out. When I’m at the beach people come up to me and ask me about my tattoo and say, ‘Nice ink.’ It forces me to talk and to get out of my shell. It’s an icebreaker, a conversation piece.”

 

HISTORY IN INK

“My tattoos tell a lot of my love story,” says Masina W, 30. She moved to Toronto 12 years ago to be with her girlfriend, Katie.

“I got my witch when Katie and I were together a few years,” she says. “She’s on my ribs and her name is Polly Pervy. She’s wicked. I got her when I was just coming out into the femme pinup polyamorous lesbian world.

“Later I felt I needed good luck and kept buying horseshoe jewellery but kept losing or breaking it. I got a tattoo so I couldn’t lose it. I have a horseshoe on my ass that says ‘Lucky in love.’

“Then I got my clovers on my arms and they’re my only tattoos not done by Jenn Banazack at Cottage 13 in Hamilton. I got them when Katie and I were on the verge of having major trouble and I thought we needed more luck.

“I got the star on my back when Katie and I got matching tattoos for our 12th anniversary.”

The mermaid on Masina’s thigh is “a personal icon for traversing the unconscious. She’s half-finished. There will be a twin on the other leg someday and a big ship on my back.”

“I also have a bleeding heart pierced with an arrow, which is my newest tattoo. That one says bois hurt me and love hurts.”

SUITED UP

Marcel Bolduc, 69, got his first tattoo in 1993.

“I started with one little tattoo before I got all the tribal,” says Bolduc. “It’s very addictive, just like a drug. You get one and then you want another one, like piercing. Finally I ended up with a full suit. It’s personalized to you. You’re unique in a way and I’m very proud to show it.

“An artist friend of mine in Dallas designed my crotch, my abs, my chest, my back and my butt and around my anus — all on computer. Once I agreed with the design he enlarged the tattoos and then I took the prints to an artist. That ink was done in Montreal. Later my two arms and two legs were done directly on the skin here in Toronto. One guy did the two arms and another guy did the two legs.

“Many people get to see the whole thing at places such as Pride. People come to you and talk to you. They are very open.”

DARK WINGS

Eli Campanaro, the reigning Mr Leatherman Toronto Bootblack, got his first tattoo after moving to Toronto from Halifax last fall.

“I have two crows. The first is located on my right shoulder and the second is on my right forearm. I got the first when I worked at the metro branch of the SPCA [Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals] in Halifax.

“Shelter work is lots of fun and you get to deal with lots of cute kittens and puppies but the flip side was having to euthenize animals. Every day it broke my heart to have to do this.

“There’s a rhyme about crows that may be Celtic: ‘One crow for sorrow, two crows for joy, three for a girl and four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold and seven for a secret never to be told.’

“My first crow is my crow for sorrow. The second I got right before I left Halifax. Halifax has tons of crows. It’s my Halifax crow and my crow for joy…. When I finished my job at the SPCA I wanted to mark it somehow.”

Campanaro has seven tattoos to date. “Tattoos are a way to take posession of my own skin and be who I am. Every time I’ve gotten a tattoo it heals like it’s always been there, like it just had to be revealed. That’s why I take time to really think about what I’m getting.”

COLOURFUL CALVES

Cindy Moffitt has a thing for tiny winged creatures. She has two large fairies — representing love between women — and a total of seven butterflies tattooed on her calves.

“For me the fairies are very feminine and celebrate a voluptuous woman. It was very important for me because women are so significant in my life.”

Moffitt got her first tattoo at the age of 14; she’s now 32.

“Every tattoo means something. I have butterflies that represent places that I’ve lived or people who have passed. I’m also very spiritual and have a spiritual connection to my tattoos.”

Moffitt’s other passions include making mixed-media art and raising monarch butterflies with Kenadee, her nine-year-old daughter. She heads to Passages on Church St whenever the urge for a new tattoo hits.

PERSONAL MYTHOLOGY

“My tattoos are dedicated to my spiritual development,” says Anja Grychtchenko. “The first one I got when I realized there’s no definitive between black and white. Everything is one coin with two different sides so it’s up to you how you choose to look at it.”

Grychtchenko got both of her tattoos, one on her lower back and one on her chest, after coming to Canada from the Ukraine in 1995 at the age of 18.

On her back, Grychtchenko has a complicated goddess tattoo atop mushrooms, which are meant to represent spiritual evolution.

“[The goddess] is a higher power, the beginning of life and death, and of knowledge. I got that the same year I had my first relationship with a girl.

“Coming here from the Ukraine I was pretty repressed. There was no such thing as gay or lesbian, or drug use, none that was open. I wasn’t exposed to any of that growing up.

“[The goddess] represents woman, with mothering and birth. She has two horns and goat feet so she can be perceived as Pan, a male god. That is my take on two sides.

“I have her breastfeeding babies, an angel and a devil. Her nipples have big cracks, which represent how hard it is to raise somebody and to create life. But she also looks young and gentle so it’s still kinda fun. On top of her I have a uroborous, the snake that swallows its tail. That represents the wholeness, like a halo, representing the beginning and the end.”

For the tattoo on her chest, Grychtchenko says she was “inspired by the Orthodox icons of Mary, because they reminded me of my dead mother…. My wings represent helping me fly on to the higher levels of consciousness…. Then I have two eyes, which are my mother’s eyes and represent the universe that looks after me. She’s part of the universe and she was a goddess to me.”