Two Minneapolis tattoo parlors drop industry’s toxic masculinity in favor of gender, LGBTQIA inclusivity

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“The shop was built on a pinky swear,” Ariel Cafarelli said, beaming. It took a long time before she and her business partner and apprentice Alli Shelly, both tattoo artists, would finally open their tattoo parlor, but their promise to each other was to build a welcoming, LGBTQIA-positive space.

Small details like old drawers and vintage prints add texture to the relaxed vibe. Shop owner Cafarelli identifies as genderfluid and genderqueer, Shelly identifies as queer. Before opening the shop, both artists had worked in other tattoo parlors and noticed that marginalized people, queer-identified folks in particular, encountered pushback.

“It kind of turned into this thing of having to explain a lot, and call people out on things, and explain what queer is,” Shelly said.

 

Zine in the lobby of Tailorbird Tattoo. Photo by Annabelle Marcovici.

Zine in the lobby of Tailorbird Tattoo. Photo by Annabelle Marcovici.

 

Rather than explain her identity in the workplaces, Cafarelli said she preferred to “remain a mystery” to her straight white male coworkers. They both recognized a need within their male-dominated industry for LGBTQIA-centered spaces where they didn’t need to explain and defend themselves. In August 2015 Cafarelli and Shelly opened Tailorbird Tattoo in South Minneapolis.

Tailorbird, along with nearby parlor Jackalope Tattoo, are two tattoo shops working to change the face and culture of Minneapolis’ tattoo industry. Through hiring practices and welcoming atmospheres, Jackalope and Tailorbird are rejecting toxic masculinity – an attribute pervasive within the male-dominated environment.

 

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”It felt really important to – for our own selves too, not to come from a place of victimization. And, you know it felt more empowering to say what we want in the world rather than what feels really [messed] up. Even though we do say that,” Cafarelli said. Having their own shop and enforcing a mission to “cultivate positive tattoo experiences” that “oppose all forms of bigotry” means that the workplace culture doesn’t have to breed patriarchal, gender or racial bias.

“When I worked at a shop with seven other artists, the people of color and me notic[ed] all these things that then the self-identified straight white males were oblivious to, because they didn’t have [our] perspective,” Cafarelli said.

 

Artist Alli Shelly works with a client at Tailorbird Tattoo in South Minneapolis. Photo by Annabelle Marcovici.

Artist Alli Shelly works with a client at Tailorbird Tattoo in South Minneapolis. Photo by Annabelle Marcovici.

 

Jackalope Tattoo, also located in South Minneapolis, shares a similar mission and offers a place for predominantly women and queer folks to gather and get inked. It’s a busy shop, owned and operated by Bambi Wendt. When Wendt opened the shop three years ago, she did not plan to only employ female tattoo artists. Now being entirely female-run is one of Jackalope Tattoo’s key features.

As we walked through the tattoo parlor, stopping to talk with the visitors and admiring the numerous paintings Wendt remarked, “[Art] takes over your life.”

Jackalope features numerous paintings Wendt made herself – dinosaurs that roam through forests, skulls and dragons. Even the plushy head of the shop’s namesake jackalope adorns the wall.

 

Bambi Wendt is the owner of Jackalope Tattoo in South Minneapolis. Photo by Cristeta Boarini.

Bambi Wendt is the owner of Jackalope Tattoo in South Minneapolis. Photo by Cristeta Boarini.

 

Art and creativity are crucial to Jackalope’s mission, but just as important is the shop’s message of empowerment and welcoming. Such a mission is especially important to the relationship of tattoo artist and client.

“Getting tattooed is scary. It’s scary enough to just walk through these doors. Let alone, you know, meet somebody and then have them permanently alter the way that you look,” Wendt said, ”and if you don’t feel comfortable when you’re making those choices you can feel pressured into the wrong choices.”

 

Tattoo artists Amo Tarvas and Bambi Wendt talk about what makes Jackalope Tattoo unique. Photo by Cristeta Boarini.

Tattoo artists Amo Tarvas and Bambi Wendt talk about what makes Jackalope Tattoo unique. Photo by Cristeta Boarini.

 

As a teenager, Wendt placed her child for adoption with a lesbian couple. Inclusivity has been an important theme of her life ever since. The experience contributed to the philosophy of Jackalope.

“People get tattooed for many different reasons. Some of them are healing reasons, some of them are very painful reasons, some of them are very frightening. They’re almost always changes of life, and those are always hard,” Wendt said. “I think that life is hard enough to have to feel judged when you walk through the door of a place that you turn to in a state that you are trying to make changes. I think it’s important to feel safe when you’re so vulnerable.”

“[What] we’ve done has actually given permission to other shops to do that,” Cafarelli said, “I do feel like we’re friends with a lot of other shops around town, and I’ve noticed the sort of shift in how people are approaching talking about racism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia and how that affects people.”

11 thoughts on “Two Minneapolis tattoo parlors drop industry’s toxic masculinity in favor of gender, LGBTQIA inclusivity

  1. I think it’s a bit odd that masculinity can be openly called toxic in order for other demographics to feel empowered. Also in Minneapolis the LGBT community consistently discriminate and attack people of color.
    The irony and insult of this piece is astounding.

    • This article is talking about the toxic masculinity pervasive in the tattoo industry. Not all masculinity is toxic, nor does this article ever state that. You are right, there is still a lot of discrimination in LGBT communities (not just Minneapolis), but it is possible to talk about/write about/ focus in on a certain aspects of discriminatory practices of an industry, without disrespecting all other facets of discrimination via a non-mention.

  2. I’m a big G and I’ve never discriminated against people of color. Don’t generalize it doesn’t help your argument.

  3. As a proud and educated gay woman of color! I take great offense to this article and these two shops using the LGBT community as a gimmick to promote themselves and profit off of our community, I have been tattooed by plenty of sweet kind accepting men in Minnesota and you have discriminately cast an ugly shadow over all of them. They don’t need YOUR permission to be decent accepting people, they just are. These are women with ugly ugly personalities blinded by their own arrogance with ugly views towards men. They have confabulated a problem where there is no problem. This article isn’t really about inclusiveness or toxic masculinity if you read closely it’s about toxic Misandry and I feel embarrassed that they think they are part of my community because I don’t discriminate. Christopher is correct I have been discriminated against by the LGBT community far more than by any straight white male.

  4. Toxic masculinity, laughable. How about you send a journalist to one of the many shops full of men, and see how toxic we really are, before casting such judgements based on the opinion of a few.

    • Exactly. I’ve had plenty of work done by people at Broken Hearts. Not to mention Art with a Point, Ink Lab, MPLS, a few out of state. You do great work, Adam. Don’t let this clearly discriminatory “article” hold any weight over you.

  5. Woo, looks like some of the comments on this article illustrate how badly needed these spaces are. I’ve never wanted to get a tattoo precisely because I know from experience that the type of masculinity in tattoo shops (or, for that matter, anywhere) is likely to be the toxic kind that defines our culture as a whole. But the stories of awesome queer women artists like these are making me reconsider that. Good work!

  6. As a heavily tattooed member of the LGBT community, I can say this article is… unnecessary to say the least. Most of the tattoo parlors I’ve gotten work done at in this city were trans owned, woman owned, or had trans or female artists or receptionists working there. Perceived threats are different from actual. Feeling “safe when you’re so vulnerable” should be, above all, safety and proper knowledge of use of equipment. This article discredits a lot of people (that’s ALL people, including men) that have worked very hard to get to where they are. If this were written in, say, 1984, maybe it’d have some relevance. Writing an article about an inclusive tattoo shop in Minneapolis is redundant. That being said, I’m also tired of “white male” being a dirty word. Some people are white, straight, cisgendered males. Guess what? That’s okay.

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