Buck Angel, A Man With a Pussy: LGB Without the T

As transgenders push for respect, a rift grows with traditional gay leadership

As the undisputed king of transgender porn, Buck Angel thrives on his ability to deconstruct traditional notions of masculinity. He unabashedly promotes himself as a man with a pussy. Headlining the 2006 Black Party was a career high: "It was super-awesome—the audience was amazing," Angel says. "Everything was really positive."

That was, however, far from the universal view among the thousands of hyper-masculine attendees. The Black Party—the mega dance-and-flesh fest held every March at Roseland—reflects the hyper-masculine ideal that dominates gayborhoods like Hell's Kitchen, South Beach, and the Castro. Joe Jervis, live-blogging during the party, summed up the sentiments of many attendees: "Men who have been fucked, fisted, shackled, flogged, and pissed upon have finally crossed a lurid and yet rarely discussed carnal threshold. They have seen, in person, a pussy."

Angel himself concedes that his unconventional plumbing causes discomfort among gay men: "I don't conform to what you tell me I should do," he says. "The world is not black and white. Sexuality is not black and white. Gender is not black and white. And I'm putting that out there in your face."

Angel's performance at the Black Party was a direct challenge to the men who have pretty much run the gay-rights movement for decades. The transgendered—which encompasses anyone whose gender identity and expression doesn't fit into traditional masculine or feminine roles—may have helped instigate the 1969 police riots at the Stonewall Inn. But since then, the movement has endured an ongoing struggle to find its place at the table, even as it continues to become more institutionalized and more an accepted part of mainstream America.

Transpeople present a threat to the conformity of today's gay leaders. The faces of contemporary gay activism are the well-scrubbed visages of Ellen DeGeneres and gal pal (and soon wife) Portia de Rossi; Rosie O'Donnell and Kelli Carpenter; and such folks as Nathan Lane, Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson, and TV judge David Young. The Human Rights Campaign and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation—two of the largest and most powerful national gay-rights groups in the country—put forward these trained spokespeople to mouth carefully crafted messages and talking points that effectively market their brand of lesbian and gay identity to a largely straight audience.

Despite some notable setbacks, this strategy has largely worked in creating what Suzanna Walters, chair of the Department of Gender Studies at Indiana University, calls "a model of tolerance and acceptance that perpetuates the message: 'We're here, we're queer, but we're no different than you.' That makes these mainstream organizations nervous about their hard-fought gains."


Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, a Washington-based lobby, believes this situation has created tension between the transgendered on the one side, and gay men and lesbians on the other: "It becomes easy then to blame some other associated group for attracting the hate and disrespect," she says. "So passable non-trans gay people suspect transpeople—or even non-passable gay people—of being the problem."

Race is another factor. Kai Wright, author of Drifting Towards Love: Black, Brown, Gay and Coming of Age on the Streets of New York, believes that discomfort toward transgender or gender-variant people (sissies and butches) remains particularly entrenched among gay men of color.

"We're more sensitive to it, because the amount of gender policing we do among each other—casually and socially—is striking: Are you man enough, women enough, the right kind of woman?" Wright says. "As individuals, we struggle with gender nonconformity, because it is something that has been thrown at us so much."

This discomfort can be far-reaching. After last year's Gay Pride March, a male bouncer followed Khadijah Farmer, a 27-year-old black lesbian, into the women's restroom of Caliente Cab Company and demanded that she leave because her appearance was too masculine. Farmer received a $35,000 settlement that mandated the implementation of transgender sensitivity training for the popular restaurant's staff.

Michael Silverman, executive director of the New York–based Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, based Farmer's lawsuit on the city-wide anti-gender identity-discrimination law. The bouncer violated city regulations when he targeted Farmer because of what her lawyer described as "unconventional gender expression"—treatment hardly unique to Farmer. "Gender issues are still quite scary and uncomfortable for a lot of people," Silverman says. "It's sort of an us-versus-them, black-and-white, sun-and-moon scenario." But, he adds, "we aren't night and day, or black and white—we're all affected by these questions about gender-based discrimination."

The long-standing complaints by transgender activists that their gay counterparts haven't done enough are based on what they see as a visceral level of discomfort with the subject.

At least one prominent gay leader is willing to come clean about his own issues. Matt Foreman recently left his post as head of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force for a position at a gay philanthropic organization. Before that, he headed the Empire State Pride Agenda, the state's major LGBT political lobby. While there, he sparked widespread outrage among New York transgender activists over his decision not to push for trans protections in the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act back in 2002. The bill had been languishing in Albany for three decades before it passed the state legislature. Foreman readily concedes that he feared including such protections would have jeopardized SONDA's passage. He maintains that gay-rights leaders have made significant strides since then: "The people who move the movement do get it," he says.


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