Need the Heat

Friday, February 08, 2013


Dear Patrick: My girl and I went to a large public dance party, a rave actually. I saw a dude who had these really cool marks on his back, like raised scars, but I could tell they weren't from cutting. He noticed my fascination and was nice enough to let me see them up close. He talked to me for a long time about how branding is done, how to take care of it afterward, etc. He even gave me the name of a tattoo parlor where they have a branding specialist. I loved the fact that they had dimension, they weren't flat like a tattoo. Plus, not everybody has one.

          I really, really want to get a brand. There's a specific design that I want on my right calf. But when I showed my girlfriend the drawing, she went ballistic. We both have tattoos and piercings, but she says branding is too much. She is really afraid I will get an infection and then my leg will fall off. To her, cattle get branded, not people. I was shocked. Her fear was just out of control. She kept yelling, “It's a third degree burn!”

          When she calmed down, I asked her if she didn't believe that my body belongs to me, and I get to do whatever I want with it. She said, “I will have to take care of you if something goes wrong. And I'll have to look at that ugly thing. I don't want to see it. If you get a brand, we will never have sex again. I'd rather just leave you.”

          Quite an ultimatum, huh? Is her fear at all justified? Is there anything I can do to get her to be rational about this? It was really weird to hear my radical girlfriend, with her pink cornrows and horns, spouting the same trash at me that I've heard from the Kens and Barbies who don't like my tattoos.


Whether it's rational or not, your girlfriend feels the way that she feels. So the first step is to just encourage her to talk about her fear and repulsion. Once she has vented enough, she might be open to examining whether those fears have a basis in reality. If so, perhaps you can schedule an appointment with the branding specialist and pay him for the time to answer her questions. Talking to a couple of people who have already gotten brands is another good resource. If her main issue is fear about the healing process, she will be reassured to hear about the steps someone should take to care for a brand and make it heal so that it looks decent and doesn't get messed up. But if her primary objection is that she hates the way they look, even if they do heal well, you are kinda stuck between the proverbial fire and frying pan.

          I really hope she can peel herself off the ceiling and allow some new information in to allay her anger. I've seen brands that looked like hell and some that looked very sharp, but the same can be said of all forms of body modification. The final results depend on the design you choose, the skill of your artist, your immune system, and after-care.

          This is likely to be a time-consuming process. She isn't going to change her mind in a week or two. In the meantime, you are also going to be gathering information about the relationship. It would be normal for you to feel angry about being given an ultimatum and threatened with abandonment. You thought this relationship included a mutual recognition that each of you has the right to make certain decisions about personal appearance and public image. The big fight probably made you feel, to some extent, that you can no longer trust her. Eventually, she needs to hear what the consequences are for blowing up at you. You might be able to wait for a good time to have that conversation, or you might find yourself blurting it out when you are both supposed to leave the house in ten minutes.

          There is always a good chance that no matter how much new information she gets, her attitude will not change. And then you really will have to decide whether getting a brand (and the principles behind your right to make that decision) are more important than staying with her. If I were you, I'd be asking myself if her autocratic attitude and bullying tactics are expressed in other areas of the relationship. The more often I found evidence of that behavior, the less safe I would feel. Does she love you for the person you really are, or does she love an image she is forcing you to maintain? I do not envy you the need to answer these questions. But I do want to validate your desire to select your own adornment. Many people (perhaps most) would feel that the relationship trumps adding ornaments to your skin, but I disagree. Few things are more important than being able to control how you look, because that is part of the message you are sending the world about your identity, beliefs, and values.