Original Photograph by Ellene Stagg

A Conversation with Buck Angel, the Self-Professed ‘Tran-pa’ and ‘Man with a Pussy’

“I don’t know why, but the universe loves me, my friend,” Buck Angel tells me. He’s just returned from Vegas, where he was representing Buck’s Balm, his line of CBD tinctures at a trade show. Angel and his business partner Leon Mostovoy there to talk about CBD-infused cocktails and mocktails they make for Gracias Madre, the trendy vegan Mexican restaurant in West Hollywood, as well as their other Pride Wellness products. “CBD is well-known to relieve anxiety, pain relief, inflammation, anti-seizure and much more,” the Buck’s Balm site promises before getting more personal. “I stand by my products as I use all of them myself. If you have any questions or you are not satisfied please reach out to me.”

More personal still, Angel recently told Dope magazine, “It’s very important that people understand why we started Pride Wellness. We realize our community does suffer from a lot of abuse of drugs and alcohol, as well as anxiety. Nobody is really targeting our community for wellness with cannabis. That’s why we started it — to really help people to understand they can use alternative medication like cannabis, instead of pharmaceuticals.”

At 55, Angel is now a self-professed “Tran-pa.” As such, he’s a nexus for nearly all touchpoints of the trans community — whether that’s via weed, philanthropy (Pride Wellness donates a portion of its profits to the senior center at the LGBT Center in Los Angeles) or porn. On the latter count, he’s nothing less than a pioneer. In large part, because while porn has always embraced — or at least featured/fetishized trans women — until Angel began fucking on film, male trans performers were more or less nonexistent. He’s continued to push for trans visibility with his body ever since — his scenes as much of a political statement as they are meant to arouse.

For instance, in 2005, Angel constituted one half of the first professional scene shot between a trans man and a trans woman. (A couple years later, he became the first — and only — trans man to win the AVN Award for Trans Performer for the Year.) More recently, he helped formulate a lubricant specifically for the needs of guys with vaginas as well as created the first sex toy for trans men — a male masturbator aptly named “Buck- off.” “Buck has a mission to help transmen become comfortable with their bodies, and the Buck-off is an exceptional product for achieving this,” the description reads. “As Buck says, ‘Loving your new body is what it’s all about.’”

I recently spoke to Angel about how masturbation helped him learn to love his; the reason why his own gender identity pisses off a new generation of queer youth; and what’s made him forego bottom surgery.

What were you like a kid?
I was a real Valley Girl. I was born in 1962 in the San Fernando Valley, right here in Los Angeles. Growing up, I looked like a little California surfer boy. I was a skateboarder. I wore Oakley shorts, and when Vans came out, I was the first person on my block to own them. I had a great childhood and was a very happy little surfer dude, a normal Valley kid.

From the get-go, I knew I was a boy, and my family treated me that way. But every now and then, there were situations where my family wouldn’t let me look like a boy, and I’d be forced into wearing a dress. Those were the times that really fucked me up. I’d be completely fine being me, and then, the next thing you know, I had to put on a dress and be the other person. That caused a lot of turmoil. Worse yet, right as I began going through puberty, a friend of my parents said to them, “That’s really your daughter and not your son. You have to stop treating her that way.” That moment changed everything. My parents were ashamed and started making me dress more girly.

So when puberty started, my life went to shit. I was very shy and withdrawn, and I didn’t do well in school. I started to drink and do drugs. I wasn’t really existing, but the one good thing I did was run. I became an amazing track runner — I was sponsored by Adidas and all this stuff like that. I was looked at as an Olympic contender, but inside, I was having so much turmoil that at 16 or 17, I tried to kill myself. That began my downward slide. Nobody knew what was wrong with me. I started to tell people, “I feel like a man,” and people thought I was crazy. They were like, “You’re just a gay woman.” That’s what they still do — equate sexuality with gender, right?

Did you have any friends or allies that understood your experience of your gender back then?
No, in the late 1970s and into the 1980s, there was absolutely nothing for me to turn to. All the psychiatrists told me I was a lesbian or a “very male identified female.” They’d tell me I was really dealing with something else, and I’d be like, “What?” So I just stopped having the conversations, which only made me more depressed. Somehow, I ended up modeling, traveling to Europe and stuff. But I was just a model on drugs. I became homeless and was disowned by my family. I was prostituting on the streets for rocks of cocaine and ended up in the literal gutters. Luckily, someone saved me by putting me into rehab. Now I’ve been sober 30 years.

How long after getting sober did you transition?
Years after that, I saw a film where a woman was transitioning to a man. It was a German documentary I caught at a small art-house theater. I was like, “Holy shit, you can actually have surgery to become a man.” Nobody ever told me that! When I saw that image, I knew it was me, and I did everything I could to find doctors to help me.

That, however, was a challenge without the internet. Instead, I went to a bunch of bookstores and eventually found a therapist to help me. I was her first transgender or transsexual male client. It’s because of her that I’m here today. She was the first person to ever tell me she believed me and understood that I was a man. That was a light at the end of the tunnel. After that, I started transitioning in 1994, while I was in my late 20s.

After transitioning, I started getting obsessed with my body. I was working out and seeing so much change. I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I’ll honestly never forget that feeling; it was so fucking powerful. I was shooting testosterone, and nobody really knew what was happening with me. I lost all my gay female friends. Some even called me a traitor. I befriended some gay men, and they took me to the gym and showed me how to sculpt my body. I became the exact guy I wanted to become — all G.I. Joe. I was living life to the fullest, but my vagina kept getting in the way.

How so?
I’d touch myself, but avoid my vagina. The testosterone did raise my libido, but I didn’t know what to do, until one day I got deeply into a fantasy while masturbating and my hand found my vagina. I was alone and said, “Fuck it, I don’t care.” I penetrated myself and had an orgasm like I’d never had in my entire life. That was the catalyst for me saying, “Wait a minute, I like this. It feels good.” Masturbation helped me reclaim my body and undid the brainwashing about gender and genitals. Connecting with my body sexually gave me this insight. That’s why I’m a huge advocate for sexual pleasure — not just for trans people, but for everyone.

After that, I began meeting women who were really attracted to me and had no problem touching my vagina and licking and penetrating me. That’s when I realized I should create a place for people to see men like me. My ex-wife was a professional dominatrix and was making fetish movies at the time, so I knew there were no transgender men in porn even though there were trans women. It became a great platform to expose myself, even though I did so against a lot of hate.

Now, when I speak about my body, I’m like, “I’m a male with a vagina.” I walk around naked in the gym at the YMCA in Hollywood every fucking day, showing off my vagina to all these dudes. Do you know who says a word to me? Nobody. Nobody says anything to me. There I am, walking the world free, not giving a shit, because I don’t. Because it’s my body, you can’t shame me. It’s not possible.

Original Photograph by Ellene Stagg

Do you feel like you’ve inspired just as many people through porn as you have through motivational speaking and the rest of your public presence?
Oh, 100 percent. That’s why I still keep a hand in porn, because I do believe my porn is educational. I created an educational series called “Sexing the Transman,” which is a series of trans men talking about their bodies and experiences while they remove their clothing, until they begin masturbating or having sex. My porn career has also led to the Buck-off, a pleasure product for trans men that helps us connect with our bodies and jack off. I also created T-Lube with the company Sliquid, which helps trans men with dryness issues that result from our use of hormones.

When did you first begin connecting with other trans men?
I didn’t know any other trans men for a long time. But eventually, I started to look for support groups. The one I remember most is this Yahoo! group called the “F to M Personals Yahoo group.” Remember those? Oh, my God. There was a bunch of us who would talk in there, and then there was a guy who was before me who was very famous named Lou Sullivan. Sullivan has since died of HIV and AIDS, but he was a pretty big figure back then and I always looked up to him. Without him, trans guys wouldn’t be where we are today.

What kind of health care did you receive as you began to transition?Nobody knew what to do with me. I was put in mental hospitals, when they were still called that. I have a lot of experience in becoming myself against all odds. My hormone doctor literally told me, “You’re going to be my guinea pig.” I was repeatedly told I was an “experiment.” That said, I went through all the procedures because without trying, I would’ve killed myself. That was the mantra — if this doesn’t work, I’ll kill myself.

Of course, at the start, I wanted to get a penis. I’d always wanted a penis. That’s what we’re taught. Penises make you a man, but those surgeries really didn’t exist for me. I’m not in any way anti-bottom surgery, but for me, it’s about being proud of being a man with a vagina. And I want other men to know they can also live life with their vagina freely if that’s what they want. I support bottom surgery for everyone who wants it, but I want people to make the best choices for themselves and not feel pressured to have bottom surgery just to feel like a man. I did get top surgery; I trusted a surgeon to do a procedure new to the United States, and the universe loved me and it worked out okay.

Today, there’s amazing stuff going on in terms of health and gender, but on the flip side, too many kids have been torn apart in hopes of creating a penis. I’ve seen doctors who have lost their licenses in California after harming transmen during bottom surgeries open new practices in Texas and get right back to working on trans clients. I don’t think mainstream media covers enough stories about the complications that happen with doctors and their trans patients when it comes to these procedures. For example, with top surgery, I’ve witnessed so many kids hate their top surgery, further complicating their own experience of their body when they thought it was going to be good for their health.

If we don’t take care of ourselves and watch out for each other, these surgeons will continue to take advantage of us.

A couple weeks ago, an ad for the menstruation-related subscription service Pink Parcel starring the transgender model Kenny Jones got viral attention for highlighting the needs of transgender men who have periods. What did you think of it?
I haven’t seen the ad, but that’s great. I’ve been trying to work with other companies on that issue for years because it sucks for us to have to use Kotex. Oh God, Kotex — who even calls it that anymore? That totally aged me. For me, the period thing was a nightmare. I’m pretty sure most trans men feel the same way. I felt like a guy and having to wear Kotex was horrifying. It made me feel like a woman, which felt wrong, because there’s nothing masculine about a Kotex. There’s nothing manly about getting your period. The way we usually speak about periods is 100 percent feminine and connected to reproduction. And even though some trans men are having babies now, it’s still hard for people to recognize that some men have vaginas. So it can be hard for people to understand men who get their periods or get pregnant.

As a trans man, I know the way having your period can make you feel dirty and less than. Such anguish. I hated every aspect of my period, so when I stopped getting it after my first month of taking testerone, it was amazing. I stopped feeling so bad and started feeling more masculine. Before my top surgery, that was the best thing. But, of course, some trans men don’t take testosterone so they’re always going to get their period. It’s vital we talk more about this stuff. Everyday, trans men write me questions like these because they’re too embarrassed to talk about it to anyone else, which isn’t okay, because I’m not a doctor.

Speaking of which, we’ve reported on the fact that most doctors don’t even know what they’re talking about in this regard. So it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like for you when you were transitioning.
I can tell you about what happened when I was living in New Orleans. One doctor there told me I was a freak and wouldn’t see me. But instead of just telling me that right away, they ignored me as I sat in their waiting room for hours. I was experiencing horrible cramps and had an appointment, so when I arrived, I took a seat in the waiting room after checking in at the front. I was there with a bunch of ladies looking at me like, “Who the fuck are you, dude?” They thought I was somebody’s husband or boyfriend or just a creep. Once I was the only person left in the room, two or three hours later, the nurse practitioner came out and said, “I’m sorry, the doctor doesn’t feel comfortable seeing you.” I started to cry. I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Wow, really?” Eventually, the nurse practitioner was like, “Oh, I’ll see you, my sister’s gay.” I was like, “What?” That’s the kind of shit I had to deal with for at least the first 10 years of my transition.

But I never forgot that experience. I was like, “I’m not gonna live like this. I refuse to be treated like a piece of shit.” You know what I mean? I knew I deserved health care. I don’t know how, but I got the strength to do so. My vagina has actually given me a lot of strength needed to do this. I started going into gynecologists’ offices and just going, “I’m transsexual, and I need a pap smear.” They didn’t question me as much when I was more forthright like that, even though it was horribly uncomfortable for me. It’s hard enough being a lady getting an exam, but imagine a man getting a gynecological exam. It’s humiliating. And while there are more gynecologists who are becoming more friendly to trans and gender non-conforming folks, it’s still mostly very hard for most trans men to receive proper care.

What advice do you give young trans men who are in a similar position and find themselves in the position of having to self-educate their own healthcare providers?
First and foremost, you need to educate them about your own body and tell them there’s lots of men like you. Unfortunately, I believe we’re responsible for our own health. These doctors aren’t gonna learn unless we talk to them. They don’t know about what we experience. I don’t necessarily think they don’t care, I just think they’re lost. My opinion is that the system won’t get changed because they don’t know about us, so we have to work past our shame and show up for ourselves.

People thought the 2018 census might inquire about the identity of LGBTQ people for the first time, but it was just decided that it won’t. Would you prefer, though, to self-identify to the government as a trans man in such a survey?
Yes, I would. Even though I’m male and I live my life as a man, my history is trans. Our needs are different. I personally do believe it’s important to understand the demographics of certain communities, so I 100 percent believe it’s important to understand the demographics of certain communities. I want people to understand how many of us there are. It’s 2018, and I don’t want us to hide. We have to include gay people in the census, gender non-conforming people — all of the different individual genders and sexualities. In a sense, participating in the census could legitimize us more.

You’ve used the word “transsexual” a few times during our conversation. My generation mostly understands transsexual as an outdated, fetishistic or derogatory term. Is this then something you get a lot of criticism for?
Actually, I identify as a man. I don’t identify as a transgender man. That isn’t my identity. I’m very binary, and I’ve always been binary. For me, transgender is an umbrella term, and I don’t think umbrella terms always make everyone feel comfortable. That’s why I identify as a transexual man. That said, clearly, I’m a man with a vagina. So I don’t fit into the cisgender world, and I’m not cisgender normative.

Some of these 20somethings tell me I’m transphobic for using the word transsexual, which shocks me, because it’s transphobic to call me transphobic. Most of my haters are much younger than me, and honestly, it’s disrespectful for those young generations to re-categorize me. Young people are treating transsexual as a derogatory term, but that goes against what our community stands for in terms of the freedom to self-identify. That’s like me telling you “queer” is a derogatory word, which it actually was, while transsexual doesn’t have that same kind of negative history.

I’m a fucking “Tran-pa.” I’ve been around forever. I believe the best new plants grow from solid foundations, so I won’t reframe my own experience just to appease the language preferences of today’s youth.