‘Labels not necessary’ says pornographer-turned-advocate

When it comes to gender, Buck Angel is adamant about one thing: it isn’t defined by what is between your legs.

“We have always been taught that a penis makes you a man and a vagina makes you a woman,” Angel says. “But gender is much more complicated than that.”

Angel has lived his life questioning notions of gender. He was born a female. In his twenties, he underwent hormone treatment and breast removal surgery. He later gained notoriety as the first transgendered pornography star. Gradually, he has transformed himself into an educator, public speaker and advocate — not just for the transgendered community, but for all those who he says “don’t fit into a box.”

Buck Angel calls himself “an advocate for people who do not fit in ‘the box.’”

Photo by Karry TaylorAfter being invited to share his message of self-acceptance and sexual tolerance to audiences across North America, a documentary about his life, Mr. Angel, recently premiered at the SXSW Film festival.

He also visited Calgary to participate on public sex panel sponsored by the Fairy Tales Presentation Society, and sat down with the Calgary Journal to discuss life, labels and why he thinks we are still so hung up on sex in the year 2013.

There can be a tendency for society to stigmatize those who deviate from the so-called norms of sexuality. As somebody who has publically advocated for a more fluid and flexible view of sex and gender, have you run into this?

Definitely. I am a pornographer — that is what I do, and that is where my roots lie. I am also a man with a vagina. But I realized, because of these things, many people wouldn’t give me the time of day or respect me or consider what I have to say as being valid. I had to repackage myself as a motivational speaker, an educator and an advocate. Then all of a sudden, everyone wanted to speak to me.

So that right there shows specifically what you are saying is true. People still have this idea that sex is dirty and bad and that we shouldn’t talk about it. People think that sex is evil and causes problems. But sex is a natural thing. Everybody does it.

It’s 2013, not 1950. Does it surprise you that such attitudes about sex and sexuality still persist?

You know, it really is shocking. I live in Mexico — which is considered a Third World country. But it isn’t a Third World country because, despite being a very strict Catholic country, they have legalized same-sex marriage there. Yet the U.S. hasn’t. It seems to me, in many ways, people are moving backwards in their thoughts.

The reality is that change is necessary to evolve, and to make things more accessible. It is obvious that sexuality is evolving. Look at, for example, the transgender community. In the last three or four years, it has just exploded and has become more out there in the open. So that in it makes me wonder why people don’t want change. I think people are scared of change — there is this idea that change means rebellion and that people will be out of control. But change is good.

You have worked to get your message regarding sexual empowerment and self-acceptance out to a very broad audience. Why is that so important to you?

I don’t really live my life as a transgendered man. I live my life as a man — which is what I always wanted to be. So it’s important for people to understand that I don’t speak for the transgendered community. That isn’t because I don’t identify as a transgendered person. It’s because there are so many of us, and we all have different voices.

I came to realize that my message needs to be heard outside of the transgendered community because they already know everything that I am talking about — I don’t need to educate that community. I need to educate the world. It’s also because my life is not about being a transgendered man. It’s about becoming comfortable with yourself, whatever that means — whether you are gay or straight or something else.

My message is about more than gender or sexuality. It is about teaching people how to learn to love themselves — something that will then project into society as a way for everybody to get along better with each other. It sounds cheesy, but that is how I transcended my porn work into my transgendered advocacy work and now into becoming a motivation speaker and educator.

Did you have difficulty breaking out of being pigeonholed as a spokesperson for the whole transgendered community?

Yes. I have had to constantly stress that I am not a spokesperson, but understand that I am role model.

I am happy being a role model because a lot of my work touches on sexuality — and I am a firm believer that sexuality is an important part of being a person. When you get in touch with your sexuality, it can free so much up for you. Many people have a hard time with their sexuality, teenagers in particular. They need to talk about sex. It’s part of transitioning as a person. So I feel excited that my message can be used to talk to older teenagers about sex.

Where do you see that you can make the biggest contribution?

I think I am changing the way that people really look at what makes you a man or what makes you a woman. I am making people question gender. If you really think about it, what is gender? What does my vagina have to do with anything? How could that possibly decide what makes me into a man or a woman? I think my biggest contribution has been showing that genitals have nothing to do with being male or female — it has everything to do with you as a person.

ktaylor@cjournal.ca