Why I Got A Hillary Clinton Tattoo On Inauguration Day

Megan Volpert

One lesbian’s political commitment is more than skin deep.

On Inauguration Day, I got a tattoo on my inner right ankle—of Hillary Clinton’s campaign logo. When I announced my intentions to do this, the internet yelled at me. Also, my mom’s response: “No! No! No! No!” Several members of my family voted for Bernie Sanders in their state’s primary, but such is their distaste for Clinton that they voted for Donald Trump in the general election. Even amongst fans of Clinton, I found that people were very reluctant to get psyched for my ink job. The prospect of this tattoo was generally viewed as an exercise in fanaticism and the presumption was that I would soon regret it.

My mother has a couple of tattoos, including one we both have that reads, “shake the dust.” We both graduated from the same public high school in the north suburbs of Chicago, Maine Township High School East, in Park Ridge. Clinton also went to Maine East for three years. It was always a huge school. In her senior year, the district opened Maine South to alleviate the overcrowding and she was transferred there alongside many of her peers. She was on the newspaper and served as Vice President of the Junior Class, but she lost her bid for Senior Class President.

Harrison Ford also graduated from Maine East. He founded the A/V Club. Like most public schools, the building has one long main hallway with ancillary hallways that branch off of it. Toward one end of this spine of the school, near the stairs to the English Department where I spent most of my time, there was a tiny wall of famous alumni with just two pictures posted there behind the plexiglass, Ford and Clinton. I attended Maine East from 1994 to 1999, the last class of the millennium. Bill Clinton was inaugurated in January of 1993, so his wife was serving as First Lady of the United States throughout my time in high school.

I walked by that photo of her no fewer than twelve times a day, five days a week for four years. The idea that somebody who went to my high school could work in the White House was a very powerful prospect. It wasn’t that she was a woman, or that her politics aligned with mine. I was too busy trying to keep my queer closet doors from swinging open and actually I identified as a Libertarian in high school, bandying about my dog-eared copy of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. My admiration was based on our mutual location. This person grew up where I grew up, and she had gone so far in life. My family was struggling to exchange their blue collars for white ones, and Clinton’s image in the hallway offered me a great deal of hope that I could make something of myself, that I could get beyond the circumstances into which I was born.

My interest in the details of her life began shortly before I graduated, as her husband faced impeachment proceedings. I heard expressions of pity for her that she had to suffer such public embarrassment for her husband’s misdeeds. I heard outrage that she was forced by politics to stick with her troubled marriage, skepticism that the marriage was anything but a sham for the sake of ambition, vicious rumors that she drove him to it and that she was a lesbian. That last bit certainly struck a newly raw nerve for me, for at the ripe old age of seventeen, the label of “lesbian” was a terrifying means of slander.

But I was always an unabashed feminist, believing in my own equality with men and willing to speak up to root out unjust, unequal treatment of my kind. “My kind” would grow broader with time, as I became comfortable in my sexuality and eventually outspoken about it as another facet of the mission for equality. I closely observed Clinton’s effort to pass universal healthcare legislation, a massive effort and subsequent failure on her part that unquestionably paved the way twenty years later for one of the foundational measures of Obama’s legacy. I listened to many of her speeches expressing utmost care for the needs and dreams of women and children. As I traded Ayn Rand for bell hooks, there were more frequent points of common sense agreement between Clinton’s goals and my own.

She went to the Senate and I went to college. We were both coming into our own, and watching how she operated provided ample material to assist me in more closely considering the line between pragmatism and politicking. I had been a punk who never saw virtue in reaching across the aisle. Then I moved to Baton Rouge for graduate school and got the same shock to the system that Clinton no doubt got when she made her way to Little Rock. Six months after I finished school and moved to Atlanta to settle into building a home with my beloved new wife, Clinton announced her exploratory committee for the 2008 presidential race. We were both finally arriving, both working to maximize our adulthood and fiercely female independence.

Megan Volpert at Only You Tattoo as Charles Chatov goes to work, photo by Mindy Friedman
Megan Volpert at Only You Tattoo as Charles Chatov goes to work, photo by Mindy Friedman

Carl Bernstein’s excellent, thorough biography, A Woman in Charge, ends where the presidential race begins. I picked it up recently to reacquaint myself with all the ways my life and Clinton’s seem to intersect. Working on her behalf was the most natural thing in the world to me, as Bernstein’s fine portrait reminded me that I too have often been given the message that my ambition is inappropriate, that my strengths of voice and moral character ought to be dialed back, that I have an attitude problem and that the stars I reach for don’t exist. So that moment on Election Day 2016 when I had the incredible opportunity to vote for Hillary Clinton for President of the United States was just the cherry on top of a gorgeously satisfying rocky road sundae that I’ve been building since I was fourteen.

I would have gotten my tattoo whether she had won or lost the White House, because, newsflash: it’s not whether you win or lose; it’s how you play the game. Clinton often gets stepped on for pushing us forward as a nation. She takes infinite heat for her willingness to get down in the muck of what is too casually considered a man’s game and score very many points in that game. She may have a bleeding heart, but she can also cut throats. I admire many of the qualities that get her into regular trouble and I consider her a role model. Though I would have loved to be there and see her take the oath of office, I am neither much surprised nor particularly possessed of sour grapes over the fact that this round was a swing and a miss.

Win or lose, before Election Day, I was already making clear to my wife that the logo tattoo was coming on Inauguration Day. Getting it done on that day just hits. I’m glad that the campaign happened, since it generated the artwork that could represent some small part of these feelings I have about my spiritual connection to Clinton. My cousin called me out for slapping a permanent logo on myself, sure as he is that I’ll feel silly about my decision when we do eventually get some other female president. Well, I’ve also got ink incorporating the logos of Elvis and the City of New Orleans. Those are far gone things for me too, but their symbols have not at all faded in personal importance to me.

He ought to have credited me with the courage of my convictions, instead of condescendingly assuming I have no thought for longterm consequences. I’m a grown woman and I’m celebrating a lifetime of feminist activism—Clinton’s and mine—with regret that we each have but one life to give to this country. It’ll be excellent to look down at my right ankle every morning and be reminded of how powerful I can be when I put my ideals into action. That swollen sting radiating from inside my boot definitely made the next day’s Atlanta March for Social Justice and Women exercise all the more painfully poignant. Sure, sometimes we will lose. No matter who is in the White House, there is so much good work to do.