When Mansplaining Goes Too Far: Buck Angel on Trans Women

Given the heinous nature of Buck Angel’s statements, Savannah and I decided to work together on a post addressing this. As it’s the same on both of our blogs, formatting follows the rules of her blog and not mine, so there are things like first names as opposed to Mr/Ms/Mx when referring to someone and capitalized first-person singular pronouns, etc.

Prominent trans man porn star and sex-positive activist Buck Angel recently introduced a new online dating site buckangeldating.com. He also gave an interview (titled “The Trans Man of Your Dreams”) with Tracy Clark-Flory of Salon.com promoting his dating site, in which Buck emphasized that one of his primary goals was to avoid fetishization of trans men. Buck is quoted as saying:

That is because I have been getting so many requests … about how to meet guys, how to meet transmen. … I’ve been wanting to do it for years, but I hadn’t found a company that I felt was going to respect [that] it wasn’t going to be a place where we’re freaks and guys are just gonna come gawk at us and fetishize us.

So far, so good. As trans women, both of us agree completely that fetishization of trans people’s bodies is gross and hurtful and providing trans men a place to get away from that certainly sounds like a worthy endeavor.

Tracy later asks whether the site is only for people interested in meeting trans men, to which Buck replies, “Of course, I specifically marketed it that way, because that’s who I am and that’s what I know,” [emphasis added] while clarifying that he is attempting to accommodate people from a wide range of genders on his dating site. Okay, that seems reasonable as well. Buck is a trans man; so trans man experiences are probably those to which he can most immediately speak. We agree.

Tracy then asks about the usage of the phrases “FTM” and “MTF” on the dating site, noting that many people object to these terms or find them inaccurate. Buck replies, “What are you gonna do? I push people’s buttons daily, so there’s not much I can do other than make it as positive as possible.” Well, whatever. It’s for good reason that a lot of people do find those terms offensive, including both of the present authors; however, Buck can describe himself and his customers however they like (just don’t ever apply those terms to us, please).

However, Buck continues in a somewhat different direction,

It’s very difficult for trans people to go into a bar and find someone to hook up with because they don’t necessarily want to out themselves right away. It’s a very different experience on the site, you get it all out there in the open right away. You would be amazed at how that makes dating or hooking up so much easier.

Whoa, hold on a second here. Is Buck really trying to speak for the universal experience of trans people in bars? Cause we have to think, there has to be a pretty wide range of variety in that. And let’s think about this for a second, because Buck previously stated that what he knows best is his own experience as a trans man. So how can he possibly speak for everyone, including trans women, under the generalization “trans people”?

(Savannah notes: Honestly, picking up people in bars is easy for me. It depends on the city and the exact scene, of course, but there are plenty of times that if I just decide I want to go home with somebody, well, then, I do. When it comes to disclosure, I have my own ways of dealing with that. My voice is a little deep, so some people might have a question in their minds from the beginning. Anyways, I have a way of throwing in subtle, playful hints with my jokes that allows me to gauge their reaction and get a feel for whether or not I might be genuinely comfortable around this person. In fact, dating sites are sometimes awkward for me, just because I don’t have that direct way of flirting and getting a feel for someone.)

So Buck trying to speak for all trans people on that just seems kinda odd. However, things really take a bad turn when Tracy asks,

That brings up the question of disclosure, which seems like a difficult one. What’s the best point, if you do just meet someone in a bar, to reveal that you’re trans?

Okay, first of all this is just a bad way to phrase this question because, as we’ve just established, not all trans people have the same experience in bars. However, the question could very easily be rephrased to ask Buck what is his individual experience in dealing with disclosure.

Buck’s response to this, however, crosses the line from mansplaining dating experience for all trans people to straight-up victim-blaming directed at trans women. Unbelievably, he even goes as far as expressing sympathy for cis men who violently oppress trans women. When you factor in that we’re talking about the statements of a white man regarding systemic violence that is disproportionately wreaked on trans women of color, you end up with a big mess:

I’m a huge advocate for disclosure, because I believe a lot of people get themselves in bad situations because they do not disclose. For example, trans women who might hook up with a cis-gendered guy and then he goes home with her and finds out she has a penis and flips out and beats her up or kills her. That’s horrible, and I really believe by not disclosing it’s very disrespectful to the other person because they might not be into it and it makes them feel very freaked out about themselves.

Here’s the thing: in this very statement, Buck acknowledges that this discussion has nothing to do with his own experience: notice he isn’t talking about some dude he’s with finding out that he has a vagina then “flipping out,” and committing violence, because, with a few exceptions, that’s just not the way it happens. Because this kind of violence is directed almost exclusively at trans women, and primarily at trans women of color, and it’s something that Buck has probably never experienced and probably never will experience. So what exactly is it that gives Buck any authority whatsoever to speak about our experiences as trans women, and especially to speak apologetically of how a trans woman might have “disrespected” the man who just violently attacked or killed her?

Amy Dentata has already eloquently attempted to confront Buck about these statements on twitter, to which he has unfortunately not attempted an apology or even an open conversation:

Amy Dentata's twitter questions to Buck Angel. Screencapped for proof of asking, timestamped on 15 September

Here’s the deal in a nutshell: it never works out well when men tell women how to behave. This “charming, tattooed beefcake” might well be a nice guy and mean well, but it doesn’t in any way make up for the fact that statements like this buy into an authorization matrix for violence which has everything to do with why there are so many dead trans women of color every year at Remembering Our Dead– unamusingly, these are the same trans women whose names and pronouns are often butchered by the endless parade of white folks who read their names at these ceremonies; it’s gotten to the point it might as well be called Remembering Your Dead. In lecturing us on disclosure, though, Buck misses the same thing that leads to the problem of mispronounced names and mis-pronouned trans women: there’s a vast gulf in the risk involved in visibility between trans men and trans women; there’s an even bigger gulf between a white trans guy and a trans woman of color.

Regarding the issue of disclosure itself, let’s recall the case of Gwen Araujo, who was tortured and strangled by four men in California, two of whom she had previously had sex with. During the trial, the prosecutor undermined his own case by stating:

Gwen being transgender was not a provocative act. She’s who she was. However, I would not further ignore the reality that Gwen made some decisions in her relation with these defendants that were impossible to defend. I don’t think most jurors are going to think it’s OK to engage someone in sexual activity knowing they assume you have one sexual anatomy when you don’t.

We would like to know: does Buck agree with this statement?

The conversation around disclosure only becomes more stark, however, given that there were indications that the two men she had sex with actually knew Gwen was trans the whole time, and only feigned otherwise once the others began asking questions. In other words, the “non-disclosure is disrespectful” line may well create situations in which trans women are under constant surveillance and vulnerability almost no matter what they do. When we are blamed for violence against us, it’s transmisogyny in action.

Now we want to make clear that our point here is not to start an online war between trans women activists and Buck Angel. One of us (Savannah) briefly met Buck in person and he seemed like a nice guy. But the idea that Buck can speak for trans women (and particularly trans women of color) around issues of disclosure and vulnerability to sexual violence is totally reprehensible, and the implication that a trans woman who chooses not to disclose is being ‘disrespectful’ and asking for violence crosses the line in an extreme way that demands an apology.

doing the patriarchy’s work and calling it feminism: the TERF

there’s been a whole bunch of publicity and hate flung around about the Federal court decision last week that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts must pay for genital reconstruction surgery for Michelle Kosilek. if you haven’t read the actual ruling, i strongly suggest you do before commenting on the appropriateness of GRS for Ms. Kosilek (the ruling, in PDF format). see, Ms. Kosilek was sentenced to life without parole, as she was duly found guilty of first-degree murder back in 1993 and that’s the sentence murder one carries in Massachusetts; as a result, she ends up in the position of being a person whose medical care is the responsibility of the Commonwealth, and Massachusetts must thus provide proper medical care for her.

you have four choices here, folks:

1) don’t provide for medical care for prisoners. this is barbaric and cruel and leaves skid marks on both the Commonwealth and US Constitutions, so it’s not an option.
2) don’t provide care for transwhatever prisoners. this isolates us as a class and codifies discrimination. no thanks!
3) abolish prisons altogether, which saves taxpayers a mess of money. whether or not you’re comfortable with this depends on if you think the penal system works.
4) go along with the reality that this is medical care that Ms. Kosilek needs, which it kind of is, and, well, we as society locked her up, we as society must accept the consequences. that’s how the Eighth Amendment works, dawg.

don’t get me wrong: Michelle Kosilek is a loathsome, awful person. i don’t like her one bit, the evidence was overwhelming, and oh yeah, she killed her wife apparently mostly because she wanted a divorce. most of the articles about the murder, the trial itself, etc. are lost to the sands of time and the boston.com paywall, but i remember the case vividly because every damn day the Hartford Courant covered the case in lurid detail and i realized what people thought and portrayed transsexuals as. my little Ericaish heart really hurt to read it.  anyways, some trans women are going to be awful people: i’m sure most of you know Anne Lawrence is on the record as having committed sexual assault and all…listen, trans women, like all people, will come in good and bad. some of us will be murderers, some of us will be singers, some of us will be software engineers, and some of us will be bus drivers. that’s how it works: our common thread is that we’re women and that we are identified as trans for one of a number of reasons. i mean, after all, there are cis women who do all these things, too.

the TERF, the trans-exclusionary radical feminist, seizes upon any example of “bad” trans woman they can find, and while i won’t do them the pleasure of being recognized here, the commentary has been flying so hot and heavy that it feels like there’s a rain of flaming oxen falling from the TERFworld about Ms. Kosilek. they have a “bad” trans woman to seize upon and they’re seizing like a Honda Civic on the freeway with no oil in the engine. the TERF talks about things like “peak trans”, a collection of discussion about awful trans women they’ve dealt with. and listen, i’m really sorry you had to deal with being treated like shit by someone, regardless of their gender identity. but this isn’t really what “peak trans” is about, and humiliating trans women based on the behavior of one trans woman is obviously a form of confirmation bias…the TERF attempts to look neutral and “pushed too far” nevertheless. the thing about the TERF is that the TERF is actually a cog in the machine of the patriarchy and the TERF knows damn well this is true.  because of this, i think it’s time to talk about the reality of the TERF: the TERF is actually a plant within feminism who acts in a manner that upholds the kyriarchy, and as a result the patriarchy, at all costs.  the TERF is the plant Janice Raymond warned you about, she just got the mechanics all wrong. women are ripping apart feminism from within, but they’re not trans women. women are quietly working to discredit and destroy feminism, but they’re claiming the high ground to feminism generally.

you heard me right: Cathy Brennan, et al…they’re patriarchal shills. they granulate and divide women and tell us our feminisms aren’t sufficient. they don’t bother with attacking the scourge of anti-feminism and they don’t really bother with important things to feminism like, you know, equal pay for equal work. go ahead and Google the following search: “Cathy Brennan”  “Lilly Ledbetter” (together, both in quotes) and you’ll get nothing from Ms. Brennan on the matter, a fact i find interesting. or how about a law codifying funding for programs to stop violence against women? again, Google “Cathy Brennan” VAWA and you’ll see what i’m talking about…nothin’ doin there, especially given how contentious VAWA’s reauthorization was in 2012 and the ongoing concerted attacks from the far-right against VAWA which have continued apace since US v. Morrison. despite Ms. Brennan’s squallings to the contrary, i’m a woman and things like equal pay matter to me; i have my criticisms of VAWA but that’s probably something for another time. 

so apparently Ms. Brennan is absent when it comes to caring about Federal law designed to protect women. and guess what? if you believed the law doesn’t do anything to protect people and abstained from caring about the doings of law because of this, you might have a pretty good case for your absence from such matters. trouble is, Ms. Brennan doesn’t have such a belief toward the law at all, instead choosing to venerate it uncritically in working for Hudson Cook,  a law firm with really savory clients like payday lenders (that’s what “CashNET CSO of Maryland” is) …or Ocwen Financial, a notorious foreclosure fraud perpetrator. so don’t you think that someone like Ms. Brennan would probably choose to direct her passion toward something besides upholding one of the most patriarchal elements of the American landscape, financial institutions run by old white guys in suits? apparently not, and that’s a huge part of the discord: a TERF like Brennan probably would have at least some statement of criticism of the system they work in to identify their political discord.  Ms. Brennan has made no such statement, and frankly once you’ve made partner i suspect that you’re not exactly working inside the system to destroy it.

i find these two things most queer, but the queerest thing of all is that many TERFs (Ms. Brennan included, and that’s the last of her i’m mentioning) identify as something called a political lesbian. this faction reduces being a dyke to a lifestyle choice…i’m not even kidding here…and that to do so means standing against patriarchy. okay, on the last part, any relationship between women inherently disempowers the patriarchy (and i swear i never used that as a pickup line in college other than, like, ten times) and that’s a good thing to disempower the patriarchy, but i think a woman being true to her sexuality and not claiming it’s a politically-based choice destroys the patriarchy, too. you know, female empowerment and all that stuff we get mocked for talking about over here on Team Feminist. the very essence of political lesbianism is that your sexual orientation doesn’t matter to them because if you’re straight, you’re a product of compulsory heterosexuality, and if you’re not, well…it’s a choice? it’s the same logic used by people who operate “reparative therapy” facilities that prey on queer youth, and as someone who made it through reparative therapy (yep, STILL GAY) i can tell you it sucked and it is not something i’d wish on my worst enemy. the “you must be straight” shit that i deal with from society every damn day was boiled down into its most concentrated, hateful form, and it’s really hateful and insulting to see someone claiming that who i sleep with is automatically  a choice when that’s not the reality a lot of us who are queer have. yes, in some cases, it’s a choice for some people, and that’s cool! it’s the idea that sexual orientation is inherently a choice for women which seems to be aimed squarely at discrediting the very lesbians many TERFs claim to be “protecting.” it’s actually, hilariously, a total parrot of what transfundamentalists say when encouraging mandatory heterosexuality…i’m sure that’s a coincidence. i’ve never had a choice; i’ve tried to will, drink, cut, and therapy myself straight, and you know what? it’s a whole hell of a lot easier to just be who you are. it took me a very, very long time to accept that it was okay to be a lesbian; some days i think i’m still working on it.

i posit that the TERF is indeed an agent, knowingly so, of the patriarchy. they are ridiculing lesbians by denying our agency in our sexual orientation, they seize upon limited examples to claim the evil of trans women yet ignore critical feminist issues, and they persist using a number of divisive tactics to try to split feminism from forward progress. one of these is the insult they bandy about, “funfem”, to claim that feminists who don’t follow their brand of feminism aren’t feminists and are instead obsessed with….uh, whatever they’re getting at with “funfem” but denigrating the idea that a sexually active heterosexual woman can be a feminist. i think Ellie Smeal probably would have something to say about that, and the TERF mindset loudly attacked her for having the gall to be running NOW and married to a man.

the TERF is obsessed with dividing feminism at all costs and commenting negatively on women’s sexuality. sex-shaming is a historical patriarchal tool to remind those of us who are women of the position the patriarchy wants us to hold: inferior.  the TERF is loud about sex work being evil, ignoring that for many trans people and for many people of color, sex work is the only work there is. sex-shaming is the final nail in the coffin because it shows the TERF is supported entirely by the skeleton of patriarchy even if its skin is that of feminism…the TERF claims that only some women can be feminists, and then goes on to divide those “some women” even further; this is actually something Raymond suggests in The Transsexual Empire that “transsexuals” will engage in to attempt to preclude cis women from women’s space. in other words, Dr. Raymond nailed it that someone would try to fragment and break feminism, but it wasn’t those of us who are trans women…the TERF is the real threat to feminism. to paraphrase Dr. Raymond, the TERF is the spy for the patriarchy, the TERF is the patriarchy’s tool in female form. when all you do is anoint the kyriarchy, you become indistiguishable from the kyriarchy.