Proper Procedure for Touching Another Person's Body

“Oh, I just have to see this.”

The old lady leaned forward, and before I knew what was happening, my shirt sleeve was deftly rolled up on my shoulder and her hands were on my tattoo. It was just the outline of the large swan, but it was still very ornate and beautiful. And, it seemed, people couldn’t keep their hands off of it.

Two weeks later, I found myself standing in the cat room at the local animal shelter, helping patrons find cats to play with and to potentially adopt. My new colored tattoo was in the weird flaking stage, where large chunks of dead, colored skin fall off. And a customer, without asking, reached out and rubbed it, expressing her astonishment that tattoos look so weird while they’re healing. I looked from the hand on my shoulder to the person, and adjusted my grip on the cat I was holding. “Yes, they flake like a sunburn and it hurts when they’re healing.”

She giggled and walked away.

This tattoo is my first major body modification project, if you could call it that. As I’ve said, it’s a memorial for my mother and a deeply personal project, one that will cost me nearly $1000 by the time it’s all said and done. It’s a personal project that I find particularly beautiful, and I’m happy to adorn my body in this way.

And if you ask me about it, depending on my mood, I will tell you about it. I’m not ashamed of the art, and I’m really happy to pass on the compliments I’ve gotten on it to my tattooist. But someone’s fascination with my skin is not necessarily a compliment – not if your interest comes in the form of touching me without my consent.

There’s a basic rule in all human interaction that seems to disappear once the unusual or fascinating comes into view: we should ask before we touch. Whether it be an interesting haircut or a tattoo or a prosthetic or a service animal, we should ask for consent before we touch another human being’s body (or something on their person). Period.