More than Original: a Q & A with the men behind ORIGINAL PLUMBING

Amos Mac and Rocco K smile at the camera. Amos reaches around Rocco's neck to playfully straighten his bow-tie.
Amos Mac and Rocco K

Original Plumbing, a new magazine published and distributed out of San Francisco, is a fresh new publication dedicated to FTM sexuality and culture. Made for trans men by trans men, its first issue ("The Bedroom Issue") came out in October and features voices from five rooms and a couple different continents, with content ranging from interviews to fiction to a detailed summary of how Germany's health care system helps transitioning. They're off to a great start, and I asked editor-in-chief/photographer Amos Mac and assistant editor Rocco Kayiatos (who raps as Katastrophe) a few questions about future plans for ORIGINAL PLUMBING.

You mentioned it briefly in the introduction to ORIGINAL PLUMBING, but what made you want to start your own publication for trans men? And how did the project get off the ground? 

Amos : Originally I wanted a space to showcase photographs I had been taking of diverse guys in the trans male community. It bugged me that there was nothing out there that you could really grab onto culturally for FTMs, plus I was sick of what was out there representing the FTM community in the media.  Everything was so two-dimensional! When I started to work on ORIGINAL PLUMBING I was going to make it a small photocopied zine with interviews of the models because when I'm shooting someone I usually end up interviewing them at the same time as a way for both me and the model to feel more comfortable (when people talk about themselves they tend to relax a little and that's always good for the camera), so I loved the idea of adding an interview aspect to the photo spreads. 

When word spread online that a trans male zine was being made, guys from all over the world began writing to me asking if they could submit stories and articles. I liked the idea of people sharing their experiences in the zine, so from that point on it felt bigger than me and I knew I had to go with it and make it happen.

I've had an obsession with magazines that started at a very young age, with teen heart-throb mags from the 80s and 90s like TEEN BEAT and BIG BOPPER, and especially early SASSY magazine that started when my mom got me a subscription at the age of 11 back in 1991.  To this day my teen magazine obsession remains but also includes the appreciation for magazines like BUTT and other photo-heavy Amsterdam-born periodicals.  I think you can see my inspiration from all of those magazines on the pages of OP.

Do you find it difficult or easy to toe the line between sexuality and culture? 

Amos : OP is dedicated to documenting the diversity within trans male culture, and I feel that sexuality plays a big part in what makes us diverse. I don't find it difficult to tow the line between the two. They're two of my favorite subjects.

Rocco : I don't think its difficult at all, they're two separate things to me. Although there's a culture of sexuality, sex and culture are different things. There's definitely overlap between the two but sexuality is just one aspect of culture and I think because the first issue was "The Bedroom Issue," it was far more focused on sexuality than future issues will be.  In queer communities, we often find our community because of our sexualities, but as a result we also create a rich and separate culture from the mainstream. So it's inevitable that within a trans male community sexuality is woven into our culture.

Now that you have one issue out, are you doing anything different for Issue #2? And when will it be available?

Amos : Issue 2 will be out by the end of January. After putting out the first issue we were able to look at what we liked and what we wanted to expand on. Longer interviews, more voices, and realizing what works for ongoing columns. Also, I've realized the importance of staying true to my original vision and I'm grateful to have a partner in the magazine (Rocco) who shares that vision with me, as well as the particular aesthetic.

You just released a YouTube teaser for something called OP TV. Can you tell me more about it or how OP is going multimedia?

Rocco : With the onset of new media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc) we're in a unique position to be able to allow people access to the creation of the magazine with showing behind the scenes at photo shoots and interviews.  With OP TV it is our hope that we don't just get to showcase the community, but we also get to build a visible multimedia representation of this community.

Do you see the landscape of trans men in media changing? Either in representation or in materials produced for them?

Rocco : I think that once you open the floodgates for something like this that people see that there is a viable consumer market that has been completely neglected. So yes, I think that as a result of having one piece of media, that people will follow suit and that there will be more and more media.

Where do you see OP in two years? Five years?

Rocco : In two years I see calenders, an updated website that includes a regular blog and vlog, and maybe even has a "personals" aspect to it. I see a huge multimedia presence for the trans masculine community worldwide.

Amos : I want to try to get the OP calender out in one year, in time for 2011-- "12 months, 12 beautiful trans guys"!  But two years from now?  OP will be stocked in bookstores in every state and our website will give our readers more information, more stories, out-take interviews, guest blogs, and a steady line of online OP TV episodes.

Rocco : In five years I see a readership of 10,000 and Amos and I doing regular tours across the country.

Amos : I see the ability to photograph and report on trans culture internationally within five years, and the magazine still going strong.  Also, the release of the "First Five Years of Original Plumbing" coffetable book.


The first issue of OP is in its last print run, so if you want it you better hurry! But like Amos said, Issue #2 ("The Hair Issue") will be out by the end of January. If you can't find a copy locally, fear not, you can subscribe online (and if it's anything like another independent magazine I know of, it probably supports them more if you order it from them directly!) Here's hoping that we'll be giving and receiving that coffeetable book for the holidays in five years!

by Kjerstin Johnson
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Kjerstin Johnson is a writer and editor in Portland, Oregon. She is the former editor in chief of Bitch. She tweets at @kajerstin

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