I'd always really wanted tattoos from a pretty young age but my parents absolutely hated them. They came around to the idea once people couldn’t really see them. Obviously, that went out the window because most of mine are on my arms. As a trans person, you sometimes feel totally out of control of how your body looks. I started getting most of them at a point in time where medical transition was really far away from anything I could do. Tattoos put the control back into my hands. I can make my body look how I want it to look. Matt Kenneddy is a poet, activist and Ph.D candidate in the area of trans and queer studies. Here, he takes masc on his personal journey, told by way of the artwork on his body.
This was the first one I got that is particularly relevant to my gender and sexuality. A lot of people think it’s about The Cure when they see it, but it refers to the film of the same name about Brandon Teena. That film was the first trans representation that I had ever seen. As heartbreaking as it is, it's a pretty realistic portrayal of rural trans masculinity, even though it’s set in southern America and has all the connotations of racism, sexism and white trash. It really resonated with me. He goes through so much, he goes through all that trauma but his masculinity is still very much intact by the end of the film.
I got it just before I left Cork around two and a half years ago. It was pretty impulsive, but I always wanted it. I've seen other people who pretty much have this exact tattoo placed elsewhere. In a context of masculinity and vulnerability, specific to a cis or gay masculinity, I really liked the idea of it. It’s also a conversation starter. Because I box, there’s a guy in the gym who always points it out and says “boys do cry”. It’s kind of funny to have those conversations around the relationship that some people have to crying.
[To see my identity represented on screen like that] was really, really important. It’s really contentious as well. People in the trans community, and in the queer community in general, have a lot of animosity towards that film, specifically around it being directed by a lesbian woman. They did try to get a trans man to play Brandon but it was the 90s – no one wanted to be out. In a way, the portrayal is as authentic as it could have been for the time. It has so much nuance to it, it's very cleverly done. There's a lot of legitimate trans experiences captured in it. For its time, it really does [trans experience] justice. It does justice to Brandon Teeena that isn’t voyeuristic.
As the first piece of trans representation that I saw, it was a bit traumatic. Looking back, I know that I can say it was authentic, and it was important enough for me to put it on my body.
Kind of boldly, I’m going to say this is my favourite. My favourite queer theory book, and favourite book of all time, is called In a Queer Time and Place, by Jack Halberstam. He’s a trans academic and I met him during my master’s. In the book, he wrote, “stay on queer time”, and literally everything I write about – most of my poetry, a lot of the academic stuff I write, is all about queer time. It’s the idea that queer people exist in a different time to cis gender straight people. We don’t have the obligation of marriage, or the obligation of having children; we can be polyamorous and have more freed relationships and things like that. When he wrote that, I had to put it on my body.
It’s in his handwriting, over a pink triangle. It was surreal, one of those things where people say not to meet to your heroes. He is arrogant and rightfully so: he is the father of queer theory and trans theory. You couldn’t write about a lot of trans theory without referencing him. He comes from a place that I do as well [in terms of] my approach to my theory and things like that. I try to be all encompassing of every identity that I once identified with, if that makes sense.
I came from [a place of], at one point, thinking that I was a straight woman. Then, that I was a lesbian, and then a butch. Then, I came out as trans and had a space of querness, but was really uncomfortable with being attracted to men. Then I resolved all of those things, so it's all about that idea that time and personhood is growing and changing, and it's pretty harmful for anybody to try and like, distance themselves from who they once potentially were because it informs who you are now.
It’s so saucy. I got this from German Ferreiroa. I’d seen he had done a sort of trans masculine pin-up for someone and I knew that he had done loads of really erotic gay cis men ones. I knew I really wanted to get something like that. The inspiration for it was that kind of stuff that German was doing, and there was a queer tattoo collective in Toronto that I had seen doing pieces like it. The way he's taking off his t-shirt is from a person called Del LaGrace Volcano, who does loads of queer photo shoots, but specifically has done a few on trans masc people.
There's one [photo] of a butch taking off their t-shirt, and it's very gender ambiguous. I sent all of that in a messy message to German. I definitely wanted Stone Butch across the chest. This is more more queer theory shit, but if Boys Don't Cry is my cinematic representation of myself then Stone Butch Blues is the literary representation of myself. I think that literally everyone has to read it, it will change your life, regardless of anyone's identity. It’s really important for what it says about class, gender, sexuality and race – and just existing and growing old as a queer person. It's written by Leslie Feinberg and they just have an incredible way with words. I have my girlfriend's initials [on it] which is really brazen, and I have the pink triangle and the tattoos. I love it.
What’s funny is German initially drew him with a massive bulge and sent it to me and I was, really awkwardly, like, ‘Oh my God’, because I don't pack. It’s something that I talk about a good bit, but I find [packing] makes my dysphoria worse. Whereas I know that it can help other guys, it just never worked for me. I had to send a really awkward message back being like, ‘please – no penis!’. He's done my other tattoos as well, and we always joke about it when I go back in, that he gave him the biggest dick possible. It was huge. It was interesting because we then had a conversation about how trans masculinity is constructed a lot of the time with an emphasis on something that can actually be absent. It’s more nuanced that.
I've definitely gotten mixed responses from people [about this one]. I didn't tell a lot of people I was doing it. It means All Cops Are Bastards. It’s pretty encompassing of an anarchist political perspective that I do have and have worked to get to. When I started college, I was a little bit apolitical. I didn't really know where my politics were at. I was obviously there for the liberation of queer people but I wasn't really thinking about how, specifically, my need as a queer person for liberation, intersected with class rights or people’s experiences of racism, and sexism and misogyny. That kind of snowballed into reading an awful lot of communist and anarchist texts that were written by people in minority communities.
I arrived at a very rooted position in terms of institutional violence, systematic violence and capitalism, and how the state can't reward anyone their rights. They don't have have that power in and of itself by protecting the wealthy and the powerful. A lot of the problems that we have right now – to do with housing, class, poverty, homelessness and the suffering of queer people and trans people, is orchestrated by the state in the name of capitalism.
People definitely get this [tattoo] misconstrued. It's not about an individual. It's about the structure, the system. Cops might say they don't make the laws, but they voluntarily inflict them on minorities and vulnerable people. That’s how institutional violence works and it’s a head fuck. It takes a place of thinking for a lot of people to imagine why you'd be really against the Guards. A lot of it came from when I was queer bashed pretty badly and have permanent jaw damage from it. The Guards said they wouldn’t do anything about it. I had video footage, we knew who the guy was but they said he might just get a slap on the wrist.
If we think what punitive measures he would actually experience, he probably would get nothing. Even if he did, if he was put into prison, we don't practice restorative justice actively here. If he was incarcerated with a lot of other people who blame queer people, if they were put into prison, then you come back with people who are even more violently homophobic, biphobic or transphobic because of their incarceration. The system actually isn't broken because it's working exactly how it was designed to.
I got this just before my 23rd birthday. It’s got the date that I got testosterone for the first time. My parents are really unaccepting of me being trans, as are a lot of different people in my life. I had a pretty awful coming out experience. None of my family call me Matt, or respect that. I got to a certain point where taking testosterone would kind of be cut-off point that there was no coming back from. I really needed to do it.
Access to hormones is so bad here that I had to travel to the UK. There's a lot of privilege that comes with that, in and of itself. I spent my life savings on it but I was able to travel; I had my girlfriend and my friends there to support me. I went to the London Transgender Clinic and it was actually an Irish woman who prescribed me my hormones. She said it was lovely to see Irish patients here, but it's heartbreaking at the same time. It was the most honest conversation that I've ever had with a medical provider about my gender where I didn't feel like I had to lie about my sexuality.
In Ireland, they expect an awful lot of people trying to get hormones but the biggest thing is that they expect a very binary, normative trans person to come at the end of the process. There isn't necessarily anything wrong with that, if it’s 100% your experience and you feel comfortable, but I never did. I’m very queer. Someone’s gender doesn't influence whether or not I’m going to be attracted to them.
With my first two referrals [in Ireland], they were like, “well, you can be ‘straight’ now when you become a man”. I heard from medical practitioners in Ireland that I would go “the whole way” with [my transition], where I would get every surgery possible to try and make myself and my body look as cis as possible. That’s not authentic, I don’t want that. I want top surgery but, like I mentioned about packing, it’s not something I’ve had to reconcile. I don’t have bottom dysphoria but a lot of practitioners in Ireland would push that narrative because if you have a trans person that doesn’t experience that then they’re fucking with gender – not because it makes trans people uncomfortable, but because it makes cis people uncomfortable.
If we just start letting people have self-determined access to hormones, to surgeries and to a wraparound, holistic harm-reduction approach to gender-affirming healthcare, then I think everyone will benefit from it. Cis and trans people alike, nobody has like a totally normative experience with their gender. If they say that they do them, they're lying. Gender fucks with us all in different ways, good and bad. It has such an influence on people's lives. We need to get to a place where everyone can start saying, “I like this aspect of what my gender says about me and says about my body and does to my body, and does to me, and how I identify, but I really don't like these aspects”. That doesn't make you any less trans – or cis.
To support Matt’s top surgery, click here.