By Kharina Miramontes (they/them)
As a biracial, pansexual, nonbinary person, I tend to joke with my friends it was predestined that I’d be incapable of making a decision for the rest of my life. For someone who used therapy to help them move away from a very extreme, black-and-white framework of thought, my identity stands firmly in nuanced shades of grey.
And it went beyond identity—it feels like there is no niche for my hodgepodge of hobbies, my plethora of passions, my compilation of crafts. At times, they felt like contradictions, especially when intersectionality came into play. Would I always be stuck feeling like I had to choose between the varying parts of what makes me, me?
Now, I’m not sure you could call getting tattoos a hobby, but I would definitely consider it a passion of mine. As a nonbinary person, there’s an inexplicably good feeling in reclaiming your body as your own, and I’ve taken to tattoos as one might to stickers on their Hydro Flask. Before social media took off, finding an artist was a matter of word of mouth and accessibility. Living in San Diego, I found myself enamored with American traditional styles—not only did they feel very “classic tattoo,” I found the bold lines and color schemes appealing. It was like the tattoo was asserting itself on a person’s skin, a kindred spirit to my need for reclamation of my body.
Yet every shop I went in felt unsafe: transphobic, racist, sexist remarks were common and while sitting waiting for my other friends to get their ink, I made a mental “X” by most of the shops I had been screening. After seven years, I gave up hope. It wasn’t until I started really digging through social media that I began to realize the scene was changing. A creative friend of mine shared a post from a Vietnamese tattoo artist that specialized in American traditional tattoos. I was immediately enthralled when I checked out the page. Kristine Tran, located in San Diego, had designs that overlapped a variety of my interests—from kewpies of horror movie slashers to sketches of cozy mushroom houses—and her linework was incredible. When she posted a kewpie of Jobu Tupaki from the movie Everything Everywhere All At Once (EEAO), I scrambled to her booking site in order to reserve it for myself.
After two years of following her page and months of waiting after booking my appointment, I finally got to meet Kristine in person, and she completely opened up my eyes to a side of the industry that I had missed. Her booking site asked for pronouns up front, and she reconfirmed when we met in person. She was transparent about her COVID protocols and clearly worked very hard to keep people safe while practicing her craft. Not only was her space filled with objects meant to draw out positive energy—including a pamphlet on how to do so without appropriating other cultures—she was also jamming out to 00s alt music. As she tattooed the character on my forearm, I was completely distracted from the pain—and not just because of the amazing numbing spray she used on my arm. We talked—and I mean really talked—about how much EEAO meant to us, about intergenerational trauma, and about the tattoo industry. I shared with her my initial experiences with American traditional art in San Diego, and she shared with me her beginning stages and doubts as a tattoo artist. In that conversation, she said something that I’m still thinking about: “The industry—it’s hard to see at first—but it’s full of all different kinds of people. We’re out here!! And there’s more and more of us; social media has made it easier to find us.”
Then she told me about Ceb, a trans tattoo artist also located in San Diego, who also specializes in American traditional and has a line of diverse pinups: I’m talking male, hairy, fat, trans (with post op top surgery scars!) and more. I could have cried. As I said earlier, the intersection of my identity and interests felt hard to navigate. I’ve always wanted a pinup but didn’t like the sexist background they tended to get wrapped with and I definitely didn’t want that represented on my body. Once again, it felt like I would have to sacrifice a part of me to honor another. But now? The possibilities are endless.
– Kharina Miramontes is a nonbinary Filipino and Mexican American who explores their layered identities through their writing. Kharina recently graduated from CSULB with a B.A. in English, emphasizing in creative writing, and is currently pursuing their career as a writer and social media content manager.