Tattoos can have a lot of meaning. They can also have very little meaning. It just kind of depends — that's what's so cool about them. In January, I introduced a new series on the blog called Owned in Ink. Owned in Ink aims to explore the way tattoos can be a part of owning and even changing our stories. In the month since I posted thefirst piece in the series,I've learned even more about the vast spectrum of significance this art form can hold. I've learned, and experienced first hand, the power behind self-expression even when it lacks a "deeper meaning" to the continued beauty in taking something thoughtful and close to your heart and showing it to the world.
Part Two of Owned in Ink brings my first guest blogger to the site and I could not be more honored. For Part Two, Rebecca Hofrichter, LCSW, Sister of Me and femme-extraodinaire shares a bit about one of her latest tattoos.
I wrote the poem above a while ago as an expression of my frustration when people would tell me to “toughen up,” or that I “just need to care less.” While sometimes those statements feel grounded in truth, it is the kind of truth that frustrates me because I cannot make it mine; I ultimately know that is the problem. It is not mine.
I “wear my heart on my sleeve,” now, both figuratively and literally (we will get to this). I have been aware of this for most of my life. With words and statements like “empath,” “sensitive,” or “you fall in love too fast” following me through most of my life. These words and statements, I realize now, were typically coming from a place of love and concern, but there were lots of other words and statements that were thrown at me over my life with the intention of doing harm, making me smaller, trying to change me. Being an emotional person, a person who when I feel things I FEEL them, has been something that for a lot of my life I also viewed as a weakness, which was internalized from those individuals who tried to make me smaller or different (or more like them). It was something that made me “less than,” something I, at some points in my life, replaced with outright cruelty to the folks I knew wouldn't actually leave me (sorry Mom), something that made it harder for me to relate and for folks to relate to me, something that caused me a lot of pain.
That last part in some ways may still be true.
The piece about pain still rings true because when there is sadness, heartbreak, and anger, it can be and feel all-encompassing. I can think of countless episodes of public sobbing on a crowded rush hour bus or snot-faced heaving in front of a TV, synchronized cry-singing to playlists of Joni Mitchell on repeat while the water runs cold in my dirty bathtub. While these are the aspects that I, historically, only shared with a select few folks, because it tends to make people worry, I realize I do not need to be ashamed of the public crying, sappy playlists, or the inability to make it through “Both Sides Now” without at least a tear.
In recent, I have found myself recognizing my emotionality as a strength, as an unknown gem stone. Something rare, and (should be) desired, but often overlooked for its importance. I have affirmed for myself that my softness, my sometimes sadness, my falling in love too quickly, is not weakness. And I will not be made to feel bad or weak for it. There is an amazing self-described “crazy femme” artist/poet L Mathis (find them on instagram @l__mathis) and they speak often about the concept of “radical softness as a weapon.” This idea has been so affirming, and expansive. My softness might be a weapon some days. It may also be a vital tool, a tool for my survival or the survival of others. My softness may be a gift to be shared with others, and sometimes not valued the way I have come to value it, but that is to no fault of my own.
My softness also seems to make others uncomfortable at times. During my episodes of public sobbing on a busy public transportation vehicles, I can recall looking up at some points to witness folks staring, or moving farther away from me. While I am not personally offended, in some ways it felt like a call to action. My softness should not make you fearful for I imagine you have felt something similar. My sister also recently reminded me that this vulnerability can also make some folks feel strong, and seen. The validation of meeting someone else who feels like I do is like the feeling of wrapping up in my Grandmother's sweater, warmth, familiarity, safety, love. Part of feeling strength in my softness is now feeling the pull to be more open and share my feelings, my emotions [good and challenging], my softness more often. I recently had an appointment with tattoo artist Cloey Nathaniel (check them out) and for months had known exactly what piece of their work I was going to get and where I wanted to wear it. Months prior, they had posted a photo of their original artwork, which included a small heart, divided in half-almost perforated, with two droplets. This piece of art now lives on my wrist, or “on my sleeve,” partially as a badge of honor, proudly wearing my softness; partially as a reminder to myself that my softness, and sometimes pain/heartbreak, is still beautiful and strong as hell; and with the tiny detail of that perforated line, partially as a reminder that my softness and sometimes heartbreak also includes healing, which is something I am working on everyday.