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Buck Angel: “If you’re disconnected from your body sexually believe me you're never going to accept yourself or know who you are”

Buck Angel: ‘The Man With A Pussy’

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We meet the American adult film producer in Berlin to discuss his feminist approach to the art form and why sex has a terrible reputation

About two thirds of the way through Sexing the Transman 4, Riley – a trans male – and his girlfriend Jessica are deeply involved in each others’ bodies. The camera lolls over the cute young couple, focusing on Riley’s face as Jessica licks his nipples and bites his body gently. Then a voice chips in: “Do you feel more horny now you’ve been taking testosterone?”

Riley, looks up smiling. “Yes” “And when did that happen? After a month or so?” Riley, biting his lip as Jessica begins to make her way down to his crotch, looks back up at the camera. “Mmmm”.

It’s been almost four years since trans male porn star Buck Angel, also known as the “the man with a pussy”, decided to step back from starring in films and begin directing his own. The resulting films, docu-porn series Sexing the Transman, are an intimate and empowering documentation of trans male sexuality. The fourth was released in Spring this year with the fifth and sixth on their way.

As porn directors go, it’s hard to imagine one quite as reaffirming as Buck. Following in the tradition of other feminist pornos, his films begin with interviews with his actors, humanising them, getting a feel for their sense of self - physically and emotionally - before filming them getting their rocks off. Lo-fi production means there’s no distraction from the honest portrayal of the performers, apart from the odd interruption from Buck to indulge his own earnest curiosity, such as asking how big their clitoris has grown since starting hormones, or how many orgasms they usually manage to achieve. His response to most answers is a straight up: “That’s awesome.” If you’d never been on camera before and were going to agree to let someone film you having sex - and, for most of the guys who volunteer to be in the films it is their first time on camera - Buck truly would be a great person to have around.

At a time when Buck’s profile continues to grow – he’s just received a PorYes award for his work as a feminist pornographer and is regularly invited to speak at universities around the world – I caught up with him in Berlin to hear more about how he’s using his position to change perceptions about sex and gender, and why films like his deserve to be seen by a wider audience, regardless of whether you’re trans, cis, queer or straight.

One of your most recent achievements is receiving an award at PorYes, the feminist porn film awards, for your work championing trans sexuality in the adult entertainment industry. What’s it like being the only male nominee at a feminist film awards?

Buck Angel: It’s cool. I’m telling you it’s really cool to be a feminist male, and to be appreciated for it. A lot of people think feminists are women, but it’s not true. Everyone should be a feminist. Every man should be a feminist. We should all have the same rights.

So much of your work - filming, acting, speaking - involves blending the intimately personal with the passionately political. Do you ever get tired of having your gender and sexuality at the forefront of your public persona?

Buck Angel: No. You know why? Because I see the change it makes. My body is my activism. So I use it, or I hope that I can continue to use it for change. Or maybe there will be a point where no-one cares anymore. That would be amazing. 

The public does seem to be becoming increasingly enlightened about these issues. But this summer, when Caitlyn Jenner came out as a trans woman, reactions from both inside and outside of the trans community ranged from support to criticism. Where did your feelings lie at that moment?

Buck Angel: First and foremost I want to say that she’s a very brave woman. It was not an easy thing for that woman to do that and I give her a lot of credit. Number two, she is not the representation of the transgender community. That’s what the community needs to understand and what the world needs to understand. She is one person. She is also a person of privilege. And what you see is so not even 1 per cent of the transgender community.

“The sex stuff really isn’t such a big of a deal for them because they see that I’ve done something with myself and I got myself out of drugs and alcohol and suicide and all those crazy things”

Why does that privilege set her apart so distinctly from the rest of the trans community?

Buck Angel: She could decide and want to be a woman, have all her surgery and be done in six months. Most of us are never done. Nor do we have the privilege to get surgery or take hormones. So there’s that. But why I think her show is great on one level is that the producers brought in trans people who are activists and that means Caitlyn gets to have a conversation with – I don't want to say the "real" transgender community – but it helps show the real struggle.

In your film series, Sexing the Transman, a lot of the performers we meet have been unable to afford surgery or even hormone treatment. How does it feel to document these experiences?

Buck Angel: It kills me actually. Did you see the desperation in those guys? It’s horrifying every time. I film it, I edit it, I watch it and it still makes me emotional to watch. Do you know how incredibly amazing it is for a guy who has breasts and a vagina to get in front of the camera naked and say “I'm a man?” And then to hear them say “I wish I didn't have these, I feel so horrible to have these.” It adds a whole other level of it. The visual of that guy alone should just blow your mind. I want people to see that desperation.

So would you say there’s a campaigning element to the films in that regard?

Buck Angel: I hope by doing that I can get people to have compassion for these guys. How can we change the laws in America? In the UK it's paid for. In Germany it's paid for. All these guys get their surgery done through the government. We don’t get that. We’re the richest country in the world, the most sought after country in the world and we don’t give our people medical care. That is a human right. No-one should struggle for that.

The tabloid media has often been criticised for its over-sexualisation of trans people – focusing on their bodies in a voyeuristic and titillating way – and a lot of people in the trans community have campaigned against this. How do you think your films fit into this debate?

Buck Angel: This is a big deal for me. Sex and becoming sexually confident in my body...that just busted me through to this next level of acceptance for myself. Because sex is a big part of most people’’s lives. But if you’re disconnected from your body sexually believe me you're never going to accept yourself or know who you are. So going back to the issue of de-sexualising our trans community – that’s what is happening right now within the trans movement. The rest of the world is in touch with its sexuality why wouldn’t we be in touch?

A lot of the mainstream debate around porn centres of the fact that it’s a damaging thing for people – particularly the younger, internet porn generations – who are watching it. What’s your take on this?

Buck Angel: Well first off, pornography isn’t damaging. Someone down the line decided that sex was a bad thing and that video of sex is even a worse thing and that pornography is the devil. Which is too bad, because that's not really what it is. I mean there”s a wide range of pornography. You can pretty much see anything. And now you can even see a man with a pussy, so I don’t even know what doesn’t exist any more. But it’s sad to me that pornography has such a bad rep.

But is some of the criticism deserved? There’s a lot of porn which - whether consenting or not - focuses on female subjugation and humiliation.

Buck Angel: Here’s the thing that people don’t understand. A lot of that is fantasy. And guess what? People have those fantasies. People have rape fantasies, people have poo fantasies, people have pee fantasies. And this is the thing we need to understand within the human psyche. You might not think it’s hot, I might not think it’s hot, but if two people want to poo on each other? Go for it dude.

Your films – and feminist porn – stand against a certain type of image we find in more mainstream porn. Your films prove there’s porn that can help us think about sex in a more positive and creative way, so would you not agree there are films that make us think about things in a negative way too?

Buck Angel: There’s a negative side to everything. But it’s a very difficult question for me to answer because I believe in freedom of speech. ’m very much about letting people express their own sexuality, their own gender. So something I might find not to my taste doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a bad thing.

What can be done to make porn a more positive experience overall?

Buck Angel: We need to start letting pornographers, sex workers and sex educators be part of teaching the world about sexuality in a more positive way. But we’re lumped together into one thing. The guys who are making those mainstream porn films don’t care about anything apart from making a dollar.

So you’re saying that there is a problem in the industry itself, that they've found a product that sells. Like junk food?

Buck Angel: Yes exactly. I would say I’m not junk food. ’m this nice beautiful restaurant. I’m organic. Vegan. I really don’t want people to think I’m talking badly about other ’s work but there are definitely ways we can make pornography a more positive influence on a younger generation. And that’s by letting more of us bring more positive images out there. That’s what feminist porn is.

“Pornography isn’t damaging. Someone down the line decided that sex was a bad thing and that video of sex is even a worse thing and that pornography is the devil”

Did you experience any challenges or prejudices when entering the the porn industry?

Buck Angel:

The challenges were in the industry. They were the ones who wouldn’t let me. The other challenges were my own community. The trans male community early on was so upset with me. They hated me. They said I was sexualising them. And that I’m making the rest of the world think we’ve all got vaginas. I had to keep saying it’s not about you. What part of Buck Angel, the man with the pussy, can’t you understand? Finally I just had to remove myself from that community because they were so angry with me. Fast forward to 2015, tons of these guys now call themselves a man with a pussy. Now they all identify with what I put out there. 

Tell us about your first shoot.

Buck Angel: No-one would talk to me in the porn industry. Nobody. Everybody hated me. They thought I was a freak. So the only thing I could do was produce my own work. My very first scene was a masturbation scene in the middle of nowhere in the Louisiana Bayou. I just brought a bag of dildos and I just went out there in my army pants, set my camera up on a tripod and I just totally had sex by myself.

Have you got a favourite moment from your time as a performer?

Buck Angel: Almost everything that I’ve done has been a first. In the sense that no other trans man has ever broken ground in the pornography industry. In 2007/8 I did a scene with a gay mens’ porn company with two other guys. Anyway, the guy’s going down on me and he just looks up at me between my legs and goes: “Wow dude, they did such a great job.” And I was like: “What?” And he goes: “It looks real!” And I said: “Dude. It is real.” Everyone on set was laughing, he was embarrassed. But I was like, actually, that’s a compliment.

Last year you were divorced from your long term partner in a case that tested LGBT rights, when she challenged the validity of your marriage in court on the basis that you weren’t legally a man. How did that experience affect you on a personal level?

Buck Angel: I was wrecked. It all came from somebody who I trusted as my partner in life and crime. I thought I was connected to that person and I wasn’t. She came after the one thing that I live for, which is my manhood. My gender. She knew that clearly. But I won. I won the case. It was very surreal. I just equate it to someone who became mentally ill that’s all I can kind of think to make myself feel better about it.

How did the case impact on a political level?

Buck Angel: It was the first case of its kind in the history of the United States. So I won a case for the LGBT community. She challenged our marriage and by doing that she challenged the whole community’s marriage. Because if that case had passed. Wow. I don’t even think she realises the damage she would’ve done.

Growing up, you’ve come out as a gay woman, then a trans man, then as a porn star to your family. Which one was hardest?

Buck Angel: The hardest was telling my parents I was a gay woman. They hated it. They were embarrassed. We’ve had this talk since they said it’s much easier for them to accept having a son now because I present as their son to the world. They don’t tell people I’m their transgender son. They just say I’m their son. And then the porn stuff? My parents don't care. They just care about me being successful and they see me travel around the world and they see me make a huge difference. The sex stuff really isn’t such a big of a deal for them because they see that I’ve done something with myself and I got myself out of drugs and alcohol and suicide and all those crazy things. They told me they thought I would be dead by 30. I’m very lucky. I know that. Not many people accept their kids being trans, nor would ever accept their child being in the pornography business.