Topical Cream spoke with the artist, publisher,and author Amos Mac about Trans Day of Visibility, their upcoming Billy Tipon documentary, and 10 years of Original Plumbing Magazine.
Topical Cream: You’re the co-founder of Original Plumbing, as well as an accomplished photographer, editor, and author. Your advocacy has done so much for your community. Your publication and image-making practice, much like TDOV (which was founded in 2009 to celebrate life), celebrates life with unabashed power and sexiness. When I think of Original Plumbing, I think of a “safe and sexy space,” can you tell us what moved you to co-found Original Plumbing and what your approach as a publisher is?
Amos Mac: I’ve always been super obsessed with magazines… teen magazines like Bop and Teen Beat, but also vintage male physique magazines like Male Figure and Physique Pictorial. My complicated root, if you will. As a younger trans person, I was really craving a medium, or some piece of media where trans guys held space to speak for themselves, but in a fun, perhaps cheeky and pop-infused way. Back in 2008, 2009, I was in San Francisco and started photographing trans guys in my San Francisco neighborhood. The initial idea was to make a print zine where I ran the photos of these guys, their interviews printed alongside—very BUTT magazine. Also, I kept seeing trans bodies hanging on gallery walls reflected through cis artist’s lenses with zero context, and I wanted a place where we could speak for ourselves next to our images. Lots of the early issues featured models in just underwear, or nude. The magazine was probably going to be a one-off, but I teamed up with my friend Rocco Kayiatos who was so excited about the project, and that gave it a larger life, bigger and ongoing. It blew up after the first issues because there really was nothing quite like it at the time. I was always overly-conscious around both the design elements and the space it created.
TC: In 2019, The Feminist Press published a book Original Plumbing, The Best of Ten Years of Trans Male Culture, how was experience compiling a decade worth of work?
AM: It was a trip. Going through every article, every photograph, starting from the beginning… and then reaching out to all the contributors for their consent to republish… it was quite a process. And the most beautiful finale gift for the magazine I could ask for, truly. The Feminist Press was incredible to work with, and they made my dream come true. Have you seen the bright pink cover?
TC: Right now, we are in quarantine in Los Angeles because of COVID-19, how are you hanging in there?
AM: I’m doing as best as I can given the circumstances. I am staying in 100%, grateful to have a roof over my head. I usually thrive with alone time and can spend days writing without realizing what is going on around me, but this experience is not the same as just having solitude. Beyond reading about the devastating effect this is having on our healthcare system and humans all over the world, I see the local restaurants around me flailing, selling their kitchen stock to make ends meet, and then there’s the constant layoffs and productions and events shutting down. I talk to my mom almost every day and try to read more, cook, play Tetris, stare at my dog and cat, try to be respectful of my boyfriend while he works from home at the same dining room table as I do. Oh, and I changed my Zoom background to Pee-wee’s Playhouse, so now my Zoom meetings always start with people asking me how I changed my Zoom background to Pee-wee’s Playhouse.
TC: Are there any non-profits who work in the space of trans rights that are doing critical work right now?
AM: Lorena Borjas, a community organizer and lifelong defender of immigrants, sex workers, and trans folks, known as the mother of the trans-Latinx community in Queens, passed away Monday morning due to complications with COVID-19. I’d like to share the GoFundMe page she helped organize that is ongoing, supporting trans-New Yorkers losing income due to COVID-19 cancellations.
TC: What’s coming up next for you?
AM: I work as a television writer, and we just wrapped the writer’s room for the new GOSSIP GIRL (HBO Max, 2020). I also co-wrote a feature documentary about Billy Tipton, co-written with Aisling Chin-Yee titled NO ORDINARY MAN, which should be out in the next year, pending on how long this new normal lasts.