The decision to get a tattoo for anyone is a major one and a personal decision. It is a permanent marking that stays on your body until and after the grave. Tattoos can be an expression of art or a nightmare that you never wish you would have gotten in the first place.
There are risks involved in getting a tattoo and everyone gets them for a variety of reasons. Each one of my tattoos has a significant meaning in my life however none of them compare to my most recent one. I have never been the type of person to get a tattoo “just because it looks cool” or for something that doesn’t represent a very memorable moment in my life.
After being diagnosed with HIV in June of 2012 I wanted something that would represent my daily struggle with this new virus that has become a part of me. I was debating on what to get that would represent my journey in a positive and uplifting way.
I was worried about going to get a tattoo as I had heard horror stories of others who were poz and turned down due to their status. One day I decided to get up the nerve to go into a local tattoo shop and ask if it was even a possibility. All my other tattoos I had gotten were done before I seroconverted so I was unsure of the reaction I would receive.
I asked the gal at Sea Hag Tattoo Parlour in Temecula, CA if they would consider tattooing me even though I was HIV+. She was very kind, gave me a puzzled look, and said “Well of course, we use universal precautions, and tattoo everyone if they are positive or have some sort of blood born pathogen.” I felt so relieved knowing that it was a possibility and it was at this time I had to go to the drawing board to figure out what I desired.
The first decision I had to make was where to place the tattoo. My personal preference was to get it somewhere very visible so it could also be used as a conversation starter for activism. I have no shame in my HIV status and do not having a problem telling anyone, anywhere that I go. In general I tended to veer away from visible tattoos before as I figured, well, if I get a job that does not take too kindly to tattoos, at least I can cover them up and hide them. For some reason that was not a concern when I got this tattoo because the placement of it was just as important as the tattoo itself, it represented that I had overcome that barrier of trying to hide who I am.
By no means did I want a tattoo that said HIV Positive, not that there is anything wrong with that, however I wanted an artistic design that would tell a story without a need for the actual wording.
After thinking about what I wanted and speaking with the tattoo artist, we came up with a brilliant plan for my new piece of artwork. I decided to get two swallows with the HIV/AIDS ribbon. For those who are not aware swallows were used back in the day by sailors in order to signify a journey. One swallow would represent embarking on the journey while the other swallow would represent the end of the journey. My vision was for the birds to look very realistic and not to come out in cartoonish type form. This is exactly what the artist drew up and I fell in love with it.
All my other tattoos are in black in white but I wanted to get this one in color so it would really make it pop and stand out on my arm. There are many due to skin pigmentation that can’t even get color tattoos because they don’t show up as well so I figured hey I am fair skinned, no reason I shouldn’t get at least one in color.
The swallows are very important to me because as we all know it really is a daily journey that we go through. Sometimes we have good and bad days but through it all we wake up the next day and do it all over again. We have to deal with an array of emotions, med side effects, discrimination, stigma, loneliness at times, and a roller coaster of stress due to constant doctor appointments/lab draws. There are also many positives that have came out of my diagnosis including a love for life, myself, and others around me. This virus has made me realize what is really important and my desire to help others so they do not end up in the same situation. Although there is no end to this journey for myself they also represent the hope to hold on to that one day hopefully we will all have a cure to rid of us this tyrant that has become a part of our beings.
The red ribbon is the AIDS Ribbon to honor all of those who have lost their battle to this virus. I have personally not lost anyone to this virus, thank God, and hope I never do. However, I couldn’t imagine the type of pain and hurt that one feels watching someone slip away slowly into the arms of this virus. I have much respect for all who have fought the good fight and even if they did not make it, they live on in our hearts.
Many of my friends have lost someone to AIDS-related illnesses and I know throughout the years since this virus emerged, many have not been so fortunate to be here to speak about it today. So many fought and died so that we today could have treatment, this was in honour of them. I am eternally in their debt and wanted to offer my deepest condolences for the loss of life due to an indiscriminatory virus.
I was debating wether to put my diagnosis date in roman numerals on my arm; however after careful thought decided this would not be the best approach to take. I wanted to make this a story without words or numbers, something I could look at and remind me of the struggles and rejoice in the blessings.
The artist who did my tattoo was very intrigued about why I was getting it done and what was the meaning behind it. After explaining it to him it gave me a chance to educate him about the virus and he was very appreciative. He thought it was the coolest thing that I am not ashamed of my status and that’s how I want it to be.
I don’t want others to get the wrong impression that I am proud to be HIV Positive, because I am not, if I could give it back I would in a heartbeat. However, I am thankful for the valuable lessons this virus has taught me and all in all it has been a blessing in disguise.
I am extremely honored that HIV Plus magazine featured my tattoo in 12 Must See HIV Tattoos on their online magazine. I am working on sending a thank you letter to the tattoo shop as well as the artist to show him the appreciation for the masterpiece that he completed.
The meaning behind it to me is so strong and I wanted to share this tattoo with all of you. I don’t encourage anyone to get a tattoo, as I stated earlier, this is a personal decision. This was a decision that I am very happy with though and it has become a great way to educate others while reminding myself that yes I am HIV + but it is a journey I will get through. It is all in my attitude towards the virus and adhering to my medicine.
If you are thinking about getting a tattoo I would suggest putting serious thought into why you want to get it, the meaning it will hold, and is it something you are going to regret 20 years down the line? Being tattooed is an artwork and something that you can’t take back after it is there. This tattoo means the world to me and though the journey has been tough the wings of the swallows carry me through day by day.
I would like to thank my supporter PositiveLite.com for continually posting my blogs on their website. Please take a moment to check it out, they are doing some great work for all PLWHA throughout Canada and North America. We are all brothers and sisters united in this fight together <3.
Until next time thank you for reading PozitiveHope and make sure to check me out @ the following links below. Feel free to send me an email if you have ANY questions regarding HIV/AIDS and as always, they will remain confidential. Thank you for your continued support and following me along my HIV Journey.
Joshua D Middleton
This article previously appeared on Joshua's own blog PoziitveHope here.