On Mr. Angel

from Mr. Angel, Dan Hunt

from Mr. Angel, Dan Hunt

Yesterday I mentioned that I saw Mr. Angel as part of SXSW Film. The documentary was directed over 6 years by Dan Hunt, and was raw, vulnerable, and honest.

First of all, I will not attempt or pretend to state that I am an expert in any way in terms of gender, gender binaries which hold sway in our current sexual discourse, transgender issues and politics, or why America is so damnably closed minded about all of it, but I will say that I am a proud ally to any and everyone who feels cast out for something as basic as the right to live comfortably in their own body, the right to love (consensually) the person(s) they love, and the right to live a life with health, education, and pleasure.

I’m learning, slowly and surely, about the rest of the things I listed above and will continue to do so, both formally and informally. I’ll do a lot of listening. It’s just how it will be.

That being said, this film moved me and kicked my ass back into gear to continue educating, advocating, and supporting adults who may be navigating sexuality, orientation or gender dynamics either on their own or with loved ones. It made me even more proud that I’m doing the work I’m doing with BedPost Confessions.

Buck Angel was born female but never felt female. Buck felt male inside and the inside did not match the outside and over the course of many years, began living life as a man, after deep strain with his family in and his personal life. The documentary follows personal interviews with Buck, his wife Elayne, Buck’s sister and parents, as well as friends and peers who have supported Buck through his transitions and growing career. The film captures that painful difficulty well, but also shows the amazing life Buck and Elayne have built, filled with love and reconciliation, advocacy and intense hard work, focus and a passion for helping others.

It can be extremely hard to move through transition, and many people who move from a one gender into another do a complete physical transformation including genitals but what’s really thrown people for a loop, has been Buck’s resistance to that. He’s kept his vulva and vagina.

This really seems to rattle people, to put it mildly.

Of all the things in the film that struck me, it was that while people may (MAY) be beginning to understand that a person might have the wrong external gender to match their internal experience and that a full transition is needed, even medically, to help that person, keeping parts of both really just makes people lose it.

This full integration of Buck’s, of being a man who also has female genitals has led to people sending Buck hate mail, angry looks, deep stigmatization by various members of the LGBT communities, and even push-back from the adult movie industry, though that’s shifted more recently. The documentary itself took 6 years to film because it was nearly unfundable.

The resistance to Buck, to trans, to gender expression brings up such questions and feelings for me. What defines us? Our bodies? How our minds sit within our bodies? Are our minds actually part of our limbs, our cells in our core, our blood, and not just this division (another binary isn’t it mind and body) that we’ve decided on, that we have any control at all over how our inner experience needs to be expressed.

Why can’t a man have a vagina? Why can’t a woman have a penis? Why are we so hell bent on believing that all the stuff that makes up our genitals is so different? It all starts out the same, the nerves work similarly. Our bodies are just not that different compared to how they could be.

And even less physically, what do any of us do when we meet someone that doesn’t “fit?” When a child, our own flesh and blood, doesn’t “fit” some preconceived and deeply culturally embedded idea of what “boy” or “girl” should be. Or women who feel masculine and aggressive but like their female bodies. Or men who feel feminine and shy and like their male bodies. Or any combination therein.

Even more I think about how we treat people who risk everything just to find alignment with who they are, how that says everything about us as a people, and as a culture.

And right now we are failing, so hard.

We are so filled with fear and anger about sex, we are coated with shame and guilt and a desire to just tamp it all down into shiny easy to figure out boxes, when life just won’t be contained. It harms us all to live this way.

And it seems as simple as that, yes? Accepting people for who they are, for how they are, realizing that just as we may make inner transitions in our lives-marriage, jobs, getting sober, or not, going to school, moving…we may also have physical transitions.

But even the first are not easy are they? Change can mean death, fear, loss, across the boards. We are visual creatures, political creatures, group creatures, and perhaps we just can’t evolve ourselves fast enough to accept that others aren’t like “us.”

But WE aren’t even like “us,” that’s the thing! Who gets to define “normal?”

I wear pants, have had short hair. Feel at times quite masculine inside myself. Does that make me more or less of a woman? My clothes? Or styles? I’m damn sure that nearly all of us have something that doesn’t feel like it “fits.” So why not embrace each other more? Help each other fit, rather than hide so fearfully, shutting people out. Take some steps like by supporting non profits like Trans Youth Family Allies, an amazing non-profit which supports families whose children are, or show signs of being, trans.

(FYI, Children often do their best to let parents know something is up, whether through clothing choices or other actions. The earlier parents can recognize and support their children, the more emotional and physical health and safety, not to mention love, those children will experience, just as they should.)

I want it to be easy, but it’s not easy, not at all. There are cultural and societal dynamics in the US that make it damn near impossible to even talk about sex, let alone live a fully integrated life if one doesn’t “fit” the norm. I’ll keep writing about those.

We have to keep moving into the light of acceptance and change, of play and hope, of possibility rather than limits, because change is gonna happen whether any of us like it or not.

The least we can do is try harder to be kinder to each other when it happens. If we can’t do that we are truly lost.

This is what I think about, what Buck’s movie made me think about and that? That’s why I highly recommend this film. So that you’ll think about it, too.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “On Mr. Angel

  1. HeatherN

    Lovely article, as always. ๐Ÿ™‚ So kind of related, but a side note…dunno if they mention it in the film: Buck Angel was part of a bit of a historical moment in the porn industry. He filmed a porn movie in which he was penetrated by a trans-woman (Allanah Starr) who had kept her penis through transition. People freaked the heck out, needless to say.

    What I absolutely love about it, though, is how it kind of throws all our preconceived ideas about gender and sexuality out the window. How do you classify it…do we even have the language to explain it? – a straight scene? Gay scene? It was queer, certainly. Considering how much we still consider being penetrated feminine and being the penetrator masculine…in this scene was Buck playing the part of the “woman” and the Allanah playing the part of the “man?”

    I’d pretty much describe it as a straight scene…Buck’s a man and the Allanah is a woman…therefore hetero. But even still I can’t deny that there is something *different* about this scene. There is a queerness to it, which highlights just how fragile and superficial our mainstream gender and sexuality norms are.

  2. Yes, I believe that was part of the film. The straight/queer continuum was noted by Lux Altrum in the doc and indeed everything you said…well, that’s come up for me, and obviously others. Really amazing stuff.

  3. Thank you so very much for this thought provoking post about my film, sexuality and gender. I so appreciate you coming to support me and also your activism to help further the need for sex education.
    With lots of love!
    WOOF
    Buck Angel

  4. danielleparadis

    I have a crush on Mr. Angel

  5. Pingback: How Do We Make Sense Of This? Steubenville, Texts, Rape | Julie Gillis

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