Tattoo artists aren’t really known for having gentle demeanors. They often come off as gruff and antisocial (although there are always exceptions). So once I got my HIV diagnosis, I worried that I wouldn’t get a whole lot of empathy and understanding from these folks; that no artists would be willing to work on me anymore.
Luckily, I chatted online with a gay guy who worked as a receptionist in a shop. He assured me that at his location, no artist would reject me for having HIV and that I should come in to get work done with them. Because I was able to “pre-assure” my non-rejection, I took him up on his offer.
Sure enough, the artist I worked with didn’t have a problem with my status, although he didn’t seem to have much to say about anything really. And after $700, I wasn’t all that happy with his work. So I had to wonder if my fear, if nothing else, was holding me back from more quality work. Because tattoos are something you have permanently scarred into your body for the rest of your life, I didn’t want to make that mistake again. So I gave up my emotional assurance and sought out more reputable shops with higher-rated artists.
At the next place of business, I had to fill out paperwork and plug-in my initials to each section, verifying certain agreements before I could get tattooed there. About half way down, a section asked, point-blank, to acknowledge that I didn’t have any communicable diseases such HIV or Hepatitis C.
“I can’t initial this one,” I told the artist. “I am HIV positive.” I imagined that if I couldn’t initial every section of the paperwork, I would surely be rejected.
But he merely shrugged. “That’s fine. Don’t worry about that one. Just finish the rest and sign it and we will get started.”
Even though things continued this way with each artist, I still anticipated that “Pretty Woman moment” where a store would refuse me based on their ignorant prejudices. Of course, one day I would return, gloriously tattooed, to tell them what a big, “BIG!” mistake they had made. But no such fantasy was necessary — everyone had been totally respectful.
I asked an artist once why it wasn’t such a big deal.
“We take universal precautions,” he said. “We treat every person as if they did have such a disease anyway. That’s why we only use sterile equipment.”
“Besides,” he added. “You wouldn’t want to go to some douchebag shop that wouldn’t work on you for that. It would make me question their practices.”
He made a good point. An artist’s rejection could actually be my saving grace. A shop that doesn’t know how to soundly approach safety would be questionable. Plus, there’s nothing worse than getting an exciting tattoo by a complete jerk. So in a way, my status could help me weed out the shoddy shops and artists.
For my most recent tattoo, the paperwork didn’t even ask about HIV, but I told the artist anyway. Again, he had no problems … but midway through the tattoo, he stopped.
“I just want to say thank you,” he said. “That’s really cool that you told me about your HIV. Even though it doesn’t really matter, most people aren’t that honest and forthcoming.”
As he resumed pulsating that painful needle deep into my skin, I felt proud of myself. There was a sense of integrity for me and the artist. And that’s the kind of tattoo work I wouldn’t have ever received if I hadn’t worked through my fear of being positive.