From the beginning of his career, Buck Angel has been facing opposition, pushback, and discrimination. As a trans man in the adult entertainment industry, he is no stranger to criticism about his body, his masculinity, and his place in this world. Stepping onto a platform of visibility through his work in pornography, Angel was the first trans man with a vagina to expose it all more than 20 years ago and prove that all types of bodies can, and deserve to, experience pleasure.
Recently, the controversy surrounding Angel has shifted from his critics in the cisgender realm to folks from the trans community. Facing scrutiny on social media for his strong opinions when it comes to the agism and infighting that exists within trans and nonbinary conversations, the original Tranpa is not one to sit back and take it. He has been fighting for visibility, rights, and respect for far too long to let the younger generation take his progress and use it against him with labels like “boomer” and “irrelevant.”
Angel has worn many hats in his career, from model and sex worker to product developer and entrepreneur. Now, as he is thriving in his mid 50s, he is stepping into the role of motivational speaker and trans activist, Angel is using the experience of his past as a way to remind us that progress isn’t always linear, and the current generation is possibly harming itself more than it’s helping.
“I am not scared to speak my mind; I feel that my opinion matters. I’m trying to teach the youth that you can stand on your own two feet and have a different opinion. It doesn’t mean you’re against the community; it just means you have a different opinion and you’re an individual,” Angel said.
When we spoke with Angel, he was candid and stood strong in his beliefs about how to live an authentic life.
“I could be considered problematic, but what does that really mean? In the scope of things, I’m moving us forward. I don’t conform to ideas, and I never have,” he said.
And it’s true. In front of public scrutiny as well as behind the scenes, Angel has never been one to accept a society that didn’t accept him.
Angel’s story is not unlike that of many queer folks, and the path of coming into authenticity was a struggle since childhood. He isolated, used drugs and alcohol to cope with his “differentness,” and was on the brink of suicide. In the midst of a deep depression, Angel was in and out of psychiatric wards, had fallen deep into a pit of self-hatred, was self-harming, and was using sex work in order to pay for drugs.
One night, his life became endangered due to the nature of his work, and Angel had a moment of reconciliation and realized he in fact wanted to live. In order to save his own life, he had to face the dysphoria, combat the uneducated, and attempt to become the person he knew he truly was and needed to be.
“I’m not a transgender activist; I’m a human rights activist. I had to fight for my own identity, which is transsexual; I’m not a trans person; I don’t live my life as a trans person; I live my life as a man.”- Buck Angel
Angel came out as a transsexual in the 80s, a time where questioning gender was not only unacceptable, it was downright life-destroying. We use transsexual intentionally, as that is how Angel identifies himself. He began his FTM transition with a doctor who had experience in working with the MTF demographic and became somewhat of a controlled experiment in observing what happens to a trans man as HRT is introduced. After two years on hormones, Angel found a doctor who was willing to do top surgery, and Angel became the first FTM keyhole chest top surgery in Los Angeles.
After deciding to opt out of bottom surgery, Angel discovered that if he began to love his body as-is, he could embrace the fact that he was a man with a vagina and enjoy sexual pleasure without the risk of losing sensation or functionality. Through this process, he was able to free himself from the dysphoria and began using pornography as a way to normalize bodies like his.
“People say to me all the time, ‘You’re so brave to transition,’ and I say, ‘No, I’m not. It was life-saving.’ I had no choice,” Angel emphasized.
Through Angel’s transition and watching how the discussion around gender and sexuality has evolved, he has been seeing a new trend crop up within his own community. The issue of ageism is rampant, and Angel said that he feels young, trans folks are now consistently turning against their elders by dismissing their history and calling them antiquated.
“It’s insanity what’s happening right now; this culture of shutting down conversation or eliminating other thoughts that don’t necessarily go with your ‘agenda.’ For me, my work has always been about pushing boundaries; you can go all the way back to the time that I started pornography over 20 years ago,” Angel said. “Can you imagine? No one ever saw a person like me. I got smashed in the face by everybody, my trans community, the adult community, but through that, I learned how to stand and be more brave on some level.”
Angel said he gets his unrelenting attitude from all those years of being marginalized, criticized, and judged for his body and his line of work. Through challenging the boundaries and limits of sexuality and gender in pornography, Angel has discovered a new outlet for his passion: activism. However, he’s very clear as to what his activism means.
“I’m not a transgender activist; I’m a human rights activist. I had to fight for my own identity, which is transsexual; I’m not a trans person; I don’t live my life as a trans person; I live my life as a man. I had a sex change,” he said.
Angel lives within the binary, which, for many in the queer community, is considered an assault on identities like gender nonconforming and nonbinary. He believes that gender exists and is not strictly stemming from and dictated by the patriarchy.
“We need to have this conversation because there’s kids out there who just want to be like me; who just want to go from being female to male, live their lives as men, walk the world that way, and live in a gendered space,” he said. “Transsexual is not antiquated, and it’s very disrespectful and hurtful to a person like myself who fought when we didn’t get to have a sex change back in the day. Now the kids have a lot of privileges and a lot of entitlement, and they attack the people who opened the doors for them.”
Angel went on, “I’m going to say it right here; the transgender community is a little bit out of control on some level and [they] shut-down conversation. I’m not part of that. I think conversation creates change; it builds bridges between me and you and is the way to create change, not isolating each other.”
While his activism is not favored by some, Angel is considered a role model by many, and he understands how necessary it is to educate young folks around what happens to the body when HRT and other forms of gender-affirming care practices are implemented.
Seeing opportunities that existed in the market of sex toys and tools for transgender and transsexual men, the entrepreneur side of Angel emerged, and he began his own line of products. He developed the Buck Angel FTM line which created The Buck-Off, a toy which can be worn by people with an enlarged clitoris to provide sexual stimulation and pleasure, solo or with a partner.
“In the scope of things, I’m moving us forward. I don’t conform to ideas, and I never have.”- Buck Angel
He also introduced a web series titled “Tranpa 101” on YouTube just last year as a way to offer insight and first-hand knowledge and experience to FTM individuals. By tackling topics like dysphoria, sex, and body functions all the way to the very real issue of trans male vaginal atrophy, Angel is using his celebrity platform to access as many folks as possible.
In 2011, Angel underwent surgery on his reproductive system after experiencing debilitating cramps, mostly after sex. After passing out and being taken to the emergency room, he found out his cervix had fused to his uterus and his vagina had atrophied. The near-death experience has motivated Angel to share the serious reality that folks who are on testosterone will experience this, and healthcare professionals are not talking about it. It’s through public speaking opportunities, interviews, and his YouTube series that Angel can spread awareness about the real issues the community faces.
“When I when I first was called a role model, I pushed away, but as I moved through using my pornography as activism and understanding what that meant, I realized, I am a good role model. I would have liked to have seen me. I say to the kids, I’m your future. I didn’t get to see my future, so as a 57-year-old, transsexual man, these kids will actually get to see [it],” Angel said.
To him, seeing a future version of oneself is so important, especially to marginalized groups, as they don’t often see a narrative of success that mirrors their own identity. Holding himself to being that for many queer folks, Angel feels a responsibility to be evidence that the road can be bumpy, yet authenticity is worth the ride.
Now, Angel primarily focuses on the work he does as a public speaker, and through his honest visibility as a transsexual man, he feels a lot of validation in the positive feedback he gets in the business sector. In sharing his experiences, whether that means his early years of drug and alcohol abuse, or his transition, or his work in pornography, Angel finds a sense of purpose through connecting with others.
“I feel empowered, and I know I empower other youngsters. They say ‘Oh, Tranpa, I’ve been feeling suicidal,’ and I know; I get it; I was there,” he said. “They can see that I walked through it, and some level of what I’m doing is I’m making them feel like they’re not alone.”
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