Watch any gay porn and you know the, ahem, actors there are pretty inked up. And it’s not hard to find heavily tattooed arms on any given night at Town or the Hippo.
“I think gays like tattoos as much as the straight world,” says Nicky Hennerez. “It’s funny you mention porn because I notice the gay porn stars who have them, the tattoos are usually really bad … they have all these tribal tattoos, which don’t mean anything, and they’re usually just not well done.”
And he should know — the 29-year-old Glen Burnie, Md., resident competed last August and into early September in a California-based reality show the goal of which was to find the country’s most talented tattoo artist. “Best Ink” debuts Tuesday night at 10 on Oxygen. He’s the only gay contestant of the 10 on the show. It runs for eight consecutive weeks and, of course, Hennerez isn’t at liberty to divulge any details except to say the shoot was “just awesome.” The only downside? Being separated from his boyfriend of two years, Josh Crossney.
“They took away our phones and everything,” he says. “I was missing him so much. We only got to talk, like, a couple times and even that was monitored. That part sucked but otherwise, it was a blast.”
Hennerez had tried out for a reality show once before in New York back in 2010 but didn’t make the cut. He saw the “Best Ink” notice for participants on Craigslist and, on a whim, started the process. He’s been tattooing for about four years. He started an apprenticeship in 2006. He was in to get one himself and the shop owner was impressed with his sketchbook and said he should learn the art.
Hennerez, who’s been out since he was 16, says during the shoot he was fine with being out and nobody in the cast or crew made a big deal about it. He says during promotional efforts with the network, it’s become a bit tiresome, though.
“We’re shooting all these commercials and online clips and stuff,” he says. “They keep asking me, ‘How does it feel to be a gay tattoo artist?’ I’m thinking, ‘They’re not asking everyone else how it feels to be a straight tattoo artist.’ So I kinda had to shut it down. But it wasn’t even an issue when we were taping.”
He always wanted tattoos as a teen but his mom forbade it until he was 18. He’s glad now she was adamant about it because he says he would have regretted the tattoos he wanted at the time. But on his 18th birthday, he got his first, a skull and crossbones on his arm. It’s now hard to say how many he has now — could be anywhere from 16 to 20 depending on how you count. Some have been added to and others blend together. He has them on his arms, neck, rib cage, back, thighs, legs, one calf, fingers and part of his hands. None yet on his chest — he says that’s on his “next” list because it “looks kinda bare there.”
“When I was younger, it was totally an image thing,” he says. “I was like a little punk rocker with crazy-colored hair and this crazy image thing. Now I just find it completely therapeutic. It’s such a milestone every time you get one. You get it more for a reason and you end up having these deep conversations with the artist. The more you get them, the more you start to feel good when you get them. I find they don’t hurt now for me. I know that sounds weird, but I really like the experience.”
Crossney lets Hennerez work on him. Crossney has about 10 himself now. They met in Hennerez’s old tattoo shop in Pasadena, Md., but bonded recovering from a car accident they were in together (neither was driving) in Dec. 2009. One of Crossney’s friends ran into a parked snowplow trying to avoid a drunk driver.
Hennerez says the shop in Pasadena (the now-closed Positive Image) was somewhat homophobic and his co-workers would crack anti-gay jokes at his expense. He’s much more comfortable at his current shop, Tattooed Heart in Glen Burnie.
And though he’s nervous about how he’ll come off on the show, he says the experience brought out his competitive side.
“I’m definitely a competitive person but I don’t like to let on that I am,” he says. “I act like I don’t care even if I do, so I internalize a lot of it. But I was definitely striving to win … it was very fun overall. I loved my castmates, they were amazing and it really changed my life. It gave me so much more confidence.”