Buck Angel on Why We Need a Dialogue That Includes Listening

The entertainer turned activist is determined to stay positive despite sometimes feeling frustrated by the state of conversation on trans issues.

BY Sunnivie Brydum

January 23 2014 5:00 AM ET

I think it’s about a lot of things. One of the big things that I do think it was about — especially what folks were getting into in the comments — was a contentious issue, but talking about disclosure and for trans folks, and whether or not someone should tell potential intimate partners that they are trans. At one point in the comments, our writer cited your 2012 statement to Salon, where you talked about being a big advocate for disclosure and said that withholding or not disclosing at that point does, unfortunately, lead to the hate crimes and people being victimized. So what is your perspective on disclosure now? And kind of knowing the blowback that you got in these comments, if you had the opportunity, would you reword those?
No.

OK. So what’s your perspective on disclosure now?
OK, great. I would like to know why some people read it the way I said it, and some people don’t read it the way I said it. Don’t you think that’s interesting? Some people read it exactly what I meant, which was: "disclosure will change your life;  and for example…" OK, honestly, I will change that. I will change "for example." The reason I used "for example, a trans woman" is because that’s the majority of people I know who don’t disclose, and then get in really bad situations. That should never happen. 

And then they read it as: "If you don’t disclose, all trans women should be killed if they don’t disclose." That’s what they put out there! That is far from what that says.  But they changed it around and started just putting those words out there, that that’s what I said. And then I have to go "Read the interview. That is not what I said." And then people go back and read and go, "Oh, you didn’t say that!" So I’m fighting against something I never even really said. 

So that said, yes, I am huge — and I will never change that stance — I am huge, huge, huge on disclosure. One of the reasons I started my dating site is so that it’s already disclosed. You’re already going on a dating site. I get people writing me all the time, "I met an amazing woman, I met an amazing man on your site, thank you so much." Yeah, because you already went in there knowing what you want. And it’s hard to be a trans person and to go and find [a partner]… you’re not sure if anyone’s going to like [you]. "Is anyone going to want to be having sex with me? Because I’m not a ‘normal’ person." I mean, God, having a vagina is weird. I’ll even admit that. How do you date a man with a vagina? How do you feel comfortable asking them to go on a date with you? And then you're going to have sex, how do you do that? It’s not an easy thing to do. So disclosure will cut out so much. So yeah, I’m huge about disclosure, because it will eliminate many many possible bad things that could happen.

I’m looking at the quote and I wonder if one of the sticking phrases for folks was that it’s disrespectful to the other person.
Right. I do believe that.

And you stand by that statement?
Oh, yes, I do. And that said, it is! They’re not thinking about the equation. It’s not just one person involved. And I’m not saying it’s disrespectful enough that he can chop you up into little pieces. I mean, come on. Really? Give me a little bit of credit there. That’s just ridiculous. 

What I mean is, imagine the scenario! You’re going home with a man and you’re expecting a penis. That’s what you expect as a woman. And all of a sudden, that’s not happening. The shock — what’s happening with the other person? Why is nobody ever thinking about the other side? I don’t understand that. Why’s it only about you? What about the other side? 

It is disrespectful, I’m sorry to say that. I mean, I’m not sorry to say that. That’s wrong. I really just think you need to think about the whole equation. I mean, if you’re honest about everything, honesty is a huge deal. It eliminates so much stuff that never has to happen.

Yeah, I think that makes sense. And yes, I agree to some extent that perhaps folks are only looking at one side of the equation here. However, I think I can see what some are hearing you say in that: by saying that it is this person’s obligation to disclose, and that it’s wise and respectful to disclose, I think it’s understandable how some people would see that as saying, well, you know, the flip side of that is that if you don’t, then these people who would do terrible things have a right to be so upset.
Yes, and that’s what I don’t want you to think.

So provide some clarity on that for me.
I understand why they do think that way. Everybody’s different. All I’m saying to you is that if you disclose, it can change the equation. I’m not saying you have to disclose. It’s just my opinion, that’s all. Anything I tell you, it’s just my opinion, and my own life. I’ve disclosed forever and it changed everything for me. 

And yes, of course somebody’s going to be a little upset. I mean, come on, let’s just be honest about it. You don’t think somebody’s going to be upset when they say that [you're trans]? I’m not saying being upset equates to killing. That’s way out of left field. I don’t even know where that comes from. Because killing happens? Yes, but that’s a whole other situation. That’s that [killer]’s own stuff in there. Not everybody who gets in that situation feels like killing you. But on the other side, they might feel embarrassed or humiliated or a bunch of other things. The same things you feel when you don’t disclose and the situation happens. They’re feeling the same thing. Does that make sense?

Yeah. But then I pause, because those words that you were using, "humiliated or embarrassed," those are words that folks tend to use in a trans-panic defense in a courtroom. They'll say, "Oh, I was tricked. I was deceived. I was embarrassed. They lured me into something that I didn’t know." And that’s the kind of defense that we hear and that sometimes holds up in court.
It does hold up in court. It totally does. 100 percent. But how come it does?

Well, exactly, and I think that’s where the danger comes in.
You’re right, because here’s a trans guy saying that. That’s the way it comes out, and I completely understand that, but that’s not really what I [am saying]. I’m trying to eliminate it. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m not saying it’s OK for somebody to kill somebody because they don’t know. I’m just saying we need to look at both sides of the equation.

I’m a transsexual man. I understand how hard it is. And not everybody’s going to be able to disclose. I’m trying to empower you to disclose. I’m trying to tell you that you can’t imagine the powerful feeling it is for me to say "I’m a transsexual" or "I’m a trans person, now how do you feel about that?" That’s very, very powerful on your end …

Clearly, we’re talking about a sexual situation here … So as a trans person, you’re already nervous, because you don’t know what the outcome of the situation is… You already know that by not telling that person, something could happen. So I’m trying to empower you. … I don’t think [disclosure] has anything to do with tricking. It has to do with your own self-esteem and your own empowerment and your own OK-ness with being who you are in your body.

But I think especially for trans women, who are disproportionately the victims of intimate partner violence within our community and even outside of it, it goes deeper. Can you understand how these women could have a different perspective, especially given your unique situation, as we were talking about earlier, as a trans man who reads as a white, possibly cis man? You’re a pretty masculine guy, and I imagine walking down the street, people are just like, "Oh, there’s a buff dude," without a second thought.
Yes, I do. 100 percent. And that’s why I don’t speak for trans women, ever. And I wish I had never used that example now. Because I didn’t realize it, and I learned from my mistake. And I always say now, "I don’t speak for trans women." It’s not my experience. I don’t know a damn thing about being a trans woman. I have trans women friends and I can tell you what they tell me. And I can tell you [that I know] trans women who disclose all the time, and they tell me how amazing it is to experience, because they find guys who want to be with them because they’re trans women ... 

My mistake was using the example of the trans woman. Because I spoke [without]  the understanding of a trans woman. And so I wish I never said that. That said, I do still believe in disclosure — however you need to do it. I’m not saying first, second, third date. I’m just saying try it. That was my point of saying disclosure is awesome. It’s empowering disclosure. And of course, we’re all different. Some people might never want to disclose. It’s your choice. We’re all individuals. 

I never want to get bottom surgery. That’s my choice. Doesn’t mean I’m any less of a man. If you want to have bottom surgery, go ahead, dude. Awesome. I’m so happy for you, and that’s gonna change your life. Again, the whole point is for us to be happy in our bodies and live our lives the way we always wanted to do. That’s my message. That’s the bottom line right there. My message is: Love yourself, be yourself, just be in the world, because you didn’t get to do it for most of your life. That’s my message.

Photos by Dusti Cunningham; find more of his work here.

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