The history, meaning and symbolism of nautical star tattoos is

a hotly debated topic. Today many different groups have

adopted the Nautical star tattoo as a symbol for their own

movement and they have all ascribed their own meaning and

history to the symbol. Thus has lead to a wide

disagreement as the the meaning of the tattoo.Historically

most everyone agrees that Sailors were the first people to get

nautical star tattoos. In fact the very word nautical

relates back to sailing. So this connection has been

pretty firmly established. Most people would agree the

sailors were a pretty superstitious group historically and

sailor lore abounds with superstitious and fantastical stories

of life and death and being lost at sea. Early on

sailors navigated by the stars at night and the north star

became the symbol for finding ones way home. Once you

know where the north star is you can point your ship in the

right direction to get home. So the star became a symbol

for finding ones way home or more symbolically even finding

ones path in life. Therefore many sailors would tattoo

nautical stars on their forearms as a good luck symbol in

hopes of returning home.

However their modern day meaning is a more debated topic.

Many believe that groups including gay and lesbians, punk

rockers and those in the military have adopted the nautical

star tattoo as a very important symbol. The diversity of

these three groups has lead many to argue the meaning of their

tattoos.

For the military the connection is pretty obviously point

back to the early sailors and the symbolism and meaning is the

same as the early sailors. Many military people get a

nautical star tattoo as a symbol for finding ones path home

safely. Of course this can also include more

symbolically just finding ones way in life.

Here is a quote we found from a member of the armed

services and his interpretation of the tattoo:

“I am in the United States Army, an MP who searched towns

and villages for Al Quida and insurgents. I was in Iraq for 1

year. I have a red and black nautical star on my wrist. The

reason I got it was because when I was out there, I felt it

was a guide to guide me home to my family safely. I got it so

that it would remind me that I am going to make it to see my

son grow up. I am not gay, it doesn’t matter what you believe

it represents, it means something different for everyone. Out

in the desert, I would look up at the stars and think about

home. So anyone can think what they want to, that is what it

means to me. “

Punk rockers have also adopted this as a popular symbol to

have tattooed. The punk movement traces its history and

use of the nautical star tattoo back to Sailor Jerry.

Sailor Jerry is historically one one of the most famous tattoo

artists ever. He was well known for his innovative and

“cool” designs. Punks have taken this symbol and it has

very much the same meaning of finding one way in life.

Being the rugged individualists type Punks are drawing to the

symbolism of true north and finding one own unique way in

life. So the Nautical star has become a symbol for this.

You see many punk bands that have full sleeve tattoos

typically incorporate nautical star tattoos either on their

elbows or elsewhere.

The lesbian and gay connection is the one that does not

seem so obvious at first. Historically back in the

1940’s and 50’s when alternative lifestyles were not the norm

and often women had to hide their alternative choices they

would sport a hidden nautical star. Often they would get

the star tattoo done on the inside of their wrist where it

could easily be hidden by a watch during the day but shown off

in the evening when out on the town. Today many lesbians

where the nautical star tattoo to show their connection with

their early pioneering sisters. Here is a little

evidence to support my points.

“Here’s the passage (with some pieces dropped) from “Boots

of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian

Community” by Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and Madeilne D. Davis

copyright 1993 p. 189.

(talking about the 1940’s and 1950’s):

“…During this same time period, the cultural push to be

identified as lesbians- or at least different- all the time

was so powerful that it generated a new form of identification

among the tough bar lesbians: a star tattoo on the top of the

wrist, which was usually covered by a watch. This was the

first symbol of community identity that did not rely on

butch-fem imagery. We can trace this phenomenon back to an

evening of revelry in the late 1950’s, when a few butches

trooped over to “Dirty Dick’s” tattoo parlor on Chippewa

Street and had the tiny blue five-pointed star put on their

wrists. Later, some of the fems of this group also go the idea

one night and did it…The community views the tattoo as a

definite mark of identification…”the Buffalo police knew

[that] the people that had the stars on their wrist were

lesbians and they had their names and so forth. That it was an

identity thing with the gay community, with the lesbian

community”. The fact that the star tattoo was created by those

who were firmly into roles, in fact by the group that was

considered the butchy butches and their fems, suggest that the

force to assert lesbian identity was strong enough to break

through the existing traditions of boldness based in butch-fem

roles. The stars presage the methods of identity created by

gay liberation. In fact, the mark has become something of a

tradition in local circles and has seen a revival since the

1970s.”

This meaning of the symbol has of course created a lot of

problems and arguments among the other two groups of bearers

of nautical stars. Most puck and military people do not

want to have a nautical star that points back to anything from

the lesbian movement so many will say that there is no

connection there and this is false.

Here is a quote from another armed forces member about the

symbolism of the nautical star among the gay community:

“This “gay symbol” is a load of hooey that someone made up

VERY recently. The nautical star tattoo has been around nearly

as long as tattooing itself. The late Celts (or early Irish,

depending on your view of World History) were said to have

been the first to have the tattoos, although evidence of it

being used on ships in Spain has been found pre-dating the

Irish claim.

As a Marine, it’s a very commonplace symbol amongst us if

we have been part of a Boat Raid company, red for port, green

for starboard on varying parts of the body. On ship, I saw

about a million different variations on the Sailors I was was

serving with, obviously harking back to the sailor roots.”

Here is a quote from a punk rocker and his feelings about

the symbolism of the tattoo:

“what idiots..even the military boys dont know what it

really means….JUST SO YOU ALL KNOW!!!!!it was used by OLD

sailors.. and the symbol represents North on a Map …and it

is the North Star the sailors would use it as a baring to get

home….you can find it on Really really old maps and old navy

vessels… Punk Rock.. well we use it because we can and

because Sailor Jerry made the coolest tattoos who started

putting them on everyone.. my grandfather even had one thus

being used as a traditional icon”

It just goes to show that when the same powerful symbol is

used over and over again over decades of time it can taken on

very different meanings for different groups. So all of

those that you see sporting a nautical star tattoo might not

all have the same interpretation of its symbolism.

So do you have a nautical star tattoo or think about

getting one in the future? Which meaning of the symbol

will you get the nautical star for? As long as you know

what the symbolism behind the star is for and you have gotten

it for the right reason to either support the lesbian movement

or as a symbol to finding your way!



Source by Chris Ryerson