Buck Angel, Porn's Most Famous Trans Man, Transitions to Sex Ed

What Women Really Think
Sept. 19 2012 1:47 PM

Buck Angel, Porn's Most Famous Trans Man, Transitions to Sex Ed

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Buck Angel stages his second transition

Wikiemedia Commons

Buck Angel bills himself as “the man with the pussy.” Decades ago, Angel embarked on a gender transition from female to male. He removed his breasts, began testosterone injections, grew a beard, built his body into a wall of muscle, and left the vagina. “I didn’t want to spend $70,000 on a cock,” Angel explains. “I’d rather just have a truck.” Besides, he says, “a vagina is just a hole.”

Today, Angel is undergoing another transition—from porn star to sex educator. “The man with the pussy” used to be a calling card for Angel’s pornographic niche, but now it’s more of an educational tool, one that he says has helped both trans men and cisgender women become more comfortable in their own bodies. Last week, Angel told his story to the crowd at CatalystCon, a new national conference dedicated to human sexuality that is working to bridge a similar divide between more traditional sex education channels and the porn industry, which has emerged as default sex ed for a new generation of plugged-in teens (and adults, too). The conference featured academic talks by Ph.D.s like Shira Tarrant and Constance Penley, alongside porn industry pros like Angel and Jessica Drake, a performer and director who markets her own quasi-educational porn line, “Jessica Drake’s Guide to Wicked Sex.” (Tagline: "Sex education just got sexy.")

The porn industry’s sizable audience has vaulted many porn performers—regardless of background—into the role of unofficial sexperts. Some, like Angel, have made efforts to step up into the new role, turning his sex industry experience into a popular lesson plan on masculinity, sexuality, and medicine. When Angel told his story—he calls it “the Buck Angel Effect”—to the crowd last week, two dozen listeners (all of them women) nodded emphatically along.

Angel’s extraordinary body has always brought him attention from the mainstream, whether in the form of fascination, repulsion, or attraction. His story goes like this: Growing up as Susan, a boy stuck in a girl’s body, he turned to substance abuse in an attempt to give his mind a break. When Angel explains his career trajectory, he punctuates every step with a “ca-ching!”—each new gig meant more money to buy the drug he favored at the time. At the height of the fashion industry’s fixation with androgyny, Angel—then presenting as "a butch dyke"—toured Europe as a model (“coke money"). When he was ejected from the circuit and shipped back to L.A., he hid his face under a baseball cap, wrapped his chest with ace bandages, and performed blow jobs in cars for $20 each (“crack money”).

Angel finally bottomed out, got sober, entered therapy, and navigated an early medical transition, an experience he says turned him into a sort of gender “guinea pig.” He soon realized that his combination of masculine body and female genitalia could help fill an unexplored niche in the porn industry (at this point, he was thinking about just plain “money”). “Think about it,” he told his wife, a professional dominatrix: “The man with the pussy!” She told him he was going to change the world. He said he “just wanted to make porn.”

The porn industry has long churned out material featuring male-to-female transsexual performers, but Angel was the first trans man to make his mark. At first, porn producers told him, “You’re a freak and we’re not letting you in here!” So he made his own porn, experimenting with pairings in an attempt to tap into his uncharted fanbase—he staged sex with women, with men, and with both at the same time. Like with any imaginable pornographic niche, the audience emerged (it ended up being dominated by gay-identified men—again, Angel reiterates, it’s “just a hole”). By 2007, Angel had snagged the AVN Award for transsexual performer of the year, making him the first trans man to ever take home the prize.

Today, Buck rejects the term “porn star.” He says he’s always labored to make “respectful porn,” but he nevertheless finds the term stigmatizing, and says he doesn’t want to be stuck performing well into his 80s (“nothing against grandma porn,” he clarifies). Instead, Angel tours the world speaking about human sexuality, spreading, as his website says, a “message of empowerment through self-acceptance” to educate "an entire generation on the fluidity of sexuality and identity politics.” He's also released a documentary, “Sexing the Transman,” exploring the erotic lives of transgender men, and this year launched a dating site that helps connect trans men with the people who love them. In porn, “my focus was always to show the world about my own sexuality and my own body,” Angel says. He's still doing that, he just doesn't need to show quite so much.

Amanda Hess is a Slate staff writer. 

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