Like Diamanda Galas says…

It’s pretty common to hear “oops” stories about kanji tattoos — “I thought it meant ‘brave warrior’ but in fact it means ‘orange chicken!’” — but tattoo symbology is a rich subject, so I wanted to tell a story about my friend Mike.

That’s him getting tattooed by Joi, and the resultant biohazard symbol tattoo. He got it right before the 2004 Rhode Island SusCon. At a suspension convention, controlling cross contamination is extremely important and far from easy. I’ll let Mike tell how people responded to his tattoo in his own words:

I went back to my room and checked my e-mail. The friend to whom I’d sent pictures [of my tattoo to] had replied. His response was “Ummm…. Isn’t that usually for poz guys?” That was not the response I was looking for!

[Earlier Ron Garza had also] wanted to know if I knew the significance of my new tattoo. I felt myself getting nervous. He told me that among gay men, it’s an indication that one is HIV positive. At first, I thought he was joking. It took me a few minutes to realize that he was serious.

How the hell did all of these people know about the significance of my tattoo when I didn’t? I spent most of that weekend in a panic. Obviously, I was a little freaked out. The last thing I wanted was for people to think that I’m HIV positive when I’m not. As a gay man, that’s a pretty sensitive topic for me.


He’d considered a cover-up, but Mike ended up deciding to keep the tattoo as a reminder to himself that he hadn’t done his homework, a mistake he never wanted to repeat. I should mention that Mike also has several gorgeous tattoos by Jon Clue, including a custom Dr. BME logo.

6 thoughts on “Like Diamanda Galas says…

  1. respect for keeping it, and challenging anybody who judges who you are by your tattoos

  2. Im going to brand this symbol to my chest next week, knowing well what it means for some ppl.

    This symbol means something completely different for me, cos Im not gay nor hiv-pos. For me, it reminds be about my life from 16yo to now(Im 24 now). I learned the “gay/hiv” meaning of it 8-9 months ago, but dont bother what some ppl thinks. I’ve been thinking of branding this for 5 years now, and looks forward to get it done 🙂 Maybe some pics will be posted here.

  3. I saw a girl in a veg shop in Orgiva who had the chem hazard symbols for Explosive and a few others going down her arm. Beautifully neat and lovely. Can’t remember if it was Toxic, Flammable, Irritant or Corrosive. Could have been all of them.

    Has Mike thought of getting a qualifying legend to cue strangers that his reason is not HIV? Rhinovirus carrier?


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