Pandora Torres, a Queer tattoo artist, works with her father at The Divine Eye Tattoo shop in Albuquerque. Torres’ presence as a Queer artist has helped her queer and feminine clients feel more open and comfortable while getting tattooed.
Tattooing for the last three years, Torres said that the majority of her clients are Queer. Her top priority, she said, is to ensure her clients feel safe and comfortable.
“Spiritually speaking, I feel as though tattooing is a huge exchange of energy and it would be irresponsible of me to go into such an intimate procedure without making sure that everyone is happy, feels safe, comfortable and – above all – comfortable communicating with me,” said Torres.
Professionally tattooing for over five years, Baby Atchison – a trans tattoo artist and owner of Holy Fool Tattoo Club – said he was drawn to the tattoo industry because he felt like he didn’t belong in normative culture, and now wants to ensure a positive experience for others.
“I’m cautious to label any space safe because I have no control over anyone else’s internal experience,” Atchison said. “However, a great deal of my clients are Queer, trans and have different bodies. I think they return to me because of the experience they have sitting in my chair.”
Atchison said it has been difficult for people of color, women and the LGBTQ+ community to have adequate representation in the tattoo industry. The internet has helped to provide a platform for Queer and femme artists, Atchison said.
“There were women tattooing, but I hadn’t heard of them or seen their picture, let alone anyone like me with a trans experience,” Atchison said. “I think the industry is changing; representation is always something that makes those shifts happen in a big way.”
Specializing in the hand-poke method, Sawyer Sverre-Harrell works out of a private studio in Santa Fe. The tattoo industry is rapidly growing, but the spaces are not always welcoming to Queer artists, Sverre-Harrell said.
“I think being trans – regardless of if people realize I’m trans or not – just being openly Queer can sometimes have certain people in shops not want you in their environment,” Sverre-Harrell said.
While it can be difficult to break into the tattoo industry as a Queer artist, it can be equally difficult for Queer clients getting tattoos, Torres said.
“I have clients that are either Queer, femme or people of color who come to me and they have these horror stories about not getting what they want because the artist wouldn’t change it, or not feeling comfortable or feeling like they were being preyed upon,” said Torres.
One way Sverre-Harrell has worked to make it known that his private studio is judgment-free is by being open about who he is on social media. Being trans and Queer shows in his artwork and practice, Sverre-Harrell said, as well as creating a safe space for his clients.
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All three artists agreed that being Queer and/or trans working in the tattoo industry can be difficult, however, being open about who they are has allowed them to create community with and provide safe experiences to the Queer community.
“Once I found my niche, I blossomed in a way I didn’t expect because people were looking for a safe place that provided a service that I was providing,” said Sverre-Harrell. “Suddenly, (in the tattoo industry) being Queer and trans was a good thing.”
Sydney Walker is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @squidneywrites.
7/26/23 Editor's note: "(In the tattoo industry)" was added to the last quote in this article to reflect the specificity of the statement.
Sydney Walker is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached on Twitter @squidneywrites.