A new documentary explores the pain of living with the wrong gender felt by female-to-male transsexual Buck Angel. But as the trans community role model tells DONALD CLARKE, he has also been fortunate enough to live as the person he wanted to be
AT FIRST I just hear the voice. Through the wonders of Skype, I have made audio contact with Buck Angel, transsexual role model, but the pictures have yet to appear. A friendly, mildly camp voice fusses at the other end. “Just getting it ready. Here we are.” And suddenly it seems as if, from the neck up, anyway, I am looking at a version of myself. A balding gentleman with spectacles and reddish stubble, Angel has a very Irish head on his mighty shoulders. If it weren’t for the tendons swelling beneath his trunk of a neck, I could just about imagine I was looking into a mirror.
“Yes, people think that all white guys of an age look alike. Don’t they?” he acknowledges.
He does himself a disservice. The archipelago of muscles dotted neatly about his wedge of a body sets him apart from the average, weedy Irish journalist.
It is, however, what happens (or doesn’t happen) below the torso that defines the cult of Buck Angel. A star of adult cinema and an engaging public speaker, Angel is happy to describe himself as a “man with a pussy”.
Born as a girl, raised in blue-collar southern California, he made the transition some 20 years ago and has spent the interim enjoying hitherto unimaginable peace of mind.
The transman community has relatively few high-profile role models. But Angel is a big enough personality to take up the slack all on his own. This weekend he flies to Ireland for the Gaze Dublin International LGBT Film Festival. After a screening of Sexing the Transman, a documentary on female-to-male gender reassignment, he will talk with the audience about his eventful life.
“Am I a role model? That’s a tough question. I know I’ve become that. I can’t deny that. But it was certainly never my intention to become a role model. I do want people to believe they can become what they want to become. That’s why I became a motivational speaker. I don’t think I am a bad role model. But I’m not for everybody because of what I choose to do around sex. Not everybody would think that’s a great thing to do.”
He has a point. The politics of pornography remain brain-numbingly entangled. For every persuasive libertarian argument there is another equally forceful case about exploitation by proxy. The industry briefly gained intellectual respectability in the early 1970s – that bizarre Deep Throat boom – then, after revelations about exploitation and abuse, rapidly sank underground again.
Buck is, however, convinced that adult cinema need not feel ashamed of itself. His films blur all defining boundaries. In the colourfully titled Allanah Starr’s Big Boob Adventures, he is alleged to have participated in the first filmed sex scene between a male-to-female transsexual and a female-to-male transsexual. Is this still “LGBT” porn? Who knows? Who cares?
“I am interested in more intimate sex,” he says. “You get to see the actors interact with each other on an more intimate level. Look, it happens that the porn industry gets a bad rap. There are a lot of people in the porn industry who perhaps shouldn’t be making porn. For me it’s important to make pornography not a dirty word. I do want to bring an educational approach to the industry.”
He touches on an important point. Theoretical arguments about the ethics of representing explicit sexual activity for the purposes of arousal will spiral endlessly before (appropriately enough) disappearing up the combatants’ lower orifices. But it can’t be denied that, over the years, some shady characters have controlled the pornography business. With the heavy use of drugs, definitions of consent have become worryingly foggy.
“I hate to say it, because it’s my industry, but of course it has that element still. That’s what I am hoping to change, as are a lot of other people in my line. It’s still sex. It’s still pornography. And it’s still not for everybody. I don’t want it to look like people are out of their minds on drugs. I want it to be a bit more legitimised.” I believe him. Buck comes across as an extraordinarily genial fellow. He seems eager to please and unembarrassed about addressing any aspect of his story.