What does Max ( "Maximus" ) Mackthe "rigger from Down Under" and winner of Mr. Queensland Leatherbring to the 2015 International Mr. Leather ( IML ) competition? An Australian accent, a sardonic wit, a complete obsession with ropes and men in leatherand as of just three years agoMax also brings what he calls a sense of "full self-identity."
"Transition is a funny thing. I don't believe it ever stops for any of usnon-trans people included. In terms of who I am, I came to an awareness much later in my life," said Mack, 38, the first Australian trans man to compete in the Mr. Queensland Leather competition, the culmination of a week-long leather pride festival in Brisbane.
In 2010, Tyler McCormick, a transgender man who uses a wheelchair, bested a field of more than 50 contestants to win the title of International Mr. Leather.
"I am fortunate enough to have spoken briefly to Tyler online and, of course, I have been inspired by his journey. His advice to me is advice that is sound for any of us: be authentic, live your truth, and respect your brothers and their journey. I cannot overestimate the importance of role models like Tyler for men across the world who are, perhaps, faced with a lack of understanding, both trans and non-trans alike," said Mack, who identifies more as a "leather man who is trans, rather than the reverse." "My transsexualitywhile interesting to othersis only one facet of who I am."
Mack's legal name is Mackwell MacKenzie. In leather online and community circles he is known as "Max Mack," while "Maximus" is his leather and performance name. "Maximus is a name of truth for me as it represents the name of a fighter or gladiator. I have had to fight incredibly hard to live my truth. I have had to fight my physicality and continue to do so, by battling body dysmorphia. I was born with a very female body. I work very hard physically to overcome that and have had a good resultbut in my mind, particularly on bad daysit is hard to see that. It has lessened significantly, however, as the man I now see in the mirror is closer to my inner man, as the hormones take effect," revealed Mack.
Mack's body dysmorphia includes insecurities related to height. "I am 172 centimeters tall. I wish I was taller. I have a running joke that I am tall on the inside. Humor helps me externalize my inner pain about this and my other, more sensitive body dysmorphias. Making people laugh frees me and, hopefully, makes others comfortable enough to share their own fears that their bodies are not [good] enough."
Prior to his transition, Mack sought solace in food. Once he "realized his truth," he lost 191 pounds requiring significant skin surgery.
Notably, one feature of Mack's body that does not cause him anxiety are his top surgery-related scars.
"Funnily enough, I am not worried about my scars. My scars are from my previous large breasts, but they are part of the fight I had to undergo to live my truth. For me, my top surgeries were a double mastectomy and nipple re-grafting and a wedge incision under both arms to remove breast tissue. Because I lost so much weight I will need further revisions as my body changes; my surgery journey is not over yet," said Mack.
Mack was awarded the Mr. Queensland Leather sash three weeks prior to some of his surgery, and he credits the support of his Brisbane club, BootCo, for his accomplishments in the leather community.
"The leather community is a sum of its people. Overwhelmingly, there is pride and support [here], although there will always be those who have a different view of both my role as a title holder in a male-only event, and my place in the community," said Mack, who is a manager and social worker in the mental-health field. " With all [due] respect, their views remain thattheir views."
"[Initially], I didn't understand exactly what it means to others in the trans community here in Australia to have this recognition from our leather community. For me, the recognition from my peers that I have something to contribute is humbling and affirming. What I have learned from my fellow competitors is the value of contributing whether you win or do not.
"A mark of many of the men I have met is what they contribute behind the scenes to the leather community when the limelight isn't on them, such as mentoring young men who are exploring the world of leather for the first time. A fellow competitor said to me 'We are all winnersI can do just as much good with an internal sash as an external one.' And he was right."
In 2014, a member of the leather community in the United States launched "Leatherbash," which was billed as an international transgender leather contest with the aim of "extending to all transgender individuals presence and prominence within the 'title holders' community."
"I had not heard of this event," said Mack. "I respect the need for a range of diverse events, some of which may appeal to certain individuals more than others. As I mentioned earlier, I identify as a man of transsexual background, and an event or title which focuses primarily on my transgendered identity whilst valuable and authentic in this worldis not an event for me, personally, that reflects my truth or lived experience as a leather man. This fact doesn't, in any way, discount this event's importance or diminish it."
When asked who his biggest competition will be at this year's IML event, Max was both humble and hilarious.
"Seriously, Tony, I can't even answer that, given that there are some bloody marvelous men in this competition," he said. "I reckon it's going to be a corker of a competition. And he will probably have a heart of gold, gorgeous leathers and a community-minded spirit. Maybe I should get his number."