Buck Angel. Image: Allan Amato.
Entertainment, Features

“I’m a motherfucker”: Buck Angel

Buck Angel is, to say the least, a divisive figure in the trans community. I’ve seen him called everything from truscum to a cis bootlicker to an upholder of the patriarchy. I’m not sure what to expect when I meet the controversial trans porn legend at Sexpo in Melbourne, but I know I have to ask him about some of those issues.

We meet over a coffee on Sunday morning. One of us is recovering from a migraine and the other nursing a hangover, so we bond a bit over our similar plights.

Angel is physically sort of similar to me: bald, not super tall, freckled and tattooed. But he visibly works out more than I do.

We start by chatting about Sexpo itself. The event strikes us both as being a rather hetero affair, and Angel notes that he is the only trans guest, but he also stresses that the organisers have made a huge deal of featuring him as part of the celebrity lineup in an effort to start improving diversity.

I’d seen his talk, ‘Bucking the System’, the day prior. In it, he speaks about his history and gender transition, as well as the work he does now as a retired porn actor who’s moved into advocacy. I ask him if he could fill me in a bit on that role.

“An organisation called the Young President’s Organization that works with CEOs brings me in to speak and teach about people like myself – challenging their ideas and helping them learn about the world,” Angel says.

“They love my talks, so I speak all over the world.

“It’s really about education, completely out of the sex industry, more about educating people who have a lot of influence in the world, which is really an honour. It helps them see the humanity behind [being trans], and I feel a lot of respect from them. It’s my most important job for sure.”

“I don’t feel transgender.”

I mention that I’ve seen a lot of criticism of Angel for the way he uses the term ‘transsexual’, and ask if he wants to talk about those issues of language in the community.

“I don’t really use the identity of ‘trans’, my identity is male,” he says.

I can understand this. I make no secret of my own trans identity, and it is a large part of my identity, but given the choice between identifying myself as male or trans, I’ll select male every time.

“My experience is trans for sure, and my past is female,” Angel explains.

“A lot of the younger generation have made [being trans] more of an identity. It’s more about being trans than necessarily going through what I did, a ‘sex change’.

“I use that language all the time, because it’s my generation, and it’s how I feel – I really do feel I had a sex change. And I do really feel as a transsexual, I don’t feel transgender. I feel transsexual.”

This is a distinction I’ve heard before, particularly from older trans people, and I ask Angel if he could elaborate on the difference.

“For me, the distinction is medical, and I do know now that transgender is an umbrella term,” he says.

“For me, umbrella terms on some level take away power from each identity. Because if all of us are under this one umbrella term – but you might be gender non-conforming and I’m completely medically transitioned – that could be confusing not only to us but also to the world. It lumps us all together, but we’re not all the same.

“So for me, I needed to distinguish the fact that I’m a medically transitioned, gender dysphoric, sex change… I was born female. I’m old school that way. I don’t believe I was ever ‘actually’ male. My genetic makeup is female – but my brain is male. I use testosterone to change that, to fix the way I feel.

“A lot of the newer generation feels totally different than that. I think there’s a lot more [identities], but for me it’s pretty black and white.

“That’s why I think there’s a distinction between transsexual and transgender, because transsexual, there’s no variation; transgender, there’s a lot of variations. I think that’s causing a lot of problems in the community, because everyone’s fighting about who’s trans, who’s not, what’s gender non-conforming.

“Everyone can say whatever they want [about themselves], but what they cannot say is that things don’t exist. Now they’re starting to say ‘transsexual’ is antiquated, a derogatory identity… that’s why I fight for it. Because I find that that’s disrespectful to me and the older generation. There’s also a lot of youngsters who are now taking on the term transsexual.”

“I refuse to ever belong to an agenda.”

I start to ask vaguely about a controversy, before realising that I could be referring to any number of things with Angel, and I say so. He laughs and agrees.

“I’m always caught up in it,” he says.

“I’m never not. For twenty years I’ve been doing this work and for twenty years I’ve been caught up in it. But I’m standing here still, as strong and more powerful than ever.

“The reason that I get attacked is that I’m controversial, because I speak my mind, and I do not belong to an agenda. I refuse to ever belong to agenda.

“There’s this new agenda in the trans world, that if you don’t speak like that, if you don’t act this way, then you’re not part of being trans or you’re transphobic.

“They come up with these words like ‘truscum’. It’s rude, disrespectful, and transphobic.”

I ask him about his understanding of the term truscum. I had been watching a live social media event a couple of years prior when someone told him about it for apparently the first time.

“It refers to someone who only believes that a trans person is someone who has gender dysphoria and has medically transitioned,” Angel tells me.

“I don’t believe that. I just spoke to you about what I believe. I believe there’s a difference, but I do not believe we’re the only ones.

“[Medical transition] saved my life. The most important thing is saving someone’s life.

“The opportunity to transition, to be male and walk the world as male [for trans men], is one of the most important things that people need to understand. That’s the importance of medical transitioning, for someone who wants to physically look male or female. I do. I want to look and be like a cisgender person.”

I must ask, then: what about trans people who don’t want to look cis?

“Fantastic!” he says.

“It’s awesome, that’s the point. Everyone should have the opportunity to transition however they want.

“Never have I ever been against that. I’m against the fact that they’re saying the word and identity transsexual are antiquated.”

We chat a little more about terminology, and I note that a lot of older trans folks in particular choose to use that term.

“It is an older term, but why does it matter if it’s my term, how does it bother you?” Angel says.

“I use ‘tranny’ all the time too, I get in a lot of trouble.”

I tell him a little of my own history with ‘tranny’ at this point, saying that I always used to flinch when I heard it, even from other trans people, but as I learned more LGBTIQ history I came to understand that the word belonged to us before it became a slur.

“To reclaim a word that has been used against you is powerful.”

“It was our word first,” he agrees.

“I’m 57. I used to hang out with trans women and sex workers on the streets in West Hollywood, and we all called ourselves trannies. It was a term of endearment and we created that term.

“[As a trans person] I can say tranny whenever I want, but what’s important is that people understand the weight of that word.

“That’s why I talk about that word. Because people still do use it in a derogatory way, but if I use it in a positive, powerful way, I think that takes away the power for them to use it as a derogatory term. It becomes empowering. To reclaim a word that has been used against you is powerful.

“I do think of it on some level as sort of like reclaiming the nasty, horrible N word for black people. They reclaimed it and empowered themselves.”

I have to interject that while this similarity has crossed my own mind, I’m a bit loath to draw the comparison, and Angel agrees.

“They’re different,” he says.

“They are two different fights, and [white trans people] cannot compare our fight to people of colour, it’s a different type of fight.”

He puts it to me that use of the word tranny, within the trans community, is comparable to another term.

“How can you reclaim the word queer, and it’s okay for everyone in the world to call themselves queer, which is a dirty, fucked-up word that my generation hated… but you can’t say tranny?” he asks.

“They are both [historically] the same derogatory fucked-up words. That’s hypocrisy.

“The younger generation can be so entitled in telling us what we can and cannot reclaim.”

“People bite at my ankles about minute things like the words I use.”

Angel knows he’s a controversial figure, but he says his attitude is what helps him achieve what he wants to.

“I’m a fighter, if you don’t know that about me, and I’m also a motherfucker,” he laughs.

“I will not be told what to do. I fought hard to get to this space, and I fought hard for you and for these kids, and I still do.

“I do have a different way of doing things, I’m much more of an in-your-face kind of guy, but it gets shit done, you know? That’s the way I do it, and it’s not necessarily for everybody.

“But if you get yourself out of not liking me on that level, and understand how much I have empowered not only myself but our community – there’s no other transgender person with a booth [here at Sexpo].

“I am visible as much as I possibly can to fight for us. But people bite at my ankles about minute things like the words I use, that take away from the focus on the things I do to create change.

“One thing I want you to understand is I do not represent the community. I’m a part of the community and I represent me. I’m a human rights activist, not [only] a transgender activist. I’m fighting for all of us to get out of this white male bullshit privilege.”

“I do enjoy the freedom of sex with men… it’s so nasty.”

I ask Angel how he describes his sexuality.

“I’m totally bisexual, or sometimes I just say pig,” he laughs.

“I’m really not picky. I know this sounds so hokey and cheesy, but it really is just about people. If I connect with you, we’re connecting as people, we’re hot for each other, I don’t care, that’s cool to me.

“I identified as a gay woman, then a gay man, then a straight man, and then I thought, actually I like everybody!

“I have more relationships with women and more sex with men.

“I do enjoy the freedom of sex with men. There’s no bullshit. I love it, it’s so nasty. You don’t find that [outside of gay male culture].”

Angel is a huge name in porn, having won the 2007 AVN Award for Transsexual Performer of the Year (there’s that word again). I ask who watches his films, and he tells me it’s not necessarily who one might think.

“When I started doing porn, men got fucking freaked out because they were attracted to me,” he says.

“Gay men are the number one consumers of my porn, but women are fast becoming equal or bigger, which is totally crazy, because to get the women’s market in porn is really difficult.

“But women are becoming more free about looking at porn, and for some reason I attract women. [Trans men] are a different kind of guys, and I think they’re attracted to us on some level. Maybe because we bring our past of being female into masculinity. There’s a lot of layers there.”

“Gay men were freaked out by me.”

I ask Angel how he feels about having performed for the ‘cis gaze’ in porn.

“Well, that is who I produced it for, and I loved it!” he says.

“[Cis gay men] were so receptive. The reason I’m here and successful is because of gay men. They were the ones who bought my movies and supported me.

“In my early porn work, [trans guy porn] was always just me. I was ‘The Man with a Pussy’. It was not a representation of the community, it was a representation of one man with a vagina, showing his sexual experiences.

“I was the first trans guy to do that on a mainstream level. The porn industry didn’t like me, gay men were freaked out by me, and the trans male community fucking hated me. It was hard, it took me years to really barrel through that.”

Having worked in the sex industry myself, I can identify with receiving a range of reactions from cis people in that context. I ask if he ever felt, for want of a better word, objectified as a trans man by his audience.

“Oh, totally! I’m completely objectified and fetishised, and I don’t have a problem with that,” he says.

“There’s this idea that when somebody is attracted to us, they’re fetishising us.

“But I actually don’t mind being fetishised, so don’t put me in that category, and don’t assume all trans men are worried about being fetishised.

“If someone wants to try me out to see what it’s like, I’m all for it. I’m getting something out of it too! It doesn’t bother me at all.”

At this point, I agree that I’ve never minded being someone’s experiment – as long as I’m getting paid.

“Cis men tell me all the time that they’re scared to approach us because they’re worried that they’re going to fetishise us, and they don’t want to do that,” Angel says.

“Then they ask how to do it without being fetishising, and I say: just approach us!

“There’s this weird dynamic, everyone’s too worried about doing anything now. [In porn] it’s my job, I put myself in this position. But it’s an individual choice. We cannot tell all the men out there not to pursue us.”

Angel acknowledges that many trans people have been through plenty of unwanted fetishisation and worse.

“It’s this thing in our community where a lot of people feel victimised and traumatised,” he says.

“Of course, it’s hard, it is hard to be trans. It’s not all lovey-dovey. It’s difficult.

“We have to walk the world and find our own space, we get misgendered, I know it all. I transitioned 24 years ago.”

Mentioning his age brings him back to his earlier point about being controversial and the criticism he receives online.

“You don’t have to like me – I am a big mouth – that’s okay,” Angel says.

“What you need to understand is that I and guys before me opened the door for you kids. Respect that, that’s all we ask.

“We have different politics and that’s okay.

“I’ve never seen a community of people be so disrespectful to their elders, ever. The gay community and lesbian community weren’t like that.

“I think it’s because the community is so fast-growing, and I think the internet and social media plays a role. Everyone wants a voice, everyone wants to be a YouTube star or Instagram king.”

Speaking of young people, I tell him, I watched the documentary Mr Angel a few years ago, not long after I started transition. There’s a scene where a young trans mentee of Angel’s talks about having never wanted to refer to his own genitals as anything before transition, and that was a moment in the film that really hit close to home for me. I’d never understood until then why I wasn’t comfortable with any language for that part of my own body. Angel sympathises.

“We don’t have anybody teaching us these things,” he says.

“I’ve been working to teach for twenty years about how, yeah, we might have different genitals, but we’re still dudes. And I made that happen. I’m respected in the world as a man with a vagina.

“So many straight dudes [at Sexpo] came and took pictures with me like, ‘Bro, you’re badass!’ Can you imagine? That’s what I fought for.

“Those are the guys that used to want to kill us, seriously. And the kids don’t see that. I’m [fighting] for them so they don’t ever have to see that.” 

“I learned a lot doing prostitution on the street.”

I ask Angel about his background as a sex worker, prior to his porn career, and how he now feels about having done that work.

“I come from a background of prostitution and homelessness and crack addiction,” he tells me.

“I’m very, very positive about my sex work. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for my porn, and secondly, I learned a lot doing prostitution on the street for survival.

“I fucking survived, and that’s why I don’t want to say it’s negative, because it kept me alive. I mean, I was on crack… but I didn’t die. I didn’t kill myself, because I found a means to create an income.”

I comment that he must be aware many people in our community do sex work, though personally I’ve struggled to find work since transition.

“Especially trans women, trans men not so much,” he agrees.

“Partly because gay men don’t necessarily pay for sex as much as straight men do.

“I was lucky enough on the Boulevard that I looked like a young boy and could make an easy twenty bucks jacking off these old guys.

“But I’m very proud of my sex work, very proud of my pornography, and a big believer and huge activist for sex work. Because it is a job, it is a real job, and it’s something people use every day. So why do we stigmatise it so much? It makes no sense to me.

“On some level I still am a sex worker. I travel the world talking about it.”

I remark that I consider sex work an identity, since we are a marginalised group and we don’t get to just escape it, even if we retire from the industry.

“That’s a great observation – I can never get rid of it,” Angel says.

“For many years I tried to get rid of it and go mainstream as a public speaker, but it kept getting derailed when anybody would google me and ‘porn star’ would come up.

“One day I sat down and said to myself: you are being ungrateful and disrespectful to your pornography and sex work – it is the reason you are here. ‘Buck Angel: The Man with a Pussy’ put me where I am today.

“And that’s when I realised: I’m supposed to be doing and talking about sex work forever. I work now in the arena of moving us forward in transgender male sexual health, because very few people talk about it. I create sex toys and lube and packers that help us talk about our bodies. And who better to make products for us than ourselves?”

I ask Angel about his thoughts on masculinity and how it might be different for cis and trans men.

“Some people think gender is socially constructed,” he says.

“I disagree with that, I think gender is real, but what is socially constructed are our actions. I think male and female are real things, but when men are taught to be one way and women are taught to be another, that’s a social construct.

“Expectations, machismo, don’t cry, all the things we’re taught to be as a man.

“That’s why I think we are special men, because our social construct was female. I think I’m a different type of man because I was socially raised female, which gave me a different energy without those strict guidelines of masculinity.”

“I’m a very sensitive man.”

I suggest that from a certain viewpoint, one might even consider it a kind of privilege to have been raised without those constraints, like not being allowed to cry.

“That’s my point, right there. I cry all the time,” he says.

“I’m a very sensitive man, and it’s very important that I never lose that.

“After my talks, cis men come up to me and literally thank me for the permission to cry – it needed to come from a man to a man.

“You have been told everything wrong. Look at me, I’m a very masculine man, yet I enable myself to be vulnerable.

“I enable myself to be penetrated, and that’s a vulnerable space to be in. I’m not a bottom but I get penetrated.

“That said, especially in the gay culture, if you get penetrated, you’re ‘weak’. The bottom-shaming is insane.

“It comes down to vulnerability. To let myself as a very macho, masculine man be all these things, I’m cutting down all the stigma.

“The difference between a man raised female and a man raised male is fascinating. It’s a conversation the cis world never spoke about.”

I wonder aloud whether trans kids now, who are more often being treated as their correct gender from an early age, might have it different to our generations in terms of gendered upbringing.

“I think the younger generation is going to have an opportunity to have a different type [of upbringing], and I don’t know if that’s going to be a good or bad thing,” says Angel.

“I don’t know if the social construct of masculinity is going to fuck [trans boys] up, or maybe because they’re trans it will be different. But that’s a great observation and something we should think about.

“I love being hypermasculine, it’s how I am. I’m comfortable, I love myself, and that’s all I want for everybody else. However you need to be to walk the world, be it. We need to learn how to support each other’s differences.”

Going back to our discussion of labels and identities, I ask Angel if he wants to address the controversy over his alleged past erasure of non-binary people.

“Non-binary has been around forever. It was around when I was transitioning, back in the day,” he says.

“That said, I noticed that a lot of [non-binary] people ended up transitioning [to a binary gender]. I think it can be a gateway or transitional period.

“But I don’t know anything about it, it’s not my identity. I don’t have any comment on it [except] it’s an identity and it’s fine.”

“We’re all in the same T.”

I ask what he thinks, then, about people who are non-binary and never so consider themselves male or female.

“Right on! I think it’s awesome,” he replies.

“Anything you want to be. I get how important it is, and things like pronouns… our identity is who we are, and we take it very seriously, especially when our identity is something we couldn’t always be a part of. A lot of these kids are coming into their identity now.

“People say that I’m dividing the community, but that’s not true. We’re all in the same T, we’re just different Ts. There’s a misconception of me, and I get misquoted. I have never been anti­-non-binary, I just say there is a difference between the transgender umbrella and a medically transitioning transsexual person.

“Gender dysphoria is real. We cannot discount that, but there are people trying to say that it is not real. No one said you need it to transition.”

I ask if Angel wants to talk about any of the other controversies he’s been involved in.

“Oh, I’m anti bottom surgery,” he chuckles.

“That’s what people say. Because I’m the man with the pussy, so they equate that to being anti bottom surgery. I’m not.

“I love that you had bottom surgery and think it’s awesome that you had the opportunity; it’s not for me. I’m never going to, I’m completely okay with myself [physically], but for other people with gender dysphoria, you need to have that done and a hundred per cent I’ll fight for that.

“What people need to understand is I’m pro-choice. Why would I say I don’t want you to have your bottom surgery? That makes no sense. It’s becoming more and more accessible, and that’s fantastic.

“People ask me why I don’t talk more about bottom surgery, and it’s because I don’t have it. I don’t know about it, it’s not my platform and it never will be. I’d like to see more men with bottom surgery creating their own platform to talk about it, because it’s not my space. I stay in my lane.”   

We chat a little more about surgery. Angel had mentioned in his talk that he had keyhole top surgery – mastectomy with a tiny incision – and I tell him I wish I’d been able to. I show him my scars and he’s very impressed with the surgeon’s work.

Our discussion comes to an end when Angel has to leave for a photo booth appearance. He closes by emphasising that anyone can contact him if they want to know his opinion on a matter.

“I’ll say this: the reason I am powerful is because I stand by my word,” he says.

“I’m a man of integrity. I don’t say shit just to say it, I believe in what I say, and I don’t say what I don’t believe in.

“I’m very accessible. Anyone can DM me on Instagram and I will get back to you. If you have a question, come to me, and I will answer it for you.”

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