Trans Photographer Amos Mac: The Autostraddle Interview

photo by Daniel Nicoletta

Laneia: San Francisco seems like the perfect place to be queer. Is it a utopia, Amos? Should Autostraddle move its headquarters there?

Amos: San Francisco is my favorite city in the entire world. It has this small-town urban feel to it. It’s beautiful, and I’ve found it to be the easiest place for me personally to be a flaming queer, whatever that means. I don’t know if it’s the “perfect” place necessarily. It’s definitely a bubble of beauty, drama, creativity and a city that is very supportive of queer arts. So if you’re into that sort of thing, then yes it’s the perfect place.

That’s not to say that San Francisco is exempt from negative things and issues… It isn’t really a “bubble.” This city experiences things like gay-bash stabbings, trans people being murdered and buried in shallow graves, cops “accidentally” shooting innocent people of color, AIDS, homelessness…it just so happens that this is all going down in a beautiful city that is highly concentrated with gay, lesbian, queer and trans people.

Laneia: Tell me about Issue 2 of Original Plumbing. You have Margaret Cho! What was it like to work with her? On a scale of 1 – 10, 1 being you LOVE her and 10 being you LOOOOVE HER, where would you rank your feelings for Margaret Cho?

Amos: Issue 2 is fucking amazing, Rocco and I are so proud of it. I have a much different relationship to this issue compared to the first one. With “The Bedroom Issue” it felt like a very solitary project, where I didn’t really know what direction the magazine would go in or what the reaction would be from the trans community, as well as the other communities. On a personal note, “The Hair Issue” feels like more of a creative partnership between Rocco Kayiatos and myself, which is a great feeling. The magazine is experiencing growth, which adds so much more to the voices and the finished product.

“Some guys who haven’t had top surgery find it important to show that trans men don’t always have scars to show off, that surgery doesn’t necessarily ‘make the man.'”

It was a blast working with Margaret. She is hilarious, warm, wonderful! Rocco and I had met her in October when we were asked to be part of the music video she was directing for the band GIRLYMAN. Margaret wanted the video to consist of queers, trans people, femmes and butches, as the song, “Young James Dean,” is about butch identity, so her vision was to get as many different types of queers as possible in the video. Rocco and I really bonded with her while shooting it. We just really clicked as friends. Now we call her our “TranMa” (a play on the term Grandma) and she calls us her TranSons. She loves OP and as she is an incredibly outspoken person, she was easy to interview and of course fun to photograph.

Laneia: I loved that video! Also, after watching The Bedroom Interview with you and Rocco, I was ready to tackle both of you with hugs and feathers.

Amos: OMG hahaha. Every time I see a video with Rocco and I together I’m blown away because Rocco’s just so butch! I’m always amazed at how manly he is.

Laneia: But I bet he’d like the feathers. Who the f*ck doesn’t like feathers?

Amos: Yes it’s true!


Laneia: You’ve said that part of the purpose of OP is to educate people about trans experiences and take steps forward in trans male culture. With two issues under your belt, has your original vision changed or expanded? Where do you hope to see the magazine in the future?

Amos: OP will continue to grow and document trans male culture, but it’s much more than a magazine. I honestly see the Original Plumbing growing as the community expands and creating culture while we document it. Rocco and I are planning some tours where we’ll visit LGBT youth centers in various towns and hang out, then throw release parties in other towns.

Rocco by Amos Mac

It’s important for us to leave San Francisco and connect with trans guys all over the place because, I mean, for guys in, say, middle America, their lives are often isolated, and they are left without a voice. It’s something that I really want to document and share.

Laneia: How did you get started in photography?

Amos: I can’t remember when I started taking photographs. I can 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.

Laneia: What camera do you use?

I shoot with a digital SLR — a Nikon D70s and whatever lens it came with, I don’t even know. Sometimes I play with a wide angle lens, but usually it’s pretty straight forward, with natural light. The camera has a huge crack going down the center of it from when I dropped it down one of the steepest hills in San Francisco a couple years ago. I had to replace the flash but the rest remains intact. I’m not much of a camera equipment snob, and I’m kind of rough with most of it, throwing it into bags wrapped up in winter scarves instead of in a camera bag, stuff like that.

Laneia: What are you looking for when you’re choosing models for Original Plumbing?

Amos: It depends on how I’m feeling that day. When I choose models for OP, sometimes I’m looking for a person with an interesting story, sometimes I want someone that has history in the community, or sometimes I want someone I happened to meet that day that has no interest in modeling for me or even sharing their story! It’s truly a random mix.

Cristy Road by Amos Mac

Laneia: What was your most memorable photo shoot?

Amos: Probably a toss up between shooting Cristy Road sitting on the toilet reading “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and the shoot I did with Brontez where he dropped his pants and ran around the Eagle in San Francisco with a creamsicle early one Saturday afternoon. Both of these stand out in my mind because they were shoots I went into feeling slightly unsure as to how I wanted to capture these people so I just had a blank slate of a brain and started shooting. The final images just exude personality in a way that could have never been planned or forced. This is of course due to the amazing nature of the models, their ability to be spontaneous and insane and cause a scene while I follow them snapping away.

Laneia: You’ve mentioned that a lot of these guys want to show off their scars. What do you think being published in OP means to your models, on a personal level?

Amos: I feel like our models are excited to be in a publication where they are representing themselves. And yes I’ve said in the past that they are proud of their scars, but there are also guys that are proud to show off their bodies without scars. I’m referring to guys who haven’t had top surgery, who find it important to show that trans men don’t always have scars to show off, that it doesn’t necessarily “make the man” to get any sort of surgery.

I’ve had some haters, and they always say they cant believe I’d publish trans bodies the way that I do. Like I’m doing something wrong by sharing it with people in the world. Clearly they don’t see the power that the photos have, the strength and happiness and self esteem it can effect, in like young trans or questioning people or anyone who feels ‘different’ in their body

Original Plumbing Issue 2 : Dylan by Amos Mac

Laneia: RIGHT. That’s what I love so much about what you’re doing! Are there any projects or collaborations we can look forward to?

Amos: Fuck yeah! Michelle Tea’s book “Valencia” is coming to life in movie form, and each chapter is being cast and filmed by a different artist. It’s kind of an epic project and I have no idea when it will be finished or released, but I’m filming a chapter. That’ll keep me busy this summer.

Get more Amos Mac’s photography at his website, Amos Mac Dot Com.

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  1. This is an amazing interview!!

    1. Amos is so cute! Eeek!

    2. I want to check out OP. Note to self!

    3. I only recently stopped wrapping my new camera in a winter hat, so I’m glad to hear about how Amos treats his nice things too.

    4. “Michelle Tea’s book “Valencia” is coming to life in movie form, and each chapter is being cast and filmed by a different artist.”

    WHAT! I didn’t know that. Good lord, I love her. Everyone go read “Rent Girl.” Now.

    5. I’d be curious to know what Amos thinks about Catherine Opie, the photographer.

    • re 2- I have issue 1 and it is very cool.
      re 4- I think Valencia is my fav MT book (although I haven’t finished Rent Girl Yet.)

    • hey taylor. i really appreciate catherine opie’s photographs! i was just given a huge book of her work for my birthday this year!

      • i have that book too! (assuming it’s the big retrospective)…i caught her exhibit at the guggenheim a little while ago and my gf bought if for me! i just pulled it out actually and will place it firmly on my coffee table. it’s interesting (at a glance- I want to see more of your work!) how differently you both capture similar subject material, on the gender front at least. her style is so hard to pin down though, it’s kind of crazy. like ice houses vs. the masochistic self-portraits and whatnot. interesting!

  2. Especially since this is going to be read by a bunch of feelingsy girls and boys who’ll really want to know about your feeeeelings. Because that’s our #1 feeling (besides our feelings): your feelings.

    This is the best synopsis of AS ever on earth or for all of space-time.

  3. also, thank you amos for being unpretentious about your equipment and giving hope to some of us kind of broke little lesbians toting kinda old, not amazing cameras around! i like that his cam has a crack. one of mine had a light leak and i still insist on taping it over instead of getting it repaired. it just feels right-er!

  4. this is an amazing amazing interview, and amos mac is definitely deep into friend crush territory now. his photos are so wonderful! and i feel like our culture/community so often forgets that FTM trans guys exist, i am super excited about OP now!

  5. I love this interview and my love for the SF Bay Area continues to swell.

    The film version of Valencia is officially the movie I am looking most forward to, even more than the new alice in wonderland.

  6. Augh! No Sydney based distributor! T_T Maybe I’ll order one, if only just to get even weirder looks than usual on the train. ;)

    • If I saw you reading OP on a Sydney train then I would most definitely walk over and high five you.

      Great interview! Wonderful photos too.

    • We will hopefully be sold in Sydney soon! We were just picked up by a distributor that sells a lot internationally, called “Bookazine”, so tell your queer bookstores they can order it from that catalogue any day now.

  7. I could not be more pumped about this interview! Amos seems really awesome, and the photos are great. I’m so jeals of everyone who gets to be in SF every day.

    I’m gonna go order an issue of OP now…

  8. Wow, this interview is great! I really liked all of the questions you asked.
    amos seems amazing, and he’s totally hot.
    I’ve read issue 1 of OP, it was quite cool, i’m excited about the second issue.

    Thanks for another great interview, autostraddle. you have established yourself firmly as my favorite blog/website.

  9. You guys! This was really an awesome interview. I love everything about it. Checked out Amos’ site. The photography & stories are fantastic.

    Also, since everyone is on the San Francisco kick.. I have been there a few times and LOVE it. I know its a completely different experience when you live there, but I hope to some day.

  10. such a cool interview. i sorta have a crush now on Amos.. but all i can thnink of when i see his name is that mouse named amos in some disney movie?

    annnnd my sis is moving to SF this summer and I can’t wait to visit/crash at her apartment for half of the year!

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  12. Laneia! This interview is so good! I love how you’re so honest, it makes me feel like we’re getting honest answers from Amos, which obviously is super awesome.

    Also, his photography is SO FUCKING GOOD OMG

  13. i want to hug this interview and these comments and also that photo of Amos & Rocco on page 1!

    in case you guys are interested, and i feel you might be, Amos’s work can also be found in Issue 2 of Cutter Photozine!

    and probs like a ton of other places that i don’t know about AND ALSO if you follow @ftmquarterly on the twitter machine, you can keep up with OP’s release parties, etc.! sometimes they’re in L.A., which is still not Phoenix, sadly.

  14. Awesome article. I just recently saw “Young James Dean,” and really loved it. Great interview! Loved it!

  15. I loved this. And I’m happy that y’all brought “Original Plumbing” magazine to my attention/knowledge. I think it’s super cool and is very important to have out there. Lots of luck to Amos on that – I hope it gets the wider distribution it deserves!

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