Merrick tattoo shop brings queer creativity to Long Island

The Wyld Chyld Tattoo Shop, in Merrick, is bringing diversity to the Long Island tattoo scene. // Photo by Urvi Gandhi/Long Island Advocate

By Urvi Gandhi

Wyld Chyld, a Merrick tattoo parlor, is adding much-needed diversity to the Long Island tattoo scene.

The shop, on Sunrise Highway, employs an array of queer, Long Island-based artists and offers private rooms and an easygoing environment to make clients feel as comfortable as possible.

The eclectic decor features purple walls, a taxidermied fox and raccoon with pride flags draped around their necks and proudly touts artwork by its artists. Upon entering, prospective clients are usually greeted by employees and customers joking with one another at the reception desk. The shop has been featured on Spike, TNT, NBC and TLC shows.

Of the 11 employees, six identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community. Wyld Chyld’s marketing director, Devin Blandino, partially credits the artists’ creativity to their queer identity. The Long Island Advocate spoke with Blandino about the culture and accepting environment at the shop.

A taxidermied raccoon with a pride flag scarf inside Wyld Chyld. // Photo by Urvi Gandhi/Long Island Advocate

“Some of the most artistic people are part of the queer community, and those are the people you want to attract for your art,” said Luke Adams (he/him), an apprentice who has worked at the store since November 2021. “If you decide to shut all these people out, you’re not going to have a shop. A lot of those who are going to push the boundaries are queer.”

The shop also has private rooms that act as safe spaces where clients can have more privacy, as opposed to a public pit, which is more common in tattoo shops across the country. “We’ve noticed a lot more women are comfortable with the private rooms. It really lets people let down their walls a little bit,” Blandino said. “Otherwise, it can be like being in a high school gym locker room all over again.”
Private rooms are available at Wyld Chyld. // Photo by Urvi Gandhi/Long Island Advocate

“Tattoo shops, to an untattooed or a lightly tattooed person, are inherently intimidating,” said Sophia Fox (she/they), a junior artist at Wyld Chyld. Fox spoke about the importance of being at ease with the person tattooing you. “Consent is a very important part of being tattooed, which is why the legal age [for being tattooed] is 18. Feeling comfortable with the person who is getting close and touching your body is a big part of making sure getting tattooed is a good experience for both the client and the artist.”

According to Brandon Torel, one of Wyld Chyld’s piercers who has worked there since 2015, queer employees play an essential role in ensuring that clients feel safer and more relaxed. “As time has gone by, I’ve noticed a lot more tattoo shops are open and friendly towards the LGBTQ community. Back in the ’90s and early 2000s, you didn’t hear a lot about the [LGBT] community in tattoo shops,” Torel said. “When I tell people I’m queer, I see they get a lot more comfortable with me.”

Brandon Torel piercing a Wyld Chyld client recently. // Photo by Devin Blandino

Tattoos have been a part of human existence for millennia. Charles Darwin wrote in “The Descent of Man’’ that there was no country that did not practice tattooing or some other form of permanent body decoration. Tattoos have long been used across various cultures to express and identify themselves.

While tattoo artists in the United States have long been predominantly straight, white and male, tattoo parlors across the country are diversifying. As of 2020, about 9.3% of tattoo artists were members of the LGBTQ community. This Vogue article discusses how the discrimination faced by queer people in tattoo shops has led to a wave of parlors that are either exclusively for women and queer people or openly state they are queer-owned or LGBT-friendly.

Devin Blandino, Wyld Chyld’s marketing director. // Photo by Urvi Gandhi/Long Island Advocate

“The newer generation of artists, I’ve noticed, are bringing in an audience that is incredibly underserved due to alienation, [which includes] the LGBT community, trans people and even women as a whole,” Blandino said.

According to them magazine, anyone who has received a tattoo from a queer artist knows the designation also reflects something more: a unique sensitivity to the needs of queer clients, many of whom have had complex, even traumatic experiences with their bodies.

For those looking to be tattooed in a safe environment, knowing the artist is a member of the queer community might alleviate some of the anxiety they have. Many artists, including those at Wyld Chyld, note on social media that they are “LGBT-friendly.”

“You should research who your artist is if you’re [getting] a bigger piece or a piece that is meaningful to you,” Fox said.

Sophia “helped me get one of my gender-affirming tattoos, so I feel really close with her, and I will always go back to her for tattoos because she makes me feel so good about myself,” said Gray, a Wyld Chyld client.

As June, which is Pride Month, approaches, Wyld Chyld is planning a week-long event, offering flash tattoos (images already down on paper) that revolve around the LGBTQ+ community and experience.