Things can get exciting when your star is rising. Buck Angel, formerly known on the underground cabaret circuit as “The Man With a Pussy,” has just been mobbed by a group of Beverley Hills lunching ladies after a lecture he gave at the Annenberg Space for Photography.
“It was fascinating!” he says with his trademark cackle. We’re sitting in his LA home as his personal marijuana chef makes us dinner (flambéed pineapple with cannabis-infused coconut butter).
“They were an artsy, rich crowd. Very cool group of older ladies. I’m like, what is it that’s attracting them? And I know what it is. It’s my confidence around my vagina!”
In a changing world where acceptance of body diversity is making in-roads and where being able to access your sexuality can work like jump chords to a fulfilled life, Buck Angel’s time has come. One of the stars of HBO’s new documentary, The Trans List, the resolutely optimistic Buck Angel has blazed a trail for transgender men to feel normal without surgery. So it’s not so surprising that he has just launched the world’s first activist educator sex toy for trans guys, the “Buck Off.”
He underlines that the educational aspect is crucial. He’d been talking to so many trans men who hadn’t had surgery but felt they couldn’t touch their vulva because it made them feel too female. “I was like, whoa, that’s a bummer. How can you get into the power of your body without accessing your sexuality?”
A sexual pioneer way before anyone had heard of “trans”, the 54-year-old performer, activist, sex educator and inspirational feminist has lived a more extreme life than many. He grew up as a happy tomboy in Los Angeles in the early 1970s but his world crashed when puberty hit. Not for him the current mode for gender fluidity. In vain he told his family and friends that he wasn’t just playing- he really was a guy. He went off the rails, turning to alcohol, ending up in a psychiatric hospital and then London where he was plucked off the streets to model for cult androgynous fashion brand of the early 1980s, Boy London, worn by the likes of Boy George and Andy Warhol. When his coke and drinking got out of control, he ended up homeless back in Los Angeles, selling blow jobs outside a donut shop. It was only when a lesbian therapist called Casey Weitzman said that yes, she did think he was a man in a woman’s body that he found the confidence to begin hormone therapy. He didn’t have genital reassignment surgery because back in the ‘80s the science wasn’t up to it. “I couldn’t change it. So what am I going to do? Spend my whole life crying over a vagina?”
We’re sitting in Buck’s spacious house in Little Armenia in LA. I’ve been lucky to catch him here as he’s normally travelling the world either putting on his extraordinary cabaret show (he’s just back from The Box in London) where a striptease reveals that all is not as it seems or teaching and talking to various trans and sex working communities around the world. Today he’s preparing for a trip to Malaysia and Japan. But in the meantime, he is working with his friend Larissa Kama who runs a “ganja gum” company in Portland. As well as cooking for Buck this evening, the pair have been talking about the imminent launch of the cannabis-infused lubricant that complements the Buck Off: Buck’s Balm.
Buck gained mainstream notoriety in 2010 when the British artist Marc Quinn made a life size statue of him complete with all Bucks’s tattoos which, Quinn surmised, worked like a “suit of armour.” Yet Buck is not afraid to take that suit off. He shows me pictures of himself as a little kid. A girl with blond bunches and a cute freckly face. In his Netflix documentary, Mr Angel, he confesses, “I cry a lot now as a man, but when I was a child I didn’t cry. I cried a lot inside. Now I believe that crying gives you strength.”
Masculine and charismatic though he is, he talks about his vulva with the shame-free confidence that some men casually men talk about what’s in their trousers. There’s a great TV clip of Tara Banks interviewing Buck:
Banks (hesitant): “Do you love your vagina?
Buck: Yes, I love my vagina! Do you love your vagina?”
Banks: (screwing up her nose) “No!”
Buck jokes that he knows you’re supposed to say ‘vulva’ but he’s too set in his ways now. And this is what Buck sees as one of his ironic missions in life. “I realise how powerful it is for a lot of people to see a dude like me talking. It’s actually a very fucked-up thing that it takes a man with a fucking vagina to get up in front of the world and say “vagina power’ and suddenly everybody’s listening to me.”
It’s been a long journey and he is only a couple of years through a messy divorce with his wife of 11 years, Elayne Angel a tatooist and piercer who disputed spousal support to him on the grounds that under Louisiana law, where they were married, he wasn’t a real man (same-sex marriage is illegal there) because he hadn’t had genital surgery. Buck has also, until now, been pushed to the sidelines of the sexuality debate because of his work as a trans porn star and adult film producer. But that’s all changing thanks to the Buck Off which has already won awards and is the world’s first sex toy for female-to-male trans men. With seemingly unquenchable supplies of hope and drive, Buck is clearly fueled by a genuine desire to change the world. He is still bristling with pride that Forbes magazine recently described him as a “Renaissance Man”.
A bargain at $30, the Buck Off looks like a small hollow dildo that fits, suction-like, over your clitoris which, if you are a trans man might well be large and engorged thanks to testosterone injections. “I can’t guarantee you’ll have an orgasm, nobody can do that, but you will connect with a part of your body you might not have connected with before.”
Referring back to the Marc Quinn statue, I ask him about the tattoo on his back, a florid scrawl which spells out the word, “Pervert.” He explains that, “Being in touch with your sexuality is what a pervert is to me.”
He leaps up from his seat to take our empty pineapple plates back to the kitchen. His gait is that of a slinky, snake-hipped male rock star. And as all successful male rock stars know, the most alluring form of machismo is a combination of the masculine and the feminine.
So does he think that the Beverly Hill ladies went home and wacked off over him?
“Oh, I pretty much know they did,” he says, a cackle coming from the near distance.