Salem Jones Sheds Their Old Self

This week's guest blog is written by Salem Jones. You can see their work on Instagram at @jonesthepilot.

My name is Salem Jones, I’m 22 years old, and I’m a nonbinary queer person. I’m a tattoo apprentice in western North Carolina, and although sometimes it’s difficult to exist publically as a queer person in the south, I’ve found a vast and diverse community of like-minded folks out here to connect with. Aside from the regional culture, the mainstream American tattoo industry in particular has a reputation for being prohibitive to women and queer folks, and fortunately I’ve been happily working at a shop which offers me the luxury of acceptance and protection.

I think body modification, in many ways, is a key part of the queer experience because it allows us a degree of control over our bodies and the way we present that cannot be stripped away from us. Piercing and tattooing can be such a fulfilling way to change our bodies to fit visually with our inner world, and I’m thrilled to be able to offer a safe space for queer folks to modify their bodies without the potential judgement (or worse) that may be a concern with a typical tattoo shop.

Out of all my tattoos, my favorite is still my largest piece, done about 2 years ago by my current master’s former apprentice. One reason I adore this piece so much is, of course, is its aesthetic value in how it ornaments my body. Two slender tails curl around my collarbones, lithe serpentine bodies become one at my sternum, and four inquisitive faces splay out beneath my ribcage, their detailed scales in perfect symmetry. It also adds something complex and meaningful to my chest, a space that has been a source of dysphoria and discomfort for some time now. It allows me to see something beautiful where there once was only pain.

When I see my body now, I don’t feel the same stir of anxiety. I see a reminder of my own persistence and strength. The snake is a symbol of transformation. Not in the same way a butterfly is, where one instance of metamorphosis changes the little creature to its core. Snakes change incrementally. They cast off parts of themselves that have grown too tight, they shed their old selves multiple times and grow bit by bit. I see my own journey in that.

Salem Jones Portrait

Photo by Melissa Belkin Presti, Nov 28 2018

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