If someone were to tell you that Buck Angel is a porn star, you’d assume he does gay porn. Just look at the picture of him in the header image. He looks like a butch guy, and a name like Buck Angel is a gay porn star name par excellence.
What throws people is that Buck Angel is a man with a vagina. He’s transgender, female to male. Even though he takes testosterone and had his breasts removed, he didn’t get bottom surgery and doesn’t want to. There’s a gigantic naked poster of Buck at a porn convention, and as eyes go down from his bald head to his crotch, the reaction is confusion.
But like Buck says near the beginning of the documentary Mr. Angel, “A pussy doesn’t make me not a man.”
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Director: Dan Hunt
Release Date: TBD
The mere existence of Buck Angel calls perceptions of gender and identity into question. At the most base level, he makes people wonder if sex organs should be taken as gender identifiers or signifiers. In one of his porn videos, Buck has sex with another transgender performer who’s male to female and has also never undergone bottom surgery. Fleshbot editor Lux Alptraum points out that this scene is heterosexual since it’s a man having sex with a woman. Then again, it’s a woman with a penis having sex with a man with a vagina, which upends old sexual categorizations and ways of thinking about straight and gay sex.
This sexual and gender inversion makes Buck a couple of different things. For one, he’s an inspiration for others dealing with gender dysphoria. He talks about conversing with people going through similar struggles that he did growing up, and the pride of making the change. Looking up information online, there are also members of the trans community who don’t like Buck for some of his comments and views about gender issues. Buck’s defense of Dan Savage (who appears in the documentary) for alleged transphobia is also a sore spot for some in the community.
Buck’s also the unfortunate subject of ridicule. Sometimes it seems semi-good natured, like when Buck appeared on Howard Stern and rode the Sybian. That appearance isn’t in the film, though I’ve heard the audio. Conversely, Buck also appeared on The Tyra Banks Show as a “sexual oddity” (a phrase from their title of the episode); later in the documentary, Buck’s wife Elayne reads hate mail aloud. And of course, being a porn star makes it hard for Buck to be taken seriously as an advocate for trans rights and gender issues.
Filmed over the course of six or seven years, director Dan Hunt presents Buck from many different angles. Here’s Buck the porn star, here’s Buck the activist, here’s Buck the husband, here’s Buck the public speaker, here’s Buck going to the gynecologist. (The way he laughs off the absurdity of a man going to the gynecologist is endearing.) Hunt provides an intimate portrait of a fascinating person, and while the pieces seem contradictory, they actually make for a surprising whole. It would be armchair psychology at best to suggest that I understand what Buck must’ve gone through in his transition from female to male, though certain dots can be connected. I think a lot of that is thanks to the way Hunt presents a rounded and seemingly whole version of who Buck is.
Prior to Buck’s gender reassingment, he was a tomboy who felt drawn to rugged images of masculinity. Buck was a gifted runner in his teens and as a young woman Buck was a very attractive female model — slightly boyish in the way many female models are but definitely feminine. And yet Buck was ultimately troubled once puberty kicked in. That’s when the suicidal and self-destructive impulses started. Buck’s parents and sister appear in the film and talk about Buck’s deep problems with anger. They also reveal some unresolved issues concerning Buck’s change from a woman to a man. This is particularly true of Buck’s father, who loves Buck even though he blames himself for the way Buck’s life turned out.
The film doesn’t state this outright, but it’s obvious that the change from female to male was the best thing that could have happened to Buck. All of that self-loathing and depression that Buck experienced growing up (and here’s that dreaded armchair psychology) was likely due to his gender dysphoria. The transition from female to male wound up becoming a path to sobriety and even love, both for himself and his wife. But it goes further, because now Buck wants to change the world.
When Buck shows his parents the episode of The Tyra Banks Show, he points out how offended he was to be considered a sexual oddity. “But you are,” his dad says. I don’t think he meant it to be hurtful, but it was simply a statement of how society views a man with a vagina. It’s weird because it’s so uncommon, and I write that not trying to be transphobic. I’m simply stating why, in this time, in this paradigm about gender, it’s considered weird by so much of the public. Maybe through advocacy, a new concept of normal can come about.
It’ll take time for this new normal to take hold, of course, but these are conversations worth having since we’re coming to a better understanding about gender and sexuality (even though America continues to be so prudish about it). The most important takeaway from all this is that gender means more than just a penis or just a vagina, and that people should own and love who they are, no matter what.
“My vagina is awesome!” Buck proclaims during a public speaking engagement.
Not just your vagina, my good man.