I got my first tattoo when I was 12. I knew nothing about tattooing—I just pierced myself with the needle and ink. There’s something about the aesthetic that I love. I’m 31 now and I have no idea how many I have. Maybe more than a hundred? They’ve all just become one. I’m running out of space.
I’m a queer gay guy and old-school tattoo studios are quite a daunting place. I’ve always had a weird relationship with any street tattoo or piercing places. They feel very commercial, very straight. When I started managing studios almost ten years ago in my first job, I worked for a female piercer—just us two—and it was great because the studio felt safe. When I worked in other places I didn’t feel as secure, so I decided to distance myself for a few years. I came back to it when an amazing team of artists asked me to work for them.
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I decided to set up Queer Bodmod Compass because I have so many [LGBTQ] friends who don’t feel comfortable going to studios and would rather get a tattoo done at home. They would never walk into a studio, which I completely understand. I think some studios are not the most comfortable place for queer people, especially when you have to get naked or talk about your bad experiences.
Through my work as a studio manager, I got to meet a lot of really amazing artists who are also great humans. My idea was more to try to identify who these people were to try to promote their work and to say, “OK, these are safe people you can go to.” I’ll only really get tattoos from people I know, or friends, so I know how important it is for the need to feel comfortable.
With the map you can see where you are, locate the people around you and see what their work is like. It started when I was living in Belgium and I got in touch with some artists I knew and wanted to include. They started to promote it, and just over a year later it’s spread all around the world.
It’s tricky to find a tattoo artist you trust if you don’t have a strong LGBTQ community nearby. Lots of people go to regular studios, have traumatic experiences, and never go back. The person tattooing you definitely has the power; if they make a bad comment, it can be traumatic. I’ve heard about millions of comments about someone’s physique. If you feel uncomfortable in that situation it’s difficult to get away. When you’re half-naked and lying on the table, what are you going to do?
For trans people, in particular, there are so many occasions where people use the wrong pronouns. It’s important the artist is someone who can empathize with their discomfort or gender dysphoria.
There’s not really anything else like Queer Bodmod Compass. It’s grown really naturally just through word of mouth. One point where things changed was when Brooke Candy and Grace Neutral promoted the map—when that happened, I started getting a lot of emails, especially from the US.
Honesty regarding the project is very important for me and I don't want anyone to be disappointed. Artists register of their own will and we offer this list as a tool to help find the right person, but it is not magical and we don't want to advertise it this way—we are running it as volunteers and have no power to control people's behavior. Of course, anyone can report any problem to us and we will take action instantly and find solutions together. Removing someone from the map is something we would do in case of problematic behavior.
There are over 400 people or something on the map now. I want it to keep growing, I’m going to get my friend Caro Ley involved to help me organize it—maybe start a rating system. I’m really happy I never thought it would grow so much. There’s a real need and people are grateful. Loads of artist have got in contact to say they’ve got clients from people using the map. It’s really great to get so much positive feedback—it makes me feel like it really was needed.
I do think the tattoo industry is becoming more accommodating for LGBTQ people, and lots more doors are opening up. It’s great to see a shift in the way tattooing is done. I get why people don’t want to go through the traditional apprenticeship and just start trying on their friends.
There are some [LGBTQ] people who will only tattoo the community, which is amazing. There are some tattoos I would never ask a straight person to do. Sometimes if you have a really personal experience you just want to share it with someone who can relate to them. I have a lot of queer motifs and flags that were done by queer people.
I wanted other people who might have felt like me to be able to know they’re getting a tattoo in a safer space with great people, so I’m glad the map is there to guide them. Tattoos give you a chance to reclaim your body and tell your story. It can help people get through really difficult times and make peace with their troubles. Decoration is part of it but it’s the healing aspect that really inspires me—the reasoning behind it.