Making a Stink About Ink

DEAR EXENE: I'm a 25-year-old tattoo artist who was recently suspended from my job for refusing to put a racist tattoo on someone's body. The shop I work at says it doesn't support my decision to refuse to tattoo a walk-in customer who asked me to tattoo a skull with a Nazi war helmet on it. When the guy came in initially and explained to me what he wanted done, he didn't mention the swastika. On his second appointment, he asked me to add it, and I refused. Not only did I find it to be a pussy move on his part for not initially telling me what he really wanted, but I'm also disgusted with this kind of racism. To top it off, my boyfriend is Jewish, so I don't imagine I could ever look him in the face again if I even dreamed of doing something like this. The argument between the client and me ended up getting heated, and then the shop's manager came in and got to hear the story. He decided to put me on temporary, unpaid leave for two weeks. Another artist ended up finishing the tattoo. While I have this time to think about how I should handle this situation, I'm more and more convinced I just need to quit working there. But is that the best way to handle it? Is it worth trying to fight my boss's decision?

Love, Mandy

DEAR MANDY: Refusing to finish inking, yes! Arguing heatedly with Nazi guy? No! Why take on the negative frequencies of someone else's damage? In any confrontational situation, be calm, be peaceful, be you. Just say, "I cannot do that." And direct the problem to the authority figure. Make them deal with it. Explain that this person has an issue that needs to addressed. And calmly explain. That doesn't solve the two-week unpaid leave. Doesn't solve the workplace mentality. Not every tattoo shop is about mean guys getting angry art. But they are the stock-in-trade, after all. You think you have to be tough as anybody there because you are female? Anger and violence actually come from weakness—it's a cover-up. Strength comes from knowing who you are and what ideals, beliefs, life, etc. you are willing to defend. You did defend your beliefs, so great, good for you. Just don't let the demons infest you with their bullshit in any situation.


Exene Cervenka is a writer, visual artist and punk rock pioneer. The OC transplant is the lead singer for X, the Knitters and Original Sinners. If you want to ask the legendary vocalist for adviceon your love life, politics, your musical career, filial relationshipssend an email to

Love, Exene


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >