Buck Angel: pornographer turned advocate

*I published this piece originally on The Huffington Post on September 23, 2014.

His Pervert tattoo on his back is often misread as Perfect. But that’s what he has achieved in a way. Perfection. He looks the way he always dreamed to. He has also created Buck Angel Entertainment, Buck Angel Dating, and has his own sculpture in London.

A lot of people don’t think he has important things to say, which he attributes to the fact that he is a porn star. And he does. That’s why I met with him for an interview on a short trip to Merida a couple of years ago and between work trips of his own to Detroit, Oklahoma City, Copenhagen, and London. And after a series of unfortunate events that resulted in this not being published earlier, here’s my chat with award-winning pornographer turned advocate Buck Angel.

If you’re in Mexico City on September 25 and 26, don’t miss Dan Hunt’s documentary on Buck’s life and work Mr. Angel at the MIC Género festival. The film is also available on Netflix.

Buck AngelEnrique Torre Molina: In Merida it’s not really hard for people to stand out. How has that been for you?

Buck Angel: This place has been magic for us. People are amazing, they’re really sweet, even though I look kind of scary in a sense. So, I do stand out, but people aren’t rude about it. They’re very okay. They don’t care. It’s very simple and easy here. There’s no pretentiousness. You lived in New York, you know what I mean. I travel all the time. I’m constantly on the road, so our house here is sort of like our safe place. We have people who work for us, who take care of our place and our dog, and we could never live like that in the U.S., with a domestic staff of three. We throw Christmas parties for our neighbors, with tamales and everything. At first they were scared of us. They thought we were drug dealers. We’ve made an effort to show our support to the community.

ETM: How did you get into the work you do now?

BA: I started working in the porn business behind the camera and everything was going great. Then I started working with a transsexual woman, which is a huge genre in the adult industry. So I thought, wow, there is no porn with a man like me. You could see any kind of porn you wanted, but a guy like me did not exist. I realized it had to be all about me, so I came up with the “man with a pussy” tag line. It was not easy. The whole adult industry hated me. I was, like, they have porn with 500 men gang bangs. How can you say I’m a freak?

ETM: Do you think that even with everything you can find in porn it is still a heteronormative or gendernormative industry?

BA: Everyone was freaking out on me. It was something new, and there had been nothing new in this industry for so long. At one point I got sick of it, I was taking everything personal, and that’s when I snapped myself out of it. I flipped it and everything started to change. Within two years of starting my business I won the AVN Transsexual Performer of the Year. Little by little I started recognition inside and outside the adult industry. When I started getting media attention from outside of that I realized maybe I was doing something bigger. Gender and sexuality is whatever you make of it. Because of that, that’s where I am today. Moving my adult work into educational work. I moved it to wanting to teach the world that you can be whoever you want to be, no matter what anybody tells you.

I get emails from people who tell me I’ve changed their lives, I’ve made them feel like they don’t have to commit suicide, they can be who they want to be. They don’t have to have surgery to become a man or a woman. That has been the most rewarding thing for me. A 13-year-old kid writing me and telling me “Thank you for making me feel that I’m not a freak.” You know how huge that is? When I was 13 I wanted to kill myself. That’s why I’ve had to twist my work into more educational, because my message is bigger than that.

ETM: So, that just happened very organically.

BA: It did. But through the organic change I realized I have to make an effort to change. I had to make that effort to say I’m an educator. I’m an advocate. I’m a filmmaker. I’m not just a pornographer. That has actually been a burden more than anything: the fact that I’m a porn star.

ETM: Is that common in the porn industry? To have people make that crossover to advocacy, activism, education?

BA: You will not see a lot of people like me making that crossover, though it is happening more today. And I have to say I attribute that a lot to my work. I really believe that my work has helped other people come along and feel more the need to become sex educators. The way they disrespected trans women in porn was also one of the reasons why I did my own work, because I didn’t want me or a guy like me to get into a porn industry that disrespects me. Trans women or girls with dicks were marketed as freaks. It was a straight man who took them, and made money off of them, paid them, and kicked them out the door. I saw that, and I didn’t want that to be my work.

ETM: The T in LGBT seems to be the last priority within that community. Does it make sense for transgender people to continue to spin off as a movement of its own?

BA: I think they should. Sexuality and gender are two different things. LGB is your sexuality. T is about your gender. I’ve always said that. When I mention that I’m a transsexual to a doctor, they immediately think I’m saying I’m a homosexual. And I have to tell you Mexico has been amazing in terms of medical care.

ETM: What is it like to have achieved the ideal version of yourself, appearance wise, if that is the case?

BA: It is. I always dreamed to look how I look: a man with muscles, able to take my shirt off. I don’t know so much about the tattoos or the bald head, which came with the testosterone as a side effect. I can say that I have achieved what I always wanted, which is the look of ultra, hyper masculinity. That’s what I was going for. Not to say that’s the case for all trans men, but it was my vision. I used to hate my body. And, actually, contrary to what people say of testosterone, testosterone mellowed me. It didn’t make me angry. I was angry before the testosterone, but now I’m much more calm, and feel more at peace with myself than ever before. My work isn’t about being trans. It’s about being who you are.

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For Matthew Shepard and his family

*I originally published this post on The Huffington Post on June 18, 2014.

I wrote and read this piece on June 3, right before a special performance of The Laramie Project that I co-produced with the U.S. Embassy and the Matthew Shepard Foundation at Mexico City’s Teatro Milán.

funeral de matthew2At the end of my first year in college, just when I began to come out to my family and friends, I read about a young man in the United States, Matthew Shepard, who had been brutally murdered for being gay. This shocked me for many reasons — first, because I identified with a few of Matthew’s traits: My age at that time was almost the same as his when he was killed. We were both university students studying international relations. We both enjoyed traveling and learning new languages. We were both gay.

But what caught my attention the most was the fact that he was a regular guy. Matthew was not a famous activist whose work made someone in power feel uncomfortable. He was not a politician getting in the way of another. Matthew was just at the wrong spot at the wrong time with the wrong people. This terrified me.

A couple of years after that, I was living in New York, and I met Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mom and the co-founder of the organization named after him. Judy spoke at the city’s LGBT Community Center. At the end of the event, I came up to say hello, mentioned how much I admired her work, and asked her a couple of questions. Judy gave me a purple plastic bracelet that I have worn every day since then, for five years now. It has two simple but very strong words on it: “ERASE HATE.”

The hate that took her son away. The hate that ended Matthew’s life in 1998 in Wyoming, Brandon Teena’s in 1993 in Nebraska, Daniel Zamudio’s in 2012 in Santiago, Agnes Torres’ in 2012 in Puebla, and the list goes on. The same hate that ends relationships between friends because of one’s sexual orientation, or between a mother and her transgender daughter because the mother doesn’t understand her daughter’s identity.

The message sent by people like Matthew’s murderers (and everyone else’s) is that being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is wrong. It is a problem. It is dangerous. It’s best to get rid of them. Alarming, right? Far from the promises of campaigns like It Gets Better, for people like Matthew and many more it actually got worse.

The amazing thing is that, 16 years after that episode, and thanks to the work of many, many people, Matthew is still “alive.” His story and the story of the small town that knew him keep traveling, moving hearts and minds, inspiring playwrights, filling theaters around the world, pushing laws forward against discrimination, driving young men and women to promote respect for diversity.

Today I celebrate that Matthew’s life did not end for nothing. If he, a 21-year-old, ordinary student, is here tonight and has made us come and know his story, we now have the task of erasing that hate and replacing it with respect and understanding.


Supporters mark global day against homophobia, transphobia

*Michael Lavers originally published this piece on The Washington Blade on May 16, 2014.

Supporters mark global day against homophobia, transphobia

LGBT rights advocates in more than 120 countries will commemorate this year’s International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) with a series of vigils, conferences and other events.

Geena Rocero, a transgender Filipino fashion model who founded Gender Proud, a trans advocacy group, is among those who are scheduled to take part in an IDAHOT event outside of Manila, the country’s capital, that the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines has organized. Rocero on Thursday also participated in a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong that local LGBT rights advocates organized.

The Rainbow Pride Foundation, a Fijian LGBT advocacy group, on May 10 held its own candlelight vigil at a church in Suva, the Pacific island nation’s capital. Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education on the same day held a “conga against homophobia” in the Cuban capital as part of a series of events throughout the country that will commemorate IDAHOT.

The Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays on Friday will hold a symposium at a hotel in the Jamaican capital that will examine challenges that LGBT people in the Caribbean country continue to face. María Eugenia González, co-founder of the Georgia Safe Schools Coalition, is scheduled to attend an anti-bullying conference in the Peruvian city of Iquitos on May 21.

So-called rainbow flash mobs are scheduled to take place in at least 11 Russian cities on May 17. An estimated 100 people are expected to gather in Khabarovsk to release rainbow colored balloons in an IDAHOT demonstration that city officials have allowed to take place.

Svetlana Zakharova of the Russian LGBT Network told the Washington Blade earlier this week that her colleagues are “willing to defend their rights” in spite of the Kremlin’s ongoing crackdown on LGBT rights. These include a 2013 law that bans the promotion of so-called gay propaganda to minors.

“Whatever the difficulties, many LGBT (people) and their supporters in Russia are looking forward to participating in the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia,” said Zakharova.

Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays Executive Director Dane Lewis had a similar view, noting anti-LGBT violence and discrimination remain pervasive in the country.

“We need to begin to have discussions about the layers of stigma and discrimination experienced by LGBT Jamaicans and the challenges faced by those who identify as Christians,” he said.

Kate Montecarlo Cordova, chair of the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines, noted to the Blade that LGBT Filipinos lack legal protections and access to health care. She said hate crimes and speech, anti-trans harassment and bullying in the predominantly Muslim portion of the country that includes the island of Mindanao often go unreported.

“We, from the transgender community, feel that the IDAHOT celebration is important in our advocacy and in our lives,” said Cordova.

The Mexican government this year is officially organizing IDAHOT for the first time.

Enrique Torre Molina, an LGBT rights advocate and blogger in Mexico City, told the Blade earlier this week that he is hopeful that President Enrique Peña Nieto will speak at an IDAHOT event.

The British Council Mexico on Friday hosted an event that government officials, local LGBT activists and journalists attended.

“The conversation will go beyond the government’s official position and public policy on the subject of homophobia,” said Molina. “Fighting homophobia and promoting respect is, at the end, a task that concerns us all.”

The Finnish government on Thursday announced it will increase its contribution to the Global Equality Fund, a public-private partnership founded by C-SPAN co-founder John Evans that seeks to promote LGBT rights, by one million Euros. A State Department press release noted that Helsinki will continue to work with the governments of Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, the Arcus Foundation and other groups to “build on our shared commitment and partnership to advance freedom, equality and dignity for all.”

“Today of all days, we are reminded that the cause of justice can and must triumph over hatred and prejudice,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. “This is a day of action for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities and their allies all over the world. It is time to reaffirm our commitment to the equality and dignity of all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Gays, trans people gain rights in 2013

IDAHOT first took place on May 17, 2005, to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

This year’s commemoration takes place against the backdrop of significant progress in the LGBT rights movement in the U.S., Europe, Latin America and other regions of the world.

Ten U.S. states, Brazil, Uruguay, France, England, Wales and New Zealand have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples over the last year. The U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The Dutch Senate last December approved a bill that would allow trans people to legally change the gender on their birth certificates and other official documents without undergoing sterilization and sex reassignment surgery. A similar measure advanced in the Chilean Senate earlier this year.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley on Thursday signed a bill that bans anti-discrimination in his state. A similar measure took effect in neighboring Delaware last year.

The Indian Supreme Court last month issued a landmark ruling that recognizes trans people as a “third gender.”

Jamaican and Belizean judges last year heard lawsuits challenging their country’s laws that criminalize homosexuality. A Lebanese judge in March struck down the Middle Eastern nation’s anti-sodomy statute in the case of a trans woman who faced charges for allegedly having a relationship with a man.

Gay Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel was sworn into office last December. Angélica Lozano, a former Council woman in the Colombian capital, in March became the first openly LGBT person elected to the South American country’s Congress.

LGBT rights crackdowns continue in Africa, Russia

In spite of this progress, anti-LGBT violence and discrimination remain pervasive in many parts of the world.

The U.S. and several European countries cut aid to Uganda after the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, in February signed into a law a bill that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in January signed a draconian anti-gay bill that, among other things, bans membership in an LGBT advocacy group and punishes those who enter into a same-sex marriage with up to 14 years in prison.

The 2014 Winter Olympics took place in Sochi, Russia, in February against the backdrop of criticism over the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record.

Police arrested 10 activists who held rainbow and Russian flags as they sung the country’s national anthem near Moscow’s Red Square just before the games’ opening ceremony began. Authorities earlier in the day arrested four Russian LGBT rights advocates in St. Petersburg as they marched with a banner in support of adding sexual orientation to the Olympic charter’s anti-discrimination clause.

The Indian Supreme Court late last year recriminalized homosexuality — it announced in April it will consider a motion to reconsider the controversial decision. A new Brunei legal code that punishes those convicted of homosexuality by stoning them to death has sparked global outrage that includes calls to boycott hotels the Bruneian government owns.

A report the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission released earlier this week found discrimination and violence against lesbians, bisexual women and trans people in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, the Philippines and Japan remains pervasive. Grupo Gay da Bahia, a Brazilian LGBT advocacy group, noted more than a quarter of the 338 reported LGBT homicide victims in Brazil in 2012 were trans.

Carlos Vela of the Homosexual Community of Hope in the Loreto Region (of Perú) told the Blade that one LGBT person a week is murdered in the South American country. This violence continues to take place, even as Peruvian lawmakers debate a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions.

“It is the most extreme expression of systematic violence,” said Vela, referring to the murders of LGBT Peruvians.

Jasmine Kaur of Oceania Pride, which took part in the May 10 candlelight vigil in the Fijian capital, noted homophobia, anti-LGBT hate crimes and violence is “quite strong for the LGBTIQ community” in the South Pacific country. She said the Fijian constitution includes a non-discrimination clause, but it is “flawed.”

“The bill of rights has many limitations,” said Kaur. “It is not one that can guarantee its citizens protections.”

The Human Rights Campaign on Thursday released a report that documents advances and setbacks in the global LGBT rights movement over the last year.

“Despite entrenched homophobia and transphobia in many nations around the world, the global fight for LGBT equality made historic gains in 2013,” said HRC Director of Global Engagement Ty Cobb. “At the same time, last year included horrific new anti-LGBT laws as well as alarming trends in anti-LGBT harassment and violence. These serve as important reminders of the many challenges ahead and the tremendous amount of work left to be done.”

Henness Wong, a Hong Kong activist who helped plan IDAHOT events in the former British colony, said the climate for the city’s LGBT residents is slowly beginning to improve in spite of lingering institutional and cultural homophobia and transphobia.

“Hong Kong is definitely safer than Brunei who will stone gays,” said Wong.


An amateur’s reflection on racism, classism within LGBT communities

*This post was originally published on The Huffington Post‘s Gay Voices and Latino Voices.

Last month I was in Los Angeles for the first time. I attended GLAAD’s second edition of the National People of Color Media Institute, an awesome project GLAAD launched to bring together lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people of color working on different issues and in different communities, have them share their experiences, and enhance their potential as advocates and spokespeople for those communities. The aim of GLAAD through this institute and their Voices of Color program, led by Daryl Hannah, is to bring more Black, Latino, and Asian faces to our newspapers, magazines, blogs, radio and television shows. I was honored to be the first non-U.S. resident who participated.

2012-10-10-brendamonicaenrique.jpg

Brenda del Rio from Bienestar, GLAAD’s Monica Trasandes, and Enrique Torre Molina.

The work GLAAD has done to make media a more inclusive space for LGBT people (in the U.S. and increasingly elsewhere), and to make LGBT stories more present and powerful in that media for almost 30 years, cannot be understated. However, LGBT people of color are not visible enough on mainstream media. And I would say not even on LGBT media. Look at, for example, gay characters who are on TV shows right now: Louis on Partners, Kurt on Glee, Bryan on The New Normal, Cam and Mitch on Modern Family. All white guys.

According to The Opportunity Agenda’s Public Opinion and Discourse on the Intersections of LGBT Issues and Race 2012 report, LGBT issues are under-reported in Latino media in the U.S., although California’s Proposition 8 in 2008 drove those media to have a wider coverage of LGBT issues. Not surprising, considering the large population of Latinos in the state. The report also points out that much “of the anti-LGBT rhetoric, slurs, and derogatory language found in this media scan come from users’ online comments, not from the media themselves.” When I blogged for VivirMexico.com, I would often get very homophobic, moronic comments from readers, such as “Fags are shitty people. Fags themselves are to be blamed of being discriminated against. Their attitude is annoying and some times disrespectful. If they’re fags I don’t care. Fuck with each other and that’s it, but the sissy ones are disgusting.”

I have a hard time translating the concept of “people of color” with all its heavy, powerful meaning to our experience in Mexico. Race and racism are not topics present on the media, much less on off-screen daily conversations. We often think of Mexico as a racism-free society. But the strongest form of discrimination against black people, for example, is not ignoring their exclusion but actually thinking there aren’t any here, except for the occasional model on a Mexico City fashion week runway. The National Council to Prevent Discrimination (Conapred) has done research and spread information on discrimination against people of African descent. Other than that, they are practically invisible. According to Jonathan Orozco, a communication staffer at Conapred, there are no official numbers on the African descent community living in Mexico. Same goes for LGBTs, by the way: we don’t know exactly how many of us are there, working as what, living where, etc.

Except for a couple of pieces or documentaries on the muxes living in Oaxaca, I can’t recall seeing anyone who was LGBT and indigenous on screen. And I don’t foresee it happening any time soon, if even bouncers at some gay bars and clubs are responsible for leaving “indigenous-looking” people out.

Growing up in a privileged background, having a mostly harmless coming-out process, being surrounded by other gays and lesbians in my family, and living in the only city in the country where I can marry my boyfriend has let me experience a homophobic society. I can only imagine what things are like for someone on the other end of racist, classist Mexico.

Where are all those faces in the pages of gay magazines, on the ads of hookup websites, on TV shows? For a group that is such a target of bigotry, we as LGBT media could do a lot better to address those other types of exclusion happening within our community.


Amanda Lepore for MidOpen

The first one to tell me about Amanda Lepore was my boss at the New York State Division of Human Rights, who had her as a client when he specialized in transgender issues.

Then I saw her in different pieces by photographer David LaChapelle. Amanda has also been the face of fashion brands such as M.A.C. Cosmetics and Swatch.

Recently she was in Mexico City to promote her new record, and MidOpen magazine invited me to talk to her:

The Interview magazine piece I mention is here. And you can follow Amanda on Twitter.