A First Birthday for ATM and a New Little Brother Blog

It was one year ago today, April 5, 2010, when American Trans Man went live with the post “This Blog is Matt Kailey’s Fault.”

Since then, there have been 59 posts (counting this one), 592 comments and 24,427 all-time views on this blog!

ATM is successful because of you, the reader.  Without you, there wouldn’t be any reason to write a web log. And so I thank you, sincerely, for your interest in American Trans Man at the occasion of its first birthday. Here’s looking forward to another successful year:

Cue the celebration music! (Please click the arrowhead.)

Oops. Wrong file.
Ahem…  Cue the celebration music!  (One more time…)

And so, with that, the question arises: what does one do when their blog reaches one year of age?

Why, they make a new blog!!!

Well, sometimes anyway.  But really, what better way to celebrate the anniversary of this blog than to make another one?  Read on to find out about ATM’s new little brother…

An Idea Is Born

New England Trans Pride March, June 7, 2008, Northampton, MA

The first New England Transgender Pride March and Rally was held in Northampton, Massachusetts on June 7, 2008. The day was hot and sunny, over 95-degrees. I was there taking it all in, a wide-eyed 47-year-old trans man, only 7 months into self-awareness.

Because of the heat, many of the trans men were shirtless, and I took advantage of that. I studied their bodies, the fullness of their muscles on testosterone, the flatness of their chests, the curves of their scars. To me, a relative newbie who was seeing transitional possibilities before his very eyes, these men were amazing.

In addition, I was intrigued by the relatively large number of men who had tattoos. My impression was that there were few who didn’t have some sort of ink in their skin. How fitting, it seemed, for them to have augmented their physical transformations with body art.

I noticed one trans man sported a large tattoo on his back. To maintain his privacy, I won’t describe the artwork, but it was striking. I asked him if I could photograph it. “Sure,” he replied, seeming somewhat surprised. I wondered if he thought it odd that someone would want to take a picture of his body art. He turned his back fully toward me and then sort of looked over his left shoulder until I shot the photo with my little point-and-shoot digital camera. Then I thanked him and we parted ways.

That evening, when I downloaded the photos onto my computer, I studied the image of the tattooed trans man. I wanted to know more – why had he gotten the tattoo? What did it mean? Was it a part of his physical transition? What was the story behind it?

And I was sure that there was a story behind it.

At that same time, I was at a point in my own process where I was reading any kind of trans narrative book I could get my hands on. I especially wanted to know the stories of other FTM trans people so I could relate. Was I like them? Did they have the same feelings and experiences that I did? Were there others who understood how I felt?

My interest in trans narratives and the unknown story behind the trans man’s tattoo sort of melded in my mind. Slowly, it became apparent — I wanted to document the expression of FTM trans narratives through photography of their body art. And just like that, the project was born.

Practice, Practice, Practice
Okay, so there I was with the idea.  This photography project idea. Problem was… I didn’t know much about photography.

Well, actually, that’s not entirely true.  I was a photographer on my high school yearbook staff.


In 1978.

That’s not to say that I haven’t been involved with photography since 1978.  I have, but not as formally or with as much technical knowledge as I would need to get this project underway.

So I started signing up for classes.  Fortunately, there are a number of options for non-students in the Boston area who would like to (re)learn photography, including workshops at local photography or art schools.

Eventually, I took classes in four different places.  I began with Basic Photography to relearn the fundamentals.  Then Introduction to Digital Photography, which is where I decided to work with film. I sit in front of a computer all day at work, so I didn’t want to do so as a hobby by working with digital photography.

After that, Basic Darkroom, Advanced Darkroom, Color Photography, Introduction to Lighting, Photographing People and more.

I also bought a domain name and stashed it away. It was to be the name for the web site of the new project.  As it’s not such a popular or obvious name, I probably could have waited a couple years to secure it, but wanting to hedge my bets, I made it mine long before I knew I would need it.

And in the middle of all that learning business, I bought a camera.  A very special camera, not so much because of what it was, but because of where it came from.  Here’s the story…

My dad, knowing that I was in the process of taking photography classes, called me one day and said his friend R.B. was selling off all of his photography equipment.  R.B. had been a photographer for the Navy. He and my dad had gone to the same grade school, had enlisted in the Navy during WWII, and had run into each other by chance on the streets of San Diego, two teenagers going to sea during war-time.  They have maintained their friendship ever since, getting together at Dad’s in the Midwest when R.B. and his wife came to visit from the West Coast.

Buddy, Bella & Bruiser

R.B. kindly sent me a list of the equipment that he was selling and one thing caught my eye — a Hasselblad camera.  I didn’t know much about these cameras, except that they were medium format (60 mm square) and they were reportedly top of the line in their day.  I called R.B. and asked him if he still had the camera, which he did. I asked him if he would hold it for me and he said that he would.

Luck would have it that I was going to the West Coast for a scientific conference a few weeks later, after which I met up with a cousin of mine and we went to see R.B.  We had a great visit, then he showed me the camera, even loaded a roll of color film into it, and gave me a sweet deal.  When we got back to my cousin’s place, the first thing we did was perch his three Dachshunds on an ottoman and photograph them as they patiently waited for a piece of yummy cheese.

Okay, so now I had a cool camera from 1974.  And what does one do when one has a cool camera from 1974?  One takes photographs!

I shot photos at different times of day to learn the angle of shadows and the color casts of the sun and shade.  I shot photos under mixed lighting to learn how to correct for the color casts of different types of light sources. I shot photos with and without flash. I shot indoors.  I shot outdoors. I shot during the day and I shot at night.

I also spent quite a bit of time in the darkroom, as much as I could anyway with a full-time day job.  I learned film developing, printing and color adjusting.

During that time, I photographed people who had tattoos.  I pestered them for their time, interviewed them just as I planned to do for the project, and I photographed them.  Sometimes more than once.  I photographed friends, co-workers and relatives. In general, people were patient and accommodating.

The people who I interviewed and photographed in this period — I owe them a lot because, in a way, they contributed to the new project even though they were not a part of it.  They helped me get my feet wet, to learn the ropes, and to gain confidence.

It was from those practice photography sessions that I really came to grasp the intrusion that I would be making into people’s lives, asking them to talk about personal issues, capturing their images and stories for purposes they could not control.  That’s a lot of trust to build with people, and so I did my best to learn how to make what I hoped would be good photographs, so as not to diminish what the subjects of the new project would be giving of themselves.

Finally, after 12 months of preparation and practice, I felt ready.

Exactly one year and one week after that hot day in Northampton when I photographed a young trans man with a tattoo, I officially began the new project.  You can read/see/hear about it on ATM’s little brother, a new photoblog called TransMasculine Ink, born today on ATM’s first birthday.

Just click on the camera to the left to get there…

And with that, I thank you again for your interest in this blog!  Here’s to the start of a second great year!


This entry was posted in Narrative, Stuff About This Blog. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to A First Birthday for ATM and a New Little Brother Blog

  1. j says:

    Transmasculine Ink. The name is SMOKIN’. It’s got loads of attitude. Huge congratulations to you. BTW you tell the most interesting stories. Your whole life is full of these interesting anecdotes. Love listening to them. Thanks.

  2. j says:

    Just took a look at TransMasculine Ink. I’m speechless! You could soon make a living out of photography.

  3. Josh says:

    Happy Birthday! Keep the stories comin’

  4. Denise V says:

    Captivating! It felt like the photos were powerful magnets and my eyes were steel, I could not look away!
    Excellent work Hon!

    • Thank you Miss Denise. As always, you bring a smile to my face… 🙂

      And maybe I’ll photograph you some day. Been thinking that some time soon I need to start turning my camera in the direction of the ladies.

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