Friday, February 5
2601 Pasadena Ave, Unit C
Los Angeles, CA 90031
Darin Klein & Friends touch down at workspace in Los Angeles to celebrate the release of the 2nd issue of San Francisco's trans male quarterly, Original Plumbing. The event will feature an exhibition of Amos Mac's photographs showing the diversity of the FTM community in size, age, body, surgery, and hormone use and non-use. Plus, stop by Jenn Kolmel's Mustache Station to make your own mustache using nontraditional materials and adhesives. Throughout the evening we will screen short films by local artists including Zackary Drucker, Deanna Erdmann & Darin Klein, Rhys Ernst, Mariah Garnett and Austin Young & Barry Pett exploring gender and queer issues, identities, aesthetics and possibilities. Copies of Original Plumbing will be available for purchase, hottt off the press!
Darin Klein interviews Amos Mac and Rocco Kayiatos
I heard about the first issue of Original Plumbing before it was even printed in fall 2009. Los Angeles based artist Zackary Drucker thought I should know about it because of my interest in independent publications and queer culture. Later, artist Margaret Tedesco, who also runs the San Francisco gallery [ 2nd floor projects ] was asking me if I’d heard of it. Around the same time, Michelle Tea (one of my all-time favorite writers) posted on SFMOMA’s Open Space blog a feature of the very same magazine. I went online and ordered my very own copy of the first issue. I devoured it as soon as it arrived in the mail. It holds my interest in so many ways – the photo spreads and interviews are by turns sexy and sweet, the features run the gamut from informative (“Be a Man for Free,” and “Talkin ‘Bout a Transformation: 24 Hours on Craigslist”) to hilarious (Fuck/Stalk/Love).
A short time later, I was surprised to receive an email from Amos Mac, Original Plumbing Editor-in-Chief. He wondered if I knew of any place in Los Angeles to throw a release party for the second issue. I was thrilled to be asked, and immediately contacted Daniel Ingroff at workspace in east LA who agreed to host us. Wanting to add an element of longevity to the planned one-night event, I decided to interview Amos and Original Plumbing Assistant Editor Rocco Kayiatos. As you will see, both were generous and thoughtful in their responses to my questions.
Darin Klein: When did you first identify as male?
Amos Mac: For me it was that I realized I just wasn't "female" way before I realized I was male. I never felt like a "man trapped in a woman's body." I was a cliché tom-boy as a child who would throw fits and sob when a dress was presented to me, and I also had an obsession with nicknames and masculine personas, wanting a different name my whole life, never identifying with my birth name. I was comfortable in my own skin until puberty hit, which is when I began to feel completely alienated from my own body and my sense of self. So I guess I'd say around age 11 I started to feel not that I was necessarily in the "wrong" body, but more like I wasn't in my "own" body...yet. Year by year I felt increasingly less connected to my body, seeing less and less of me in the mirror each day. When I moved to San Francisco at 21 I realized there was a whole community of people who identified similarly to myself and that there was a language that described it, and it was very comforting. I saw that I could present as a masculine person, and even physically transition if I wanted to. There were options, there was nothing wrong with me, and I was relieved to realize that.
Rocco Kayiatos: I first identified as male as a child. I remember being in preschool and introducing myself as George, later I wanted to be called Peter, then Perry. Anytime I would meet a new kid, I would tell them I was a boy. It didn't really occur to me that I wouldn't grow into being a boy until puberty hit. After that I didn't know what to do. I found out I could change my body to match my brain when I was 19. I thought long and hard about that and began physical transition when I was 21 years old. I asked my parents to rename me and started hormone therapy. At first I was very identified with being trans, and at this point I identify as TtoM (trans to male). I feel done transitioning and identify as a queer, mostly straight man.
DK: Can you talk a bit about what kind of steps you took to have people read you as male?
AM: As a young child I would get read as male without trying and throughout grade school, even though I had long hair. I dressed like a boy for as long as I can remember, so that could have had something to do with it. My mother tells me I had male energy even as a tiny baby, whatever that means. But back then as a kid I hated being read as male! It embarrassed me and deeply hurt me when I would be read as male at those younger ages, mainly because it made other people who knew me as a female react and correct the person, which in turn was humiliating to me. I felt as if I was damaged, or that there was something wrong with me. When I was that young it felt abnormal to be called the gender I was not assigned to at birth, especially because all I wanted to do was to blend in and not be noticed or singled out. I can even remember writing a letter to Seventeen magazine when I was 12 years old, asking the advice columnist: "People keep saying I look and act like a boy but I can't help it and I don't understand what I'm doing wrong, what can I do?" Clearly, they never responded to my letter. Ha!
Once I was in my 20s I started binding my breasts, which helped me present even further, and when I stopped trying to hide my mustache, it was all over. I looked like a 15-year-old boy for years. For a long time I resisted taking testosterone, changing my name to a male name, and even changing the pronouns people used when referring to me, because I felt that it was obvious that everyone should just know by knowing me and seeing me that I was male. As time went on it became more and more painful to hear people refer to me as "she" and god forbid "ma'am", especially after I had been presenting as male for years. At age 27 I started hormone replacement therapy and changed my name. And then 2 years later had a bi-lateral double mastectomy with Dr. Brownstein in San Francisco.
RK: People have “read” me as male my whole life. In fact, I have a twin sister and people always thought my parents had boy/girl twins. I had short hair and a deep voice and never felt comfortable as a "girl". I was always confronted with, "There's a man in the women's room," or, "Are you a man or a woman?" or, "I’m sorry sir, I mean ma'am, I thought you were a man," or, "Are you wearing shoulder pads?"
DK: I feel lucky to know people who are trans, who are genderqueer, and who do drag. I often find myself playing a kind of “20 questions” with friends who are trans. Are you comfortable addressing topics of surgery, hormones, your sex life? I imagine it can feel invasive or supportive depending on who’s asking.
AM: Unless I bring them up myself, I am only comfortable addressing those topics if they are being asked by friends, doctors, lovers or people who are considering a gender transition themselves. What's funny is that only strangers (usually of the gay male variety) who find out I'm trans feel the need to ask me what's in my pants and if I've had "THE surgery." When I feel annoyed that someone I don't even know is asking me personal questions about my body, I'll usually lie and tell them that I have had "THE surgery" and that I paid extra for the biggest dick the doctor had in stock.
RK: It can feel invasive for sure. I have found that often people who I think I share a community with, ie gay people, can ask the most dehumanizing and upsetting questions. I have never been asked about my genitals by a straight person. I am assuming that gay people feel "down" and then ask inappropriate questions. I used to feel that I owed everyone an answer and now I think it is none of anyone’s business what's in my pants unless I will be taking off my pants with them.
DK: So much about gender is reliant upon signifiers. I find it fascinating and also confusing. If I were to realize today that I identify as male, I don’t know where I’d start. Of course, a lot is built in to the way I was raised and how I view society. But if I had to decide, I’d have a hard time defining the kind of “man” I’d like to be. Do you feel the same?
AM: It's such a crazy trip to change genders. Even if you've felt like a man your entire life, your whole world changes when you physically transition and start passing as male 100% of the time in the real world. For instance, back when I lived in Brooklyn, I knew I was finally passing as a man when I got verbally gay-bashed and threatened a few times in one month by dudes on the subway or on the street, simply for looking in their general direction with a smile on my face, or for checking out their sneakers without a scowl on my face. I guess my eye contact might have lasted longer than an eighth of a second and they were offended. That's when I realized that I guess men don't smile at other men in public unless they want to have sex with them… or their shoes.
I never identified as a butch lesbian, nor was I a hyper-masculine person before I transitioned. Regardless of whom I have been romantically involved with, I have always identified as some sort of fag and I knew when I was younger that when I physically transitioned I'd be a fey, faggy man. I was excited about that because that's how I had always seen myself. I didn't get to pick what kind of man I was going to be. And I didn't really think of how it would affect me when I was viewed by outsiders as this femme guy with a girlfriend on his arm. To strangers, people I first meet, and even girlfriend’s family members, I am presumed to be a gay man who is dating a woman. What I thought would be empowering often makes strangers see me as some sort of "closet case" who has yet to realize he's gay, simply because of my effeminate mannerisms (and perhaps the ascot or pink bow-tie I may or may not be wearing). At first I struggled with this, because it bothered me that anyone would ever think I was a closet case, considering how outwardly queer I am. Knowing that I could never change my mannerisms to be someone I wasn't, I found peace with it and now realize it's other people’s assumptions and issues, not mine. Although in small-town middle-America I will gladly butch it up in situations to avoid being murdered.
RK: I don't feel that way, because I have not had the privilege of not thinking about gender everyday. I would, however, have a hell of a time figuring out how to be a woman; being a man feels natural to me. I think that people don't even consider that it is a privilege to be born the gender you are comfortable being. My twin is a very feminine female and she is really into gender theory; she studies it. I, on the other hand, am transgender and could not be less interested in gender theory. However, as a result of being who I am, I am an expert in the field. Not a moment goes by that I am not forced to think about gender and how it informs everything. I never had to give a second thought to what kind of man I wanted to be. I have, however, had to give a great deal of thought to how I could be a good man and a feminist.
DK: You are already working on the third issue of your magazine, Original Plumbing. Can you tell our readers how the magazine got started?
AM: The magazine started when I woke up and decided to make a ‘zine documenting FTM trans male culture. I had just photographed my friend Tuck and done an interview with him for BUTT magazine's blog, and they posted it. It was the first trans man on the BUTT blog and the response was positive and I instantly started to get feedback from people who read my bio and saw that I was working on a ‘zine called Original Plumbing. Trans men from all over the world wanted to help out, write articles, model for photo spreads. It just blew up. Rocco was so excited about the project that he volunteered to help me out, and together we turned it into a larger vision that we both shared for what is now the premiere magazine on FTM culture. That's how it grew from a photocopied photography ‘zine into a pocket-sized, limited edition magazine.
RK: The magazine was initially going to be a ‘zine Amos was making. When he told me about it, I immediately wanted to become a part of it and work on it with him to make it a regular quarterly magazine. We started getting together and having crazy inspired brainstorming sessions. We really riff off of each other and work well with one another. This collaboration is so easy and dreamy.
DK: Amos, when did you start taking photographs? When did you focus your lens on the trans community?
AM: I can't remember when I started taking photographs. I can always remember stealing my moms camera and playing around with it from a very young age and always finding importance in the photographic image, being obsessed with memories and wanting constant visual reminders of where I've been and who I was surrounding myself with. I have been personally committed to documenting the queer community for about 5 years now. I turned to shooting the trans community specifically in 2009 when I didn't like what I saw when it came to trans male representation through other photographic projects. The severe lack of trans men in the media in general also fueled my fire. By taking photos of these guys, I'm creating a history for the trans men that come after us. The trans guys who came before me who wrote books, made art and lived a visible life truly paved the way for me to live the life I have today, and I am grateful for them and want to create even more of visibility for those of us who wish to be out there in the future.
DK: Rocco, tell our readers about Katastrophe. And how did you, as a performer, get involved with the production of a magazine?
RK: I started rapping under that moniker around 2001, right when I started transitioning. I was the first out trans guy rapping, or making solo music for that matter. As a result of being public with my transition, and my first album being about that type of stuff, I got a lot of press and gathered an audience of a lot of trans folks and allies around the world. I just released my third album, which does not have much to do with my trans identity, because I have been a man for almost a third of my life now and it is not the focus anymore.
When I heard that Amos was thinking about making this magazine, I knew I could be a great resource to him, from years of traveling and interacting with transguys all over the place. I have been an active part of the community - and with touring and traveling, I am connected to guys all over the world and different parts of the community all across America and in Europe. With touring, I get to meet transdudes everywhere and see a small slice of what life is like for them in their hometowns. My performance roots are in writing, and I am passionate about creating visibility, so Original Plumbing seemed like the exact melding of everything I wanted to be involved in creatively.
DK: The first issue of Original Plumbing was the Bedroom Issue. While the sexual connotations of that particular room are obvious (and some people in that issue do pose nude and address the topic of sex), sexuality is only one of the facets explored. The second issue is the Hair Issue. Will sexuality continue to play a part in the magazine as it progresses? Has the theme of third issue been determined?
AM: Sexuality will continue to be explored in each issue because it's one of the things that make the trans male community so diverse. The third issue is going to be the Health and Safer Sex issue, and in that we'll be addressing obvious topics such as surgeries, hormones, and the alternatives to both, as well as taking care of our bodies, specifically about the importance of pap smears for trans men.
RK: The third issue is going to be about Health and Safer Sex. Sexuality inevitably will be a part of the magazine, however it is not a focal point. The Hair Issue is all about hair. Doing a different theme for each issue is super fun, because we really get to delve deep into different things our community is already spending a lot of time thinking about.
DK: What has the feedback been like since the first issue of the magazine came out?
AM: All the feedback I've personally received has been 100% positive. I get emails from people every day saying how they love the project. Some even say how they've used it to come out to their friends and family, things like that. It makes me happy to hear those things.
RK: The feedback has been globally overwhelmingly positive. We have a much further reach than we anticipated we would have at this point in the magazine's life. It is now clear that this community was really ready for something like this to exist. It makes me excited and proud to be helping create history and documenting our movement and our lives in this publication.
DK: Are there any magazines out there that you look to for inspiration – content, design or otherwise?
AM: BUTT magazine has always been a visual inspiration to me, as well as teen magazines from the 90's such as Big Bopper and Teen Beat. Even though OP doesn't look like those big, colorful glossy teen mags, my general thoughts and my aesthetic are inspired by them. Also, remember old-school SASSY magazine from the early-90s? That's another inspiration.
DK: Do you have a lot of people close by that you plan to feature in Original Plumbing? Are you looking for interview subjects and models to feature in the magazine who are not in your close circle of friends or who live outside of San Francisco?
AM: I've already featured the people close to me that I wanted to feature in the first issue. I'm dedicated to shooting the diversity of the community. So whether it ends up on the pages of OP or not, I try to shoot as many guys as I can - especially those that are from outside of San Francisco. In the second issue, the models are from NYC, Toronto, and Oakland. I try to photograph guys for future issues whenever I travel around, because of course I want people from all over to grace the pages of the magazine. The only reason all of the guys were SF-based in the first one was because they were people I had seen around the city, and I wanted access to their bedrooms since that was the subject of the issue.
RK: It is our hope and intention to feature guys far beyond our immediate circle. It made sense that the first issue would be guys that live here in SF, but the second issue has folks from other places. We've already done shots with guys for future issues that don't live here. We are always looking for models and interview subjects. I spend so much of my life on the road, and that is a great place to meet potential guys for OP.
DK: You came to Los Angeles to meet with and interview Margaret Cho for the magazine. Did you enjoy your time in LA? Do you feel that having celebrity allies to the trans community will improve visibility, understanding and acceptance?
AM: I really love LA, and I especially love Rocco for driving our rental car all over the place during our last visit. We had a blast interviewing Margaret - she's the warmest, sweetest woman ever. She's so inviting and supportive of what we're doing. She even let me take over her home so that I could do a photo shoot with (trans man comedian) Ian Harvie while we were there.
Of course having outspoken celebrity allies creates visibility in a positive way, which leads to understanding and acceptance.
RK: I always have a great time in LA, and Margaret was such a great host to us. She even put me on the bill at her birthday party, which was super fun. I got to meet and play with John Roberts, whose videos are now an obsession of Amos’s and mine.
I think having any allies can help with understanding and acceptance, and if they are celebrities, that inevitably helps improve visibility.
DK: I know that visibility is not the goal of all trans people. Some prefer to be read, or to pass, as a specific gender, while some like being read as trans. San Francisco seems to be a good place to play with different ways of being read. Do you think that there are other places where people have that freedom?
AM: I don't know. I think that if you want to be read as trans you should get our NOBODY KNOWS I'M A TRANSSEXUAL t-shirt. It's a great conversation starter, no matter where you are! Then you can be visible anywhere in the world.
DK: Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
AM: Check out some virtual Original Plumbing by going to OP TV at http://www.youtube.com/user/OriginalPlumbingTV
Editor in Chief Amos Mac is a San Francisco based photographer and writer. He documents diverse members of the queer community through a vibrant lens. His work has been shown in galleries in Atlanta, New York, San Francisco and Melbourne. www.amosmac.com
Assistant Editor Rocco Kayiatos is a San Francisco based rapper and producer under the name Katastrophe. He's a seasoned vet on the mic and got his start competing in poetry slams in 1997. Combining his love of music and language, he started rapping and making beats in 2002. He uses his poetic grasp of language to weave dense tales of lives lived outside the mainstreams of education, gender, and culture. www.katastropherap.com
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