Original Plumbing launches
New publication celebrates transmen.
Mon Oct 19 2009
When Amos Mac moved to San Francisco last year after a stint in Bushwick, Brooklyn, it was because of a "weird creative pull," he says. The photographer thought he'd simply focus on his art and immerse himself in the city's intimate queer scene. But when a gay porn website laid him off from his customer-support job, Mac, 29, felt the freedom to tackle a project he was truly passionate about: creating the first magazine by and for transmen, which he's called Original Plumbing. The photo-heavy quarterly will be launched at an East Coast release party Friday, bringing Mac back to NYC for the festivities. Before landing here, though, the trans visionary spoke with TONY about West Coast living, top-surgery scars and a publication whose time has come.
How did this project come about?
I started taking portraits of friends—transmale friends who were comfortable enough to open up in front of the camera. I originally wanted to make a little zine with just photographs, no text. But after doing a couple shoots—the first with my friend Tuck [pictured on this page]—some photos ran on the Butt magazine blog and people got really excited about it. It said in my bio that I was making a magazine of trans culture, and people started messaging me about it. I saw that there was such interest—beyond the bubble that I live in—and I got really excited by it. So I teamed up with my friend Rocco Kayiatos, who is now the partner in my magazine, and we decided to make it a bigger project.
By "beyond the bubble," do you mean people across the country?
Across the world. Like, immediately I got an e-mail from a guy in Hamburg, Germany, who wanted to write about what it was like to transition in Germany because it's free for surgery there, and that's very different from the U.S. experience, where transmen scrimp and save, and where it often takes years. Also, a lot of the guys [who respond to our call for models] are in middle America, which is really intense. I'd love to go out there one day and shoot a bunch of them.
Is it surprising that so many transmen are willing to pose in ways that are so physically revealing?
I think a lot of transmen are willing to pose topless, showing their top-surgery scars. I, personally, am proud of mine. I enjoy having the scars; I enjoy being seen. I mean, in certain situations it can be scary and nerve-racking, of course, and a lot of people who aren't aware of trans won't think you used to have a female chest; they'll think, What kind of surgery did you have? Did you have heart surgery, or were you attacked by a shark? [Laughs] But I think a lot of guys who have had top surgery are excited to take off their shirts to show their scars.
Why is it exciting?
It's such a big thing, when you transition, to own your transition. And it's important to know where you come from, where you're going. I mean, there are some transmen who do not want to be out about being trans and who live a stealth lifestyle, for whatever reason, and I totally respect that. And then there are guys who can wear their scars like a badge of honor.
Would you please explain the meaning of the magazine's name?
Original plumbing is a term I see in many Craigslist dating ads, under "trans," and it's a way that people describe their genitals if they haven't had bottom surgery. Like, "original plumbing below." I like putting it out there, the whole surgery question, which is asked so often—usually by people who don't even know you as a person. Like, you'll literally not even have a close friend ask you about your bottom surgery, but a stranger, if you come out to them about being a trans person, will be like, "Oh, have you had that surgery?" and they'll point to their nether regions. It's like, you don't ask that to someone that you don't really know! So I just wanted to put it out there automatically—although I would love to also show guys who have had bottom surgery.
Would you say that being trans with original plumbing is a common situation?
It seems to be that the majority of transmen have original plumbing, for a number of reasons. In the U.S., or at least with people that I know, it's because the [bottom] surgeries that are offered are really expensive—and also because you could lose all sensation. So even if it was free, I don't know if I would do it.
How do the trans communities of NYC and San Francisco differ?
I think that transmen are definitely more visible in San Francisco, and there are all kinds of things that are geared to transmen, like even some gay male sex clubs. The transmale community is just a big part of the city. When I lived in New York, I felt like there was a big lack of knowledge by nonqueer people, and I had to do a lot of Trans 101—which I didn't mind—but it gets exhausting.
The Original Plumbing East Coast Release Party is Fri 23 at Sugarland.