I can’t believe I have to say this aloud: No, you may not touch me if I did not ask you to or give my consent.
This rule applies to all situations ― from walking down the street to sex. And apparently I need to point out that just because I have tattoos does not give you some sort of secret pass to do so.
When did body art shift from something to talk about to something to touch and feel? If this sounds surprising to you, trust me ― it’s happening.
I have had people at bars grab my arm, wiggling and twisting to get a better look as they ask if a tattoo is a dragon or a snake.
I have had others run their hands down parts of my body to see if a tattoo makes it feel different.
Worse yet, I have actually experienced someone standing behind me at a corner store, as I paid for what I can only assume was candy or beer, physically lift up my tank top as she exclaimed that she had never seen a tattoo like mine before.
Nope. Not okay.
We could dig into the history of tattoos and debate the length of mainstream to which they have become, yet at the end of the day they are something that exist on the skin of someone that is not you. They represent stories, emotions, dreams, inspirations, and moments that have absolutely nothing to do with you. They are the personal property of someone else ― and typically we have been taught not to touch other people’s things.
The concept of consensual touch can be applied to a host of situations.
No, you shouldn’t grab someone’s dress to help you determine what fabric it is.
No, it’s not okay to touch someone’s hair to see what it’s like.
And while I would love to know what Taye Diggs’ luminescent skin feels like, I am aware it would be inappropriate to start rubbing his face, shoulders, or chest upon meeting him in person.
Please don’t misconstrue my demand to leave your hands to yourself. Curiosity is a fascinating demand and can be a strong emotion. It can lead to insight, innovation, and knowledge. Without curiosity, how would we learn what we like and don’t like? It makes sense that curiosity leads to touch allowing us to learn what gives us pleasure or what makes us uncomfortable.
A few years ago, the topic of body boundaries was of particular attention to parents after CNN ran an article exploring affection within families. The question of whether or not a child should be forced to hug or kiss a relative was raised, leading to a lively debate among parents and the public. We want to teach children to respect their bodies and physical space. We also don’t want to piss off grandma.
The question of touch is two-sided: Do you want to touch someone else? Do they want you to touch them?
Let us ask ourselves these questions internally before embarking on immediate physical interactions. When it comes to tattoos, let’s all assume that we lead with a conversation, a little light banter, maybe even just a question. Let’s all go ahead and assume that yes, that tattoo is in fact real, and that the person it lives on isn’t looking to have your unknown hand on their body.
Consent. It goes a long way.