He’s one of the highest profile trans men in the world. He’s controversial. He’s naked on the internet. Jesse Jones caught up with Buck Angel at Sexpo in Melbourne to talk sex work, trans politics, and the perils of social media.
I met porn star Buck Angel over coffee at adult exhibition Sexpo after sitting in on his talk, ‘Bucking the System’. He emphasised that even though the event itself is still very hetero oriented, and he was the only trans guest, the organisers had been very keen to include him to help create a more diverse lineup.
There’s plenty of film footage of him with men, of course, and he’s also been married to women. I asked Angel how he describes his sexuality.
“I’m totally bisexual, or sometimes I just say pig,” he laughed.
“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 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].”
He has been criticised online for many things, not least for his use of the term ‘transsexual’. I invited him to share his thoughts on the politics of that language.
“For me, the distinction is medical, and I do know now that transgender is an umbrella term. It [groups] us all together, but we’re not all the same,” he said.
“I needed to distinguish the fact that I’m medically transitioned, gender dysphoric [and had a] ‘sex change’. I was born female. I’m old school that way. I don’t believe I was ever ‘actually’ male – but my brain is male. I use testosterone to change that, to fix the way I feel.”
Angel acknowledged that many younger people have different thoughts on gender and use different language around it.
“A lot of the newer generation feels totally different than that,” he explained.
“That’s why I think there’s a distinction between transsexual and transgender, because transsexual, there’s no variation, but 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’s disrespectful to me and the older generation. There’s also a lot of youngsters who are now taking on the term transsexual.”
He added that he attributes a lot of the debate and disagreement to the age of social media.
“I’ve never seen a community of people be so disrespectful to their elders,” he said.
“The gay community and lesbian community weren’t like that. I think it’s because the [trans] community is so fast-growing, and I think the internet and social media play a role. Everyone wants a voice, everyone wants to be a YouTube star or Instagram king.”
I asked if Angel felt masculinity as a construct was different for cis and trans men.
“I think gender is real, but what is socially constructed are our actions,” he said.
“Male and female are real, 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.
“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.”
He explained that his own openness has allowed other men to let themselves be vulnerable as well.
“I cry all the time,” he said.
“I’m a very sensitive man. 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.
“I’m a very masculine man, yet I enable myself to be vulnerable. Especially in gay culture, if you get penetrated, you’re ‘weak’. 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.”
Angel has been accused in the past of non-binary erasure, but he disagreed that this was his intention.
“Non-binary has been around forever,” he said.
“It was around when I was transitioning.
“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 [except] it’s an identity and it’s fine.”
He elaborated that he equally supports people who are non-binary and never consider themselves male or female.
“Right on! I think it’s awesome,” he said.
“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.”
Angel said he is very proud of the sex work he did in the past, even before his high-profile porn career.
“I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for my porn, and I learned a lot doing prostitution on the street,” he said.
“I fucking survived, and that’s why I don’t want to say it’s negative, because it kept me alive.
“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.”
As a retired porn actor, Angel now works as a human rights advocate and public speaker for trans awareness.
“An organisation called the Young Presidents’ 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,” he said.
“It’s my most important job for sure.”
He noted that anyone with questions about his politics can contact him directly.
“I’ll say this: the reason I am powerful is because I stand by my word,” he said.
“I’m a man of integrity. I don’t say shit just to say it, I believe in what I say.
“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.”
Find and connect with Buck Angel on social media or at buckangel.com.
Jesse was a guest of Sexpo Melbourne.