This is the fourth feature in a series that aims to elevate some of the transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals who have played a significant role in the ongoing fight for trans and queer liberation. Head here to read the first feature with CeCe McDonald, here for the second with Kate Bornstein or here for the most recent with Laura Jane Grace.
Buck Angel is an adult film producer, activist and trans man whose work as an educator fights to sexualize the trans body and break down stigma surrounding the spectrum of trans male identity. He initially made a name for himself in the world of adult entertainment, pushing the industry to rethink their relationship with transgender actors and create visibility for trans and gender non-conforming men.
Over the last several years, Angel has turned his focus towards educating the public about human sexuality by touring America as a speaker and sitting down with male-identified trans and gender non-conforming people in his ongoing project "Sexing the Transman." The documentary porn series provides a platform for trans and gender non-conforming men to have a candid discussion about the role sex and sexuality plays, or has played, in their ongoing transition.
In this interview with The Huffington Post, Buck Angel reflects on his journey as a adult film performer and educator throughout his own personal transition, the many shades and hues of the trans community, and the role that, in his eyes, visibility, sex and sexuality plays in trans and gender non-conforming people coming to live as their authentic selves.
The Huffington Post: Can you pinpoint the beginning of your career? What were some of the first defining moments for you as a trans adult star, activist and educator?
Buck Angel: I sure can. It is something that I will never forget because I still cannot believe that by having this idea I am now in this place in my life where I have a powerful voice -- and that is all because I had this vision.
I was working in the adult entertainment field, but behind the camera and building websites. I was working with a very popular trans woman actor and the field of trans woman porn is big. It was at this moment I said to myself, “Wow I cannot believe there are no transsexual men in porn" -- when I say that, I always have this vision of a lightbulb on the top of my head and inside it says: “the man with a pussy." That vision is so powerful for me because I was scared of it at first and then I realized I was on to something when I told my friend and they said, "Dude that is a brilliant idea. You are going to change the world." Of course, that was not my intention or my desire at the time. It was just to make a place for someone like me in the adult world -- to create a genre or a niche. So I remember laughing at my friend and saying, "I don’t care about that. I just want to make hot porn."
After that it was an uphill battle to get any kind of love or recognition from both the adult industry, as well as my community of trans men. The industry was freaked out because they had no idea where to put me or even market me. Many of the guys who worked with trans women called me a freak. Many of the companies would not touch me. It was hard. I felt really ostracized. But then the gay men started to come towards my work.
Many were very secret about it and made to feel ashamed by other gay men. I really made this sort of divide sexually within the gay men's community. But they were really the ones who lifted me up, made me feel like what I was producing was hot and very much needed. My work spoke not only to sex but sexuality and how it is so diverse. This was when I started to realize that, yes, my friend was right. I do have the opportunity to change the world. I guess that is how I started to become an activist and an educator. But with that also came hate from the trans community. They were very mean and awful -- speaking to me as if my work in adult film was going to make everyone think all trans men have a pussy or that all trans men are like me. That I was fetishizing trans men. During that time I was very frustrated with community and the hate. Now, I realize 13 years later that they were just acting out of fear. I did not understand that back then. The best part about this story is that now there is a very big community of men with pussies/vaginas.
One of the great things about growing older as an activist and educator is learning and growing as a person. I cringe at some of the things I did early on. But now I know better and really make an effort to help change the world through my sex and body positivity work.
“One of the great things about growing older as an activist and educator is learning and growing as a person.”
Can you talk about your experiences working with trans and gender non-conforming people in the adult film industry: Why has this industry been so crucial to the survival and lives of many trans people? What do you say to those who claim the adult entertainment industry enforces negative stereotypes about trans people and is damaging to the community?
One of the most amazing things for me and the progression of my work is my ongoing project "Sexing the Transman." I came to idea because of the community telling me that my films were not a representation of the community and I realized that I had the opportunity to open that up and give a voice to many trans and GNC people through my films. The idea of creating a docu-porn series where I could now step back and let others talk about transition and how this plays a big part in their sexuality and body positivity, was so awesome for me. The way these people just opened up for me and were so happy to discuss and show the world how important sex is for them during the transition -- how it helped them get in touch with a body that they always hated. So, really, my experience within a certain part of the community now has been nothing but positive because I have given them that voice to them. I get so many emails from people thanking me for this series because it helps to validate that it is ok to love yourself and your body the way you see it -- not the way others want you too.
The adult industry seems to be the one place that many trans people go to when seeking work. That is because we do not discriminate and its a place that anyone can get work. That said, I do not always think that people go into it with the idea that it is a positive thing for them; they are only doing it to survive and not necessarily because they want to. But some in my community will argue that this entertainment field only creates negative stereotypes of trans people -- that it fetishizes and creates negativity. I disagree. There are many who love expressing their sexuality this way and think of it as I do: a way to make positive body images that create positive change.
I would say that there is still some weird feelings about the transgender community and the adult industry, meaning that I think they still look at us more like outsiders and not necessarily a part of the adult industry. But I do not see that as a big problem because you can do and create whatever you like now. You do not need the industry to "make it” anymore. We can now just do it. I am proof of that!
You are viewed by some as a controversial figure in the trans community. What are your thoughts about "the trans community," especially as it's seen by the mainstream?
You bet I am! It’s all because I talk about sex and my body -- because I dared to talk about my genitals in a way that no one in the community had before. So why does that make me controversial? I find it interesting how the community wants the world to be accepting of them yet they do not even accept their own diversity. The thing about the trans community is that it is growing so fast and with that growth comes lots of opinions and the one's who are the loudest seem to win. It makes me sad that some have so much anger and hate towards me and others who are trying to make change the way we know how. The lies and the hate that people have posted about me just shows how they have no desire to create change. I realize that there is so much fear, depression and self-hate it makes some in the community react with just that -- hate. I myself have said things in my career that are not ok, but I have since made amends and created a dialogue to clear this up. But some just do not see the value in moving on and have it out for me. That is just part of being a public figure. You can not please everyone. My feelings do not get hurt by these people because I know they are just hurt and have not had the opportunity to heal themselves. They must understand that there is no right or wrong way to be a transsexual/transgender person. The word policing is causing so much damage. The whole point of changing is to be yourself -- to be unique. Language is ever-evolving. These people who police us are just doing the same thing that we are running from and trying to change.
So that said, I believe that there really is not a “community”at this time. When I think of community I think of peace and love, I think of people who come to it as individuals and create a space for us all to have different thoughts and ways of doing things, and then we come together on our common ground of being trans. But that doesn’t mean we all have to be exactly the same or speak the exact same “trans language." This is what is breaking the community down. This idea that we are all the same. That is not true and why much of the time I do not feel a part of this community. For me my community is humanity.
I'd like to talk about visibility and the lack of visibility trans men seem to have in the mainstream -- both in general but also compared to the visibility that trans women have historically received. Why do you think this is? How do we combat this?
Visibility creates change! This is my new favorite thing to say. So, yes, there is more trans women visibility and I think that is because, historically, the women have been out longer and so their visibility started way before us. The other thing is -- in my experience -- trans men tend to transition and just want to be seen as men and not necessarily be out as trans. But with this bigger movement of GNC people and such I think we will start to see more visibility in the coming years. "Sexing The Transman" has created a place of visibility for trans male sexuality that never existed before so I hope that we can continue to discuss this in the more mainstream arena.
What does the future hold for Buck Angel? What do you want your legacy to be?
You know, when I started my work I just wanted to create a space in the adult world that wasn’t there. I did that. Then came my activist work and that really made me feel so happy and powerful because I really started to see the change that my sexuality work was creating and I thought how lucky I am to be able to travel the world to create change. [The fact] that people write me these amazing e-mails and say so many wonderful things to me -- sometimes I cry because I just cannot believe I lived to see this happen to me. So now I realize how powerful my voice and presence are that my goal is to help others have a powerful voice. To help others see how important visibility is to the creation of change. I would want my legacy to be that I made loving your body possible -- even though it was not what society told you it had to be. Anything is possible.
Check Huffington Post Gay Voices regularly for further conversations with other significant and historic trans and gender-nonconforming figures. Missed the first three interviews in this series? Check out the conversations with CeCe McDonald, Kate Bornstein and Laura Jane Grace.