Tattoos. Piercings. Pumping.
From the mundane to the potentially dangerous, body modifications offer possibilities to change our bodies. No matter what they are, the purpose of consensual body modification is to alter our bodies exactly in the ways we choose. Body mods grant us an avenue to liberate ourselves, if only by a tiny bit.
For a long time, I felt powerless because I didn’t think I had the freedom to be myself. Living under both a white supremacist and a Latino culture, my family expected me to be the perfect hypermasculine man. It was constantly hammered into my head by family members that we all had to be “respectable” Latino people, which meant I had to live with masculinity and heterosexuality violently being forced onto me. For fear of being considered “bad” Latinos, we also couldn’t do anything to be considered threats to white people. That means we had to embrace patriotism and Standard White English.
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Living in the world as a trans woman of color, I quickly learned that if I didn’t do something to preserve myself, I’d be crushed under the weight of oppression. I had internalized all off the xenophobia, femmephobia, and transmisogyny that I encountered from family and society at large, delaying my self-expression for a long time. Awhile after coming out, relatives were finally starting to give up on stifling my femininity and “softness”. After that, I came to the realization that I needed to free myself from toxic masculinity’s imprint on me even more. I just didn’t really know specifics on how to do that.
One day, I was bored and chilling in my dorm, looking for something to do. I went on Instagram and asked if I knew anyone who did tattoos. One thing led to another, and I chose to get “Princess” tatted on my chest. My friend did the tattoo and the process was simpler than I thought it would be. All I had to do was lie down as she worked her machine across my chest. It stung at first but then it became numb. It took two sessions, and when it was done I felt like a new person.
For me, “Princess” is more than a title or a name. It’s my way of life, my gender, and the ultimate expression of who I am. That first tattoo was when I learned that body modifications could be used to reclaim the autonomy I thought I’d lost long ago.
For me, tattoos helped me reclaim power over my body and the way that other people see me. Since my first tattoo, I have gotten several more tattoos, and started commissioning drawings for a few big ones. I have also started to plan to get silicone injections to achieve my ideal body shape, breast implants and facial feminization surgery. These changes to my body, like my tattoos, are more than just transition goals. They signify a level of autonomy I’d never had before, being able to modify my body means I’m able to actually assert a permanent form of control over my body and in my life.
But it’s not that easy. As a trans feminine person of color, I am stuck between misogynistic and transmisogynistic beauty standards. Trans women are considered either too feminine or not feminine enough by society. We are either called men or traps. There is no winning. What’s worse is that trans women are criticized and accused of upholding patriarchy and the gender binary for using body modifications that alter our bodies into a more nonmasculine shape. But I bear the scars, emotionally and physically, of what happens when you fall outside of the gender boundaries. I continue to resist the gender binary by making myself into who I want to be, rather than what is forced and imprinted on me.
It can be controversial to praise silicone injections, but they are as much a legitimate form of body modification as anything else. Many trans feminine people of color have taken to pumping – injecting silicone into the thighs, hips, butt, or breasts – in order to create curves and to reclaim our bodies. Even though silicone injections are one of the most dangerous body modifications one can undertake, it’s worth the risk to me because I can take back my own destiny. When most people get silicone injected, they know the risks of doing it. It isn’t something one wanders into naively.
Over the years, I’ve met dozens of queer and trans people of color who assert themselves via body modifications. Not all body modifications are permanent or large-scale changes. For some of us, body modification is already part of our cultures, and for some of us, it is not. No matter the specifics of these alterations, modifications, or temporary changes, they are each an act of resistance and survival for QTPOC. We resist respectability politics, queerphobia, racism, and (trans)misogyny by asserting that we have the agency to do whatever we want to with our bodies.
Brick by brick, the world places pressure on us that has the potential to break or kill us. No matter what we do, we’ll never be feminine, masculine, pretty, or handsome enough for white supremacy and that’s the way it was meant to be.
People underestimate the self-care in getting new ink or hair dye or breast implants. It can make you feel powerful in a world that doesn’t want you to feel that way. My body mods are the most important thing I’ve ever done for myself. I am, in so many ways, creating a lasting imprint on myself that helps me to survive.
Princess Harmony is unapologetic afrolatin weeb trash that likes anime, visual novels, and video games. Her favorite snack is Strawberry Pocky and she loves empanadas. Oh, and she likes shiny things. Especially glittery shiny things.
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