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Will: "A big moment for me was around last winter, I was reading Janet Mock's book, Redefining Realness. I just remember reading her book and feeling like, this book is more important to read than doing anything else at this point in my life."Photography by Amos Mac

Trans in America

Original Plumbing editor Amos Mac shoots a photographic portrait of what it means to be trans today

TextAmos MacPhotographyAmos Mac

As part of our new summer US project States of Independence we've invited our favourite 30 American curators, magazines, creatives and institutions to takeover Dazed for a day. This week, we take on the State of Sex, which tackles an all-encompassing look at sexuality, gender and all the flavours of the American rainbow.

Original Plumbing is one of the freshest magazines for the trans community, with an unapologetically honest (and pretty fucking sexy) perspective on queer issues. Amos Mac, the co-founder and editor of the quarterly magazine, takes us into the OP world with his manifesto for print and columnists Arisce Wanzer and Diana Tourjee talk love, sex and politics.

Living in America as someone who makes a transgender magazine, I spend a lot of time collaborating with, talking to and photographing people in the trans community. I asked five people in NYC who identify on the trans spectrum what being "trans in America" at this moment in time means to them.

Although it was hard to get a simple answer to that question it turned into a larger conversation touching on personal identity, the current state of trans representation in the media, coming out stories and other realities. While there isn't one single definition of what being trans in America means, the diverse histories and experiences of these five people show a unique perspective of a community rarely in the limelight.

26 years old, dance artist
Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn

“I am trans and I was born in America, but I was also first generation born here. My family is from the Dominican Republic. I am a voguer, so I feel that voguing is a true form of my gender expression. 

I grew up with a close relationship to the HIV/AIDS community because my mom is HIV positive. She had me when she was 16, so she’s like more of a big sister. We lived in the South Bronx for a while and while growing up, a lot of hospital events would happen, holiday parties or at any sort of party. There was such an immense, deep ball culture happening at these hospital parties. It was something that deeply affected me and I felt hyper-connected to it at a pretty young age, probably because it was the first dance performance that I had ever been drawn into in a deep way. As I get older and figure out my place in the dance world, I want to pay homage but also incorporate my own style of voguing into contemporary dance.

It feels unique in that I’m a trans man who’s pre-op, still passes as female in different spaces but also deeply identifies as masculine. I feel that my femininity is important to incorporate into the work that I’m doing.”

Damien Dominic
32 years old, works in hospitality 
East Village, NYC

"I just realized the Trans Day of Action in NYC is in its tenth year now; I helped organize the first. When I came to that realization, I was like 'Oh my god, its the tenth anniversary, and look, there’s a trans woman of color (Laverne Cox) on the cover of TIME magazine and she also happened to be the Grand Marshall for the parade,' and all of these things that we’ve worked really hard for are happening – on the tenth anniversary! And I was just amazed at the NYC trans community. Not only am I part of it, I helped work through a lot of changes in the beginning.

I’m moving to Nashville, Tennessee. And you know, it's funny because I immediately became enraged that I couldn’t move anywhere that I want to (and receive proper trans healthcare), because I’m trans! This is absolutely not okay. We have the same rights as everyone else and why not? But at the same time, it's a struggle that we share with the rest of the population – the healthcare struggle. As trans people ours is particularly different. It’s a need. It’s not a luxury but at the same time its something that allows a lot of us to have confidence to live our lives."

19 years old, student and photographer
Bushwick, Brooklyn

"I definitely grew up as a boy, like, really boy. In high school I was an athlete in a lot of ways, which is a really weird part of my experience now because I don’t identify that way at all anymore and it’s something that’s changed since I moved to the city. That’s when I started to feel more comfortable and at ease to, like, put on a dress and wear it outside of the house.

A big moment for me was around last winter, I was reading Janet Mock's book, Redefining Realness. That was huge for me. Definitely very formative for me. I just remember reading her book and feeling like, this book is more important to read than doing anything else at this point in my life. All I wanted to do was read that book, and that’s what I did! I dropped everything just to read it. 

When I think of trans in America I think of Stonewall. I think of Marsha P. Johnson. I don’t know too much (trans history), I want to know more, but I think of history and the people who came before me, and the people who paved the way. And I think about the struggle. How many people have died and how many people have pushed their own self forward through so many doors that weren’t gonna open for them until they made it happen. I just think of this really intense and unapologetic mindset, if that makes sense."

21 years old, interdisciplinary artist
Bushwick, Brooklyn

"I think part of this huge influx of trans people in the media is really awesome because I think visibility is super important. When I was growing up, when I first started to think about gender stuff, a lot of that was just starting to happen and I was starting to see all of these things about trans people, and I was really excited about it. I feel like I wouldn’t have found that on my own.

It can be really helpful on that end, but a lot people are using it in a way that is like, 'Look we have good politics! We did this one thing on trans people and now we don’t actually have to integrate them into our other projects, we will just lump them all together in this one!'  I feel like those articles all kind of say the same thing, they have the same general narrative and that can be really reductive. But I still think they have the potential to be super helpful for people, so I'm torn.  

I’m not into being asked to do things just because I’m trans. But I do feel like I’ve found so much of my community through projects like that and I’ve met so many amazing artists and people who are doing amazing work that constantly inspire me, so I'm incredibly grateful for all those experiences and opportunities. Generally when people I know and trust who are working on a trans focused project ask me about it, I'm like, 'YES!' But I get a lot emails from people I don't know, and who I doubt have my best interests at heart."

28 years old, works in nonprofit healthcare

"I came out to myself as trans when I was 19. I was in college and I had no resources whatsoever. A turning point for me was when I eventually found community. I found a support group, and what was more useful than the support group was just knowing the guys in the group. Then I started to feel a lot less weird about the whole (transition) thing.

I identify as a trans man or trans-masculine. I’ve been transitioning for a long time now and I’m starting to feel that I’m more binary than a lot of my friends, and I have trans guilt about it! Guilt, because I’m so binary. I’m kind of a bro, and people have told me that before. So sometimes I feel like, am I just another bro? I wonder, why aren’t I a little more comfortable with making other people uncomfortable (about gender)?  It took a long time to realize that I could try to be that person, but I’m not that person. I have to settle that my narrative is a little more linear than some folks, and that’s fine. It’s fine to be weird, and it's fine to not be weird!"