Skin Deep 171

Oh God, here comes yet another media-driven, scaremongering diatribe about tattoos being dirty and dangerous.

You may have read in one or two of the red top newspapers that a “Man dies from infected tattoo”. It’s not until you actually read further into the story that the truth becomes clear. The unfortunate chap died due to a deep vein thrombosis and not the tattoo. Why oh why do these hacks have to portray tattooists as some sort of modern day pariahs, preying on unsuspecting individuals, scarring them and infecting them with all sorts of diseases? Because it sells papers, unfortunately. 

The sad fact that the only time you see tattoo mentioned in the papers is when something has gone wrong. Forget all the good that tattooists do for the morale of folk and the wonderful designs that they put into skin; let’s just kick tattooists and portray them in a very bad light and many small-minded individuals will believe it. ‘Cause it was in the papers it must be right, eh?’

You may have seen a particularly lowbrow newspaper headline recently; “My HIV’s an issue but I keep it quiet”.

Well I have just had a letter from the tattooist concerned and here are his (and I fully believe) true facts behind the gutter press’s rubbish article...


“I am writing this letter to state certain facts to address this issue of what has been disclosed to you. In doing so, I hope to make a few things clear, and hope that in doing so that the stigma of the passed day and its sensationalistic smear will in fact pass.

It is unfortunate that there is a stigma about HIV and the tattoo industry, and that a story like this further fanned the flames to create more sales by splashing this on a front page, when in fact its journalist stated that I posed some threat to the greater public and that I had an obligatory purpose to do so. 

I am a professional tattoo artist and a licensed, certified tattooist. I follow all and every protocol to guarantee to ensure the safety of the public as well as myself. It is implied that there in some loose way that HIV and tattooing are somehow related. However, I will disclose to you that I did not become HIV positive through a tattoo, but through unprotected sex, and through this I am not proud of my choice and outcome.

Now I am no martyr, nor am I choosing to be some sort of pawn for a national cause to raise some sort of awareness, yet by approaching you I hope to settle a few things that the press has distorted. The local council did know about my status before the story went to press, because I went to the head of licensing and spoke with her directly, and with my gut instinct I told her the truth and disclosed it of my own volition. She said she had heard nothing about any reporters or story being approached in any case. However she did tell me that she would have to see and verify any policies that may infringe both sides.

Now, you can’t imagine that on the 18th of March I wake up to a text from a friend whom alerted me in regards to the article in The Sun newspaper. I, like anyone, became sick with nerves, and to my dismay I was put on a front page, regardless of what I had said to a journalist, who took quotes out of context and distorted a story by attaching me to a famous figure. Now I still believe that any issue like this, “is both a personal and private matter regardless if they are a janitor working in a children’s school to a doctor or nurse working in health care”. And I don’t see how something like this type of story is beneficial to anyone’s knowledge other than spurring a prejudice, only to guarantee a fear factor in something that people sometimes see as unsavoury.

I am subject to drop-in inspections and obliged to acquire all safety measures and certifications for my establishment and any other regulations that the council sees fit. I do so because I am proud of what I do and take great pride in my work. I am a good tattooist and feel that this story has only been the work of someone who felt the need to discredit me not only as a tattooist, but also as a human being. I still feel hand over heart that I did nothing wrong nor put anyone’s health at risk, let alone lie about something as important as this subject. We are dealing in a time and age where certain people like to place blame or judgment on others to make ourselves feel better about ourselves, through TV, Blogs and reality shows, etc. Yet we forget that some things are truly no one’s business and that some hold this sacred and just carry on as normal. To me, my status is not an issue because it’s something that I have to deal with on a daily basis. However, at present I am neither on any medication nor any prescriptions due to my status. Yesterday was one of the hardest days of my life because I had to deal with a few calls from young girls whom were terrified by a story like this and had been tattooed by myself. As a professional, I stuck to the facts and the actual facts in terms of transmission to person to person, explaining the single-use needle policy through to the level of hygiene and sterilisation I implement in my shop. For a brief moment I broke and yes, I cried like a little girl to one customer. 

I was able to settle their nerves and mend any anxiety that they may have had. HIV is something that affects everyone in some shape or form, be it through a relative or friend or whomever that may have this condition, and I wish that this would all blow over, especially since I do feel that there is a stigma about it in the tattoo industry. Is a person with HIV+ status a lesser person than that of one whom is not? Is it an issue of concern in the professional realm when someone takes all precautionary measures to keep this and themselves safe? Does a magazine start asking about a tattooist’s status before they consider publishing their photos to the general public at large? Where does it end or stop? Does a person have the right to keep something personal and private if his job does not endanger anyone else?

The council has stood behind me on this issue and again I broke down because I knew everything was going to be all right, and that I am and will always try to be a good person. And two long-term clients whom are straight and have been clients since I have opened my studio showed their support in this matter, and I felt blessed. It has been a rollercoaster ride and not an enjoyable one. I do feel some damage has been done to try and discredit my reputation, and me, but that will take some part on my side and patience and hard work. Somehow I feel that I have been persecuted by The Sun in much the same way they go after paedophiles and sex offenders, yet no actual crime was committed by myself.

Perhaps I am writing this letter to you in hopes that a change can come in an already uncertain climate, but I have hope and determination on my side. But I guess I am coming to you as just a person who loves his craft, and is proud of what he has accomplished and would do anything for his staff and co-workers. This not only affects me, but them as well, and sure, I have heard the odd tattoo gossip like the next person, and always wondered if it was true or not but I had to only look at it as just gossip. I would not ever place any client or myself at risk. I am going to shut up now as I feel I have said enough and have and will always enjoy your magazine... I thank you for your time."

-Henry Hate, Prick Tattoo Studio

Back Issues