September 22, 2009

On the road with ORIGINAL PLUMBING

There’s nothing worse than being sick on tour and that’s where I’m at right now. Blowing snot into a ragged gas station napkin while my tourmates discreetly look the other way. Being on tour, on the road in a van with other performers, is like living in the tiniest studio apartment eve, for one month, with six roommates. The tour is Sister Spit, I started it in the 90s with the poet Sini Anderson, first as a weekly open mic for girls only, an alternative to the boy-heavy open mics that raged through San Francisco at the start of the last decade. The free event ran for two years until slowly the poets stopped coming, replaced by girls with acoustic guitars doing Ani DiFranco covers. We called it a day. Two years is a long time to run a free, weekly poetry open mic. After that we got jealous of all our friends whose shitty punk bands managed to embark on cross-country tours. They didn’t make much money but they had adventures. None of the writers I knew had any money anyway and we all craved adventure, so Sini and I took Sister Spit on the road in 1997. Twelve years later I’m zooming through Europe, bringing the show with its ever-changing lineup of novelists, performance artists, zinesters and poets into a new foreign land each night. It’s our first time outside North America and our first time reading to an audience of non-native English speakers. We’re a spoken word show, we talk. Some people suggested this might be a bad idea but so far it’s been excellent. Last night in Munich the crowd called us back for three encores. This has never happened to us anywhere. I think we could have even kept going, but like I said I’m sick and was anxious to crawl into my sleeping bag on a mattress the nice German event promoters had arranged for us in one of the venue’s spare rooms.

Today our highway is flanked by forest that Kat Marie Yoas, the performer sitting beside me, observes is like completely fairy tale forestland. And it really is. Isn’t this where fairy tales were born? Nightmares, too.. Yesterday I read an article about the holocaust in Harper’s while crossing from Austria into Germany, and as sickening as it always is to read about the holocaust, reading about it in Germany is more disturbing. What happened in these woods? How old are the trees?

Kat mentions that the music we’re listening to sort of sounds like Fleetwood Mac and she’s right, it does sort of sound like Tusk, the plodding dirgy chanting of it, that’s what we’re hearing right now as the van speeds through Germany. What Are We Listening To? I ask our van driver, a crusty punk named Sabine. Sabine lives in a black VW bus with an installed wood-burning stove she keeps parked a giant squat in Ljubljana, Slovenia. She has long black dreadlocks, black star tattoos on her neck and wears only black clothing. Her eyes are enormous and blue and her face has lots of piercings. She gets wasted every night and drives like a crank all day, hungover, cursing the driving abilities of whatever people we’re driving among, making frequent stops, getting wildly lost, smoking in the van while we all cough passive-aggressively. Sabine speaks Dutch, German, English, Slovenian, French and Spanish. She is the only person on this tour who is getting paid, forty Eiros a day, a frightening amount really considering how little our shows make. We perform at squats, to capitalism-smashers used to paying little to nothing for their punk entertainment.

“This band?” Sabine asks. “They are called Kiss The Anus of the Black Cat.”

Oh, me and Kat say.

“It is a pagan tradition. Pagan-Celtic. You kiss the anus of a black cat and it drives away evil spirits.” Me and Kat discuss this. She does not think she would ever kiss a cat’s butt so superstitiously. I agree. I would have to be very tormented by a spirit that has made itself known to me, I would have to be being driven insane by the spirit and very desperate to do that. But we like the band. It’s moody and communal sounding, a gang of voices. Kat goes back to writing in her diary. I want to mention that she is wearing an Yves St. Laurent bolero jacket with puffed shoulders and a pair of Frederick’s of Hollywood stretch jeans that are acid washed on the front and black in the back with an acid washed trompe l’oil thong going up her butt crack. She thrifted both items in Monroe, Michigan, where she lives when she’s not traveling with Sister Spit, reading about playing perverse Adam and Eve games as a child, or being a failed dominatrix, or getting into trouble with her junky ex-girlfriend.

Issue 1 out September 27th

Issue 1 out September 27th

We’ve been on the road for a couple weeks but last night a brand new performer flew into Germany to meet up with us. Amos Mac is a San Francisco photographer who is about to launch the first issue of Original Plumbing, a image-heavy magazine which “shows the diversity of trans male cultural lifestyles and sexualities.” Amos knows about Lifestyles, he has the word tattooed across his chest. “I wanted a place to showcase photos I had taken of guys in my community. I wanted a place just for us, something you could pick up and know that everything in it was made buy a trans guy, about a trans guy’s experience. Knowing that it wasn’t coming out of someone else’s mouth, someone who didn’t know the experience.”

Amos’ influences for his own photography – bright, saturated images of people and places who look fucked up and beautiful in equal measure ­ include teen magazines from the 90s, vintage porn, photojournalism, tabloid, paparazzi, realistic vibes. Original Plumbing’s influences include Butt magazine, the poster magazine Pinups, Girls Like Us (a sort of female Butt) and Netherlands queer magazines generally. “It started as a small zine with photos and no text, but it grew into interviews because I found the models so interesting. I wanted their words and experiences in there. When I’m photographing people I just want to know more about them. I get a feeling of celebrity towards my models, I think everything they do is really exciting and important.”

It’s kind of crazy that Original Plumbing doesn’t already exist. Trans male culture internationally but especially in its ground zero of San Francisco is hot and artsy and churning out amazing culture, with little to no places to catch and dsplay it. It was only a matter of time before someone had an idea like this and everyone is psyched that Amos grabbed the reigns. His visual aesthetic is dirty and funny and clever and trashy-beautiful, and his philosophy is sweet and inclusive and witty And by placing trans male bodies front and center in a blatantly, sometimes almost campily sexualized style the magazine pulls two tricks: it flaunts what a lot of queers already know, that trans men are fucking hot , while simultaneously flipping the script on a non-trans public quick to reduce all trans people to their junk. Reclaiming slurs has long been a pastime of queers, but the slurs against trans people can be so insidious, taking the form of inappropriate questions (would anyone feel so comfortable asking a non-trans stranger about their genitals?) rather than insults, so the reclaiming business can be a bit complicated and Original Plumbing nails it.

Coverboy Cyd Nova in his bedroom

Coverboy Cyd Nova in his bedroom

“It is a term that’s used on Craig’s List and other web sites by trans men who have not had any quote “bottom surgery, Amos says about the title. “They have the original parts they were born with. I think its funny. Not funny, but a charming way to put it. An honest, fun way. A lot of people who don’t have trans people in their lives, who are novice allies, the first thing they want to know is if you have your original genitals. That’s how they define a fully transitioned trans person. By calling it Original Plumbing its saying we all identify as male, but it doesn’t mean we’ve had, quote, THE SURGERY, all capital letters.” In fact, the majority of transitioned trans men don’t have bottom surgery, for bunches of reasons. “Sometimes I’ll lie and say, ‘Yeah, I had THE SURGERY,” Amos grins. He’s so jetlagged I can’t believe he’s even talking to me right now.  His girlfriend, the writer Rhiannon Argo, lays sprawled across his lap, sick with the same crappy cold I’ve got. Rhiannon is on Sister Spit reading from her just-published novel, The Creamsickle, about a trio of transgendered queers living in a run-down Victorian in the Mission. Each night while she reads a slide show of photos plays behind her. Shot by her and Amos, its called The Popsicle Project, and is portraits of really cute queers eating Creamsicles, getting messy with them, licking them off each others’ faces,  eating them in naked in bathtubs, feeding them to pit bulls, falling down with them on roller skates, or just mugging sexily for the cameras. You can buy the whole collection of them online at the Popsicle Project page,×240.

Tonight we’ll arrive in Berlin, where Amos probably will not have to ask the audience if they know what a transsexual is before showing his slides of Original Plumbling models – Tuck hitchhiking naked in his bedroom beneath a giant poster of Sex-era Madonna doing the same; hip hopper Katastrophe with a Twinkie down his pants; Seth in an apron baking cookies for his girlfriend. Since the first issue is The Bedroom Issue, the guys are all posing in their bedrooms. Issue Two will be The Hair Issue, and will feature, among other things, a Canadian Bear named Ayden who is so hairy he shaves a neckline into his neck to break it up a bit. I wish I wasn’t on tour for the rest of my life and could go to one of the San Francisco Original Plumbing events, but you can. October 3rd at Seventh Heart, the jeans and t-shirt boutique on Market Street from 3-6pm, followed up with events at the trans-loving club Chaser at The End-Up on October 6th as well as a party at the male sex club Eros on October 29th.

Tuck and Madonna in Tuck's bedroom, Issue 1

Tuck and Madonna in Tuck’s bedroom, Issue 1

Comments (6)

  • Amos’ explanation of wanting to shift to an interview format, to get more of the interaction that produces photos, I find really interesting. And the desire to continue opening up what is in a moment of capture, what came before, during and after, leads me to some questions. Could it be that to title a zine, or any body of work, is similar to the limitations of identity labeling in general? Recognizing the oversexualizing of trans people, then titling a zine by the craigslist slang for trans males, nudges against playfulness, stereotypes, misconceptions, and audience. But I start to wonder, is this challenging or reproducing the oversexualizing of queers? Is curation of the queer arts generating a style/voice of queer artists that spotlights their sexual identity? Why is it that I feel I won’t be included in a queer art show or publication because my work isn’t overtly “about” my sexuality? My questions are reminding me of when I told my boss I would come out to my students and he said, with fear in his eyes, OK just as long as I don’t talk about sex. All these questions and I haven’t even gotten my hands on Original Plumbing yet–I just can’t wait.

  • awesome write up about original plumbing as well as the creamsicle. hope ya’ll feel better. …. im going to feed my dog a creamsicle now.

  • We would love to host you at Chaser! Please email me for guestlist!!!!

  • I loved this article- I’ve been waiting to read more about Original Plumbing.

  • loved your entry, Michelle – you had me laughing about licking kitty butts and thinking about incredible photography and queer culture, all in the same breath. Thanks!

See all responses (6)
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