“This is my favourite” Ryan says, as he shows me a colourful tattoo on his inner forearm of a platypus lounging in water and reeds. The tattoo is one part mascot, one part visual joke. He’s taken the “Majestic Animal” tradition, the use of fearsome animals to project an image of idealized masculinity, and turned it on its head by glorifying this silly, sweet, strange creature.
When Ryan was younger he loved tigers. Eventually, he says, he “got real about what kind of animal his 'patronus' would be” and switched his allegiance to the mighty platypus. He sees them as proof that the universe has a sense of humour. When British scientists first discovered the platypus in the 19th century they thought it must be a hoax. They have fur, but lay eggs. Males have a venomous spur on their hind leg, and the pain from it doesn’t respond to morphine. Females nurse their young but have no nipples - they seep milk onto their tummy fur, which the babies lick up. They have no teeth, so use mouthfuls of gravel to break up their food. Ryan says it’s as though an animal was created by combining parts of different creatures. They’re a bit like a beaver, a bit like a reptile and a bit like a duck, but they’re not quite any of these. They defy categorization. They are platypus.
Ryan mostly got this tattoo because it made him smile, but as a trans man, the sense of not fitting into easy categories resonates with Ryan. The incongruousness of the platypus could be seen by some as a deficiency. Another perspective, however, is that the platypus adopted the best parts of being a reptile, a bird, and a mammal, dispensing with what it didn’t want, to become a super animal. They refuse to restrict themselves to an either/or classification to make sense to the world. Ryan has done this too: embracing and rejecting aspects of masculinity, owning both strength and weakness, to become his true and awesome self. It’s something that we can all learn from the noble platypus, and from my bud Ryan.
Books for Tats
To learn more about the natural and cultural history of the platypus, the animal who has challenged theories of creationism, evolution and classification of species, check out Platypus : The Extraordinary Story of How a Curious Creature Baffled the World by Ann Mozley Moyal today.