Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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This tattoo artist is using ink to raise transgender awareness

Tattoos have been trending for a long time as queer self-identification but one Bay Area tattoo artist has decided to put their ink towards helping to raise awareness about the epidemic of violence and discrimination facing transgender people.

Diving Swallow Tattoo is based in the queer, social justice hotspot of Oakland, California and opened in 2005 with the studio currently featuring only women and genderqueer artists.    

People travel from around the country to get inked by co-owner Cedre Csillagi, who is regularly booked two years in advance. Cedre (they/them) is known for their realistic tattoos featuring flora and fauna designs, and they recently launched a new project called A Thousand Pansies. They even tattooed themselves with the Thousand Pansies design in solidarity with the cause.

What is the cause? Cedre created a custom pansy tattoo design with the vision of spreading a unifying icon throughout the Bay Area and beyond. Cedre explained,”I had a vision of creating a tattoo that would be a marking of love, alliance, and protection.”

Now, Cedre has pledged to tattoo a thousand pansies in an effort to raise funds for organizations benefitting trans communities, starting with The Knights and Orchids Society. Notable fans of the design who have either been or soon will be tattooed include Kate SchatzPreeti Mistry and Mia Birdsong.

We caught up with Cedre to find out more about the campaign:

How do you identify?

Cedre: Non-binary. Thank you for asking! 

What were your objectives when founding Diving Swallow and please share what that name/image means to you?

Cedre: We founded Diving Swallow Tattoo back in 2005 in order to create a safe, high caliber tattoo space. Diving Swallow Tattoo the name first came to be for two reasons. One, it used to be a symbol for sailors that if you got the bird tattooed on you it was seen as a guarantee that the sailor would return home safely since swallows always return to the same area to mate. Two, a swallow circled one of our old owners of the shop three times on the way to look at the space and we took it as a sign. 

Which other artists at Diving Swallow identify as queer?

Cedre: Me (Cedre), Wolf (my business partner), Enda, Wes, Jazz, and Zeph.

You have pledged to ink a thousand pansies to raise funds for trans orgs. How does it work?

Cedre: A Thousand Pansies (follow on IG @a1000pansies) was created as a way to raise funds for organizations who support the trans community and also show solidarity and pride. I have created a custom pansy tattoo design to be tattooed, striving to increase the resources for marginalized individuals while also celebrating the strength and resilience of trans and nonbinary people and their allies. To receive the tattoo, an individual must first donate $500 to the The Knights and Orchids Society @tkos_alabama. Any dollar amount over this will go toward pansy appointments for people who otherwise would not be able to afford them. 

How does this work and how can Q40 readers get involved?

Cedre: Although I am booked until 2024, I will be carving out time weekly to accommodate clients receiving pansy tattoos. You can sign up on my website ( or my Instagram page @cedretattoos, where open pansy appointments will be announced and given on a first-come-first-serve basis.  Individuals will make a tax deductible donation directly to the organization within 24 hours of claiming the slot, and will upload their receipt to finalize an appointment. Please check the box that says “Dedicate my donation in honor or in memory of someone,” and write in “A Thousand Pansies.” Appointments will be released if the donation isn’t made in the first 48 hours and given to the next person on the list.

What is your favorite tattoo – that you have designed — either for yourself or someone else?

Cedre: This Pansy is my favorite! Although I have done so many amazing ones over the last 20 years. 

What is the sentiment around transgender rights in the Oakland community right now: what is their most pressing issue?

Cedre: We are lucky to live in the Bay Area, where being queer and trans is celebrated more than most places in the US. “Discrimination against transgender and gender-nonconforming people is prohibited in virtually every area of life in California, including housing, employment, education, insurance, and public accommodations.” Direct quote from the Transgender Law center. That doesn’t mean it never happens, but there is more recourse here.

Why did you choose the pansy as an emblem of transgender solidarity?

Cedre: During the early 1900s, the word “pansy” was meant as a derogatory term, to insult one’s lack of strength or masculinity. The pansy was the flower that would remain associated with the gay community, largely due to the underground drag balls, an era called the “Pansy Craze,” which kickstarted a space for queer performers to speak out and resist. This flower choice is also a gracious nod to the Pansy Project.  Founded by artist Paul Harfleet, The Pansy Project is a movement planting pansies at the sites of homophobic violence in the UK. Paul states: “Not only does the word refer to an effeminate or gay man: The name of the flower originates from the French verb; penser (to think), as the bowing head of the flower was seen to visually echo a person in deep thought.”

It is intended to be a symbol of resilience and a marking of love and support, to be worn by allies and community alike!

Visit Diving Swallow Tattoo here.

Merryn Johns

Merryn Johns is the Editor-in-Chief of Queer Forty. She is an award-winning journalist, as well as a broadcaster and public speaker. Originally from Sydney, Australia where she began her career in journalism in the 1990s, she is based in New York City where she became the editor-in-chief of Curve Magazine and wrote for a variety of publications including Vanity Fair, Vogue, Slate, and more. Follow on Twitter at @Merryn1

Merryn Johns has 140 posts and counting. See all posts by Merryn Johns

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