Pride Month was created to honor the 1969 Stonewall Riots in Manhattan, and has evolved to be a time of celebration, visibility, and support for many people and issues surrounding LGBTQ+ rights. While this should be, and is, a time for love and happiness, it's also a harsh reality that we have far to go, and much to fight for.
The main objective of this article is to help bring visibility to some issues that, although intimate and raw, need to be expressed often, through many forms, expressions, people and places. Thanks to Ciara Havishya, interviewed for this article. Thanks also for their supportive platform, QPOC.TTT and willingness to be so unequivocally honest. One of the best ways to spark change is to lead an authentic and transparent life, to be the epitome of what you believe in and stand for, to be a soul of solidarity, education, and community. Ciara has certainly been able to do this, as have many others included in this article.
Many of the images for this article were selected from Ciara's own collection of QPOC tattooers, and collectors, while others are LGBTQ+ artists working in the industry, or tattoo artists who support queer identities with badass art from the likes of Tom of Finland. Inclusivity is important, as is knowing when to use your voice and when to simply just stand behind others who need to be heard, especially when they belong to a group that is often suppressed and repressed in hopes of continuing the conventional status quo.
What has your experience been in the tattoo community as a qpoc?
My experience as a queer person of colour in tattooing is a little backwards in that I never worked in real tattoo shops before opening my own. I had no experience of mainstream tattoo community because I didn't really buy into it to begin with, but, I had a series of very upsetting and telling experiences of working with white queer tattooers and within a larger white queer culture online and in the real world. I continually encountered criticism for being a capitalist for wanting to build permanent spaces for queer and especially POC tattooers from my white queer peers who had a lot more resources and privilege to stay more ideologically true to radical ideals. They simply didn't have as much to gain from the legitimacy and safety of a tattoo shop as I and other POC did. That experience has been recurring in various incarnations, but ultimately I realized that white queer tattooers have a racism problem that manifests in incredibly dangerous ways for POC queer tattooers who have drastically different experiences of financial stability, respectability and family trauma. To be queer and a person of colour is often to reject one's family and risk physical or emotional violence by coming out, or even by getting tattoos and piercings, and many get disowned and cut off. These were risks I was constantly navigating as I was starting to tattoo and build my community around me.
Why is qpoc visibility and transparency important in general, and in the tattoo community?
People of colour are a minority in mainstream tattoo culture, and lgbtq people of colour are even fewer and farther in between. In the last three years queer tattooing has gained a lot of visibility as artists at the forefront are some of the most influential critical thinkers in tattooing. However in being lumped into greater queer tattooing culture, the specificities of queer and POC experiences were stories that simply weren't being told.
To be a queer and POC tattooer is to navigate many in-between cultural spaces, and it's really fraught with tension for many people. The benefits of professional networks for QPOC tattooers are too many to count. For tattooers to be able to trade information for example, on navigating queer phobia in tattoo shops, or even on navigating racism from our clients, this is a big resource in developing our strength as artists and businesspeople. The visibility that the page creates is crucially important as a resource that prioritizes QPOC tattooers as active producers of tattoo culture rather than as more passive clients.
What was the catalyst that made you start a page dedicated to qpoc tattooers?
The catalyst for me came from talking to QPOC tattooers online separately and realizing how many commonalities we had. I spoke to a lot of West Coast queer POC tattooers who were working towards opening their own spaces, and speaking to them was a breath of fresh air I didn't know I needed. I realized that if we had more of a network we could maybe create some level of culture of our own similar to what the mainstream queer tattooers instagram has created.
I was seeing levels of invisibility and exclusion for QPOC tattooer in online queer tattooing think pieces and community. At the same time I was noticing white queers engaging with appropriative and Orientalist tattooing being celebrated by queer tattoo spaces, while QPOC tattooers working in similar styles were not even getting visibility. That felt really unjust and upsetting, and through running the page I've discovered so many artists that didn't get the same level of air time from online queer tattoo spaces as white ones with larger followings, despite the quality and originality of their work being exceptional.
What has the reception been like for your Insta page qpoc.ttt? How has it enhanced or uplifted your own practice or experience?
The reception for qpoc.ttt has been a constant surprise. I started it as a whim and didn't realize the magnitude of it. I also didn't expect the level to which it's become a liaison between qpoc tattooers, and qpoc clients and white tattooers, queer or otherwise. It's been uplifting, and in some ways really scary because as a half-Indian person living in Vancouver I don't have the same stark experiences of racism that many followers from the United States do. I often question if I'm the best person to be running the page.
How did you learn to embrace your body, voice and experience in this world? What advice do you have for others trying to do the same?
I really have a lot of discomfort with my body and voice and my experience. I am of the diaspora and I spent most of my life believing I would grow up to be white. I'm only now reckoning with my non-whiteness, and learning how I can express that as well as my queerness in ways that feel comfortable to me. For me, coming to terms with being brown meant recognizing how whitewashing some manifestations of queerness could be. For others trying to do the same, I encourage folks to unapologetically hustle for what they need. To build community, and build business and art and to not try to make it perfect, but to do the best you can with what you've got. To give feedback gently and carefully, and to not hold yourself or others, especially marginalized people, to unrealistic standards. Only fierceness and excellence can come from such a compassionate and honest environment.
Do you think gender/race relations are improving? How do you think others can become more aware or involved in making things more progressive?
Overall yes and no. I think that through tattooing as one example, people like me are gaining a voice that gets our stories heard. At the same time race relations are starting to hit a fever pitch internationally. Indigenous communities in Canada are contending with pipelines they don't want being forced across their land while our premier cries crocodile tears for reconciliation. In the states police violence against black folks is increasing in visibility and the abuses suffered by migrants at the hands of ICE are coming to light. Visibility for all these issues has increased to the point where it's inescapable. It's just a question of whether or not change will happen. With the rise of white supremacy and the Alt-Right in North America, it's more important than ever to build our allies and our communities and to hold one another close.