With every passing Pride Month, the industry gets a little more colorful and a helluva lot queerer. We’re seeing new artistic perspectives every single year. We’re also seeing increasingly inclusive spaces for queer-identifying clients and artists alike. More and more doors are opening… and LGBTQIA+ artists are striding in, powering on their machines, and shaking things up in the best of ways.
Last year, we celebrated a group of LGBTQIA+ artists who are changing the fabric of the industry. This year, we had the pleasure of meeting 5 more LGBTQIA+ artists with all-new perspectives.
Their voices are proud, distinctive, and imperative to the growth of this industry. So, we’ll shut up now and let you meet them. Allow us to introduce you to…
Queer non-binary tattoo artist at Homebody Tattoo Collective in Vancouver, Canada
Stylized realism meets striking queer influences in Vancouver-based artist James Lauder’s portfolio. Their work covers a large gamut of bold subjects: scrolling through their Instagram, you’ll notice shibari themes, naked portraiture, and pop culture icons like Beatrice Kiddo from Kill Bill.
“I would describe my style as evolving […] with a strong focus on exploring gender, sexuality, intimacy, and queer identity. All my work is queer in nature. Specifically, I like to focus on gender in both my artistic and tattoo practice. How that manifests visually varies depending on the concept.”
This queer-centric style is like a fresh spring breeze in the tattoo industry, which, in its “winter years,” was more closed off to less traditional flash or subject matter. And as the tattoo industry welcomes more unique styles like James Lauder’s, we’re seeing a noticeable queer-ification of the status quo.
“I think the industry has changed a lot in the past 10 or even five years. At least in the city, it seems to be unusual for a studio or shop to be comprised of solely straight white cis men. It exists but it’s definitely not the norm. I live in a bit of a queer bubble, though, so my perspective is going to be different.”
This “queer bubble” James Lauder inhabits is a place of connection, community, and non-judgment. But James is still very much aware of the challenges that remain outside the bubble.
“I think rental affordability and demand for spaces in the city (or any city for that matter) is a huge problem. I think this affects queer people and queer businesses more [because] moving to more affordable locations outside the city isolates you from the larger queer community’s support and resources.”
But in the meantime, James and their team of artists remain an invaluable resource for the queer community in Vancouver. The co-founder of a tattoo collective called “Homebody,” which is currently comprised of three other queer tattooers, James’s doors are open to clients of all backgrounds and identities.
“I’d say that 90% of our clients identify as part of the queer community. To be able to provide a safe, inclusive space for people (myself included) is incredibly important, as tattooing is such an intimate and personal thing for both parties. To not have to worry about people’s reactions to who you are, how you present, or what you might be getting tattooed creates a space where people can just be themselves and have a good time.”
Follow James on Instagram: @mrlauder
Bisexual agender tattoo artist in Jersey City, New Jersey
Their name is Roachcola, but their friends call them Roach… and just like their name, their portfolio is vibrant, bold, and spicy. Roachcola has a keen eye for detail. They’re able to zest up any piece with a signature twist, whether it be a simple floral banger or a pop-culture-inspired neotraditional tattoo.
“I would describe my style of work as a dark folky illustrative neo-traditional mash-up […] also love working with pop culture vibes in my art such as anime, games, cartoons. I believe that just the act of me creating designs inherently make them queer art. I think that revealing a part of your identity within your own art is a very personal act that isn’t necessarily meant to be a big display. The work I create is a culmination of all my experiences in life thus far, not just my experiences being bisexual and agender.”
Roachcola’s culmination of tattooing experience spans four-and-a-half years. And before building their distinctive folky, dark-but-colorful style, they had to overcome one all-too-familiar barrier: backlash against their identity.
“The shop owner that I was apprenticing for at the time ended up firing me for not presenting myself in a traditionally femme way. I remember feeling baffled and upset over their decision to which the shop owner told me that ‘I would never make it in the tattoo industry because I was too sensitive.’ It took me five years out from that terrible situation to make another attempt at an apprenticeship which ended up being successful.”
For Roachcola, sensitivity and authenticity have been assets throughout their career. Not only do those two characteristics play a role in crafting thoughtful work for every client; they also help Roachcola form genuine connections.
“Tattooing has attracted a lot of super interesting, talented, and kind queer folks into my life. I thrive on that connection of sharing our stories and life experiences. I want to see them succeed in all facets of their lives and try to give advice whenever I am able.”
Along with an increasing demographic of LGBTQIA+ clients, Roachcola has noticed a parallel increase in queer-focused tattoo shops. Having experienced the trials of a queer, non-binary artist in a younger industry, they foresee a rainbow after the storm.
“I look forward to the day when a young queer artist isn’t turned away for being different like how I experienced when I was younger. I especially look forward to the day when queer and BiPOC artists won’t have to resort to scratching and being self-taught in order to break into the tattoo industry.”
Follow Roachcola on Instagram: @roachcola
Queer tattoo artist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Traditional influences play a lead role in the work of Sheila Larson, but her style is anything but customary. Combining surrealist elements with the bold lines and colors of traditional tattooing, Sheila offers body art that is both classic and one-of-its-kind.
“I do a lot of surreal characters and ironic imagery in my own work. I think my identity comes through in everything just because it’s a part of me. Having apprenticed in a street shop, I was also taught to be as versatile as possible within my capabilities, so I love doing walk-ins as well. I just like giving people good tattoos.”
Sheila considers tattooing the queer community to be a gift. More than a transactional experience, she values the friendships, bonds, and lessons derived from every session. Creating a foundation of trust is important to her… but, even as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, Sheila recognizes that trust isn’t always easy to come by.
“There are definitely some shops out there that claim to be inclusive but haven’t taken any steps to get there. People get defensive about this topic because they have a gay uncle and they’re cool with them… but we’re asking for a bit more from people who profit off a job that, at its core, makes the most vulnerable in our society feel pretty vulnerable.
So, it can be difficult to do things like guest spot or find a full residency at a shop if you don’t know for sure what their ethics are. […] Additionally, as a white tattooer, I also can’t just assume my measure of safety applies to all my clients. I absolutely have an easier time entering and existing in certain spaces if I choose to, but I’m not going to assume that just because a space is safe for me, that it would also be safe for black clients.”
Safety, care, and ethical practices are all key factors Sheila strives for as she evolves alongside the industry. These fragile pillars certainly need a lot of strengthening. But Sheila continues to cultivate her own safe space… both for herself and her clients. While challenges are inevitable for any marginalized community, she recognizes the beautiful aspects of this colorful industry.
“The work we do is so important and sharing mutual care and support for each other really has enriched my experience tattooing. I can’t imagine it would have as much magic for me without those connections to both clients and artists in community.”
Follow Sheila on Instagram: @fork_spit
Queer trans woman tattoo artist and shop owner at Tattoo Zoo in Victoria, BC Canada
Geri Kramer’s style is fluid, versatile, and customized to the client’s body. Her rich portfolio encompasses all kinds of subjects: florals, traditional pieces, rich blackwork, and illustrative work abound.
But Geri prefers an undefined approach to tattooing. She instead values the versatile and healing aspects of her art. In fact, you’ll find plenty of cover-up tattoos in her portfolio, each executed with care to help clients feel as happy as they can in their own skin. Overall, Geri Kramer’s work parallels her own life experiences as a trans woman.
“I’ve discovered that as I move through my transition, I’ve become acutely aware of the feelings that can come up regarding our dissatisfaction with our bodies or our presentation. My focus is on connecting with my clientele and sharing our experience as we create with and reshape their bodies. I think this has become an integral part of my process, in no small part related to my queerness and gender exploration.
Tattooing should be for all bodies, and I try to embody that in my day-to-day appointments.”
A tattoo shop owner for nearly two decades, Geri Kramer came out as a trans woman in 2020. Revealing her authentic self has had a profound effect on her business life. And, in establishing her own identity, she has found more freedom, ease, and passion in her work.
“It was only in the last five or six years that I really started to get a handle on what an inclusive and equitable shop might look like. I think it took me so long because I really struggled with understanding a lot of the concepts and balancing it with my fears of being outed. This reimagining of the way I run my business has had an unbelievably positive effect on my work! It’s brought people into our shop that are more in alignment with our policies and politics, and as a result of that I’ve found an ease in creating work that has my whole heart reflected in it.”
While Geri still faces opposition as a publicly trans woman in her community, she’s chosen to look toward the light. She prioritizes her growth as a business owner and trans woman discovering her most authentic way of living. And along with her shop and business becoming a more authentic, inclusive, and queer-friendly place, Geri is hopeful for the industry at large as well.
“I’ve seen the erosion of some of the gatekeeping in tattooing in the last few years — I’ve noticed a shift towards more community-taught queer tattooers coming into the business, and less of a focus on ‘traditional’ apprenticeships.”
While Geri claims that gate opening isn’t necessarily a direct result of queer culture, she nonetheless opens her doors to make clients of all creeds feel happy and safe. Consequently, she approaches her work with empathy and deep understanding.
“My transness has profoundly changed the way I see and interact with my own body because transition has allowed me to physically step outside the gender roles I was assigned at birth. This in turn has impacted the way I approach other people’s desires around their bodies — because I’ve discovered a level of understanding that allows me to focus on their wants and desires.”
Follow Geri on Instagram: @gerikramertattoos
Queer trans tattoo artist at Flower World in Brooklyn, New York
Arab-American tattoo artist Sema Dayoub’s body of work is bold, loud, empowering, and – in their words – extremely gay. Looking at their work, you’ll notice the bold lines and classic colors associated with American Traditional tattooing. But you’ll also see the distinctive iconography of Sema’s rich Arab culture.
“I like to say that my work is Arab-American traditional. I’m definitely inspired by the style and imagery of traditional tattoos, but I’m equally inspired by the motifs and imagery of my people — for example: pomegranates and Syrian swords. Sometimes I’ll have people ask me specifically for gay tattoos and I’m just like, ‘I’m extremely gay so of course everything I make will be too.’ I strive to make tattoos through a de-colonial lens that can empower my clients who wear them.”
The desire to empower their clients comes from their own experience with getting tattooed detailed in their article on Autostraddle. Sema, who self-identifies their gender as “somewhere between truck dyke and 90s punk boy,” found opportunities for freedom from gender norms in tattooing. Sema believes the power of tattoos on skin can be life-changing — just as Hormone Replacement Therapy and Gender Affirming Surgery have been in their life.
“One of the best parts of tattooing as a queer person is getting to meet other queer folks and providing them with an affirming experience.”
For Sema, among the other best parts of their career is working toward positive change. While the industry has certainly evolved from predominantly heterosexual, cis-gendered white culture, Sema asserts there’s so much more essential change they’d like to see.
“I’m so excited to see more queer artists of color in tattooing. I remember a few years ago it was very hard to find an artist that was publicly queer — and even harder to find someone who was queer and not white. I’m grateful to see more artists supporting incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people. I would love to see more conversations happening between younger tattooers and tattooers who’ve been around longer. I’d also love to see us become less reliant on Instagram. So much is changing in our industry and we can direct that change in positive ways.”
In light of Pride month, Sema acknowledges the roots of the celebration. While they express their identity through their work, Sema expresses their pride by paying homage to figures who spearheaded the movement.
“I want to always acknowledge that the first pride was in fact a riot against police, led by trans women of color: Marsha P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera. Through their example – I express my pride in their legacy by continuing to resist the settler colonial police state we live in. I redirect and redistribute a large part of my income to trans women of color, and I always want to use the platforms I do have, to work towards liberation for all queer people.”
Follow Sema on Instagram: @sema.tattoo
Celebrate Pride Year-Round
We encourage you to check out all of these artists and other LGBTQIA+ tattooers around the world… but not just during the month of June. Exploring new work and unique perspectives is important year-round. After all, art is all about expressing a broad spectrum of viewpoints and stories. We’re grateful to meet and shed light on new artists every year as the industry continues to evolve.
Check out last year’s LGBTQIA+ feature here for six more queer-identifying artists and their stories. Happy tattooing, and happy Pride Month!
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