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:
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.
Note: For a detailed extrapolation from Savannah on why the “disclosure” myth is so harmful to trans women, please see the more recent post here.