by Ashley Rouen
A California court ruled in favor of transgender female-to-male porn star Buck Angel’ last week in a spousal support case that contested the validity of his former marriage to Elayne Angel, former owner of French Quarter body-piercing shop Rings of Desire. Elayne Angel had filed suit earlier this year claiming Angel was not a man because he does not have a phallus.
The case was tried in late July and the ruling issued on August 6th by Judge Dianna Gould-Saltman in Los Angeles, even though Buck Angel and his estranged wife sealed their marriage in New Orleans in 2003.
Elayne Angel sought annulment based on the claim that Buck Angel is not a man. She argued he does not have a penis, and that the two were never legally married because same sex marriage is illegal in Louisiana.
Elayne Angel first tried to get the spousal support case dismissed in California based on jurisdiction, but she was overruled since courts base jurisdiction on where a plaintiff currently lives. She then decided to challenge the validity of their marriage when Buck filed for spousal support. According to Buck Angel, her latest filing came after Elayne Angel emptied their assets from a joint bank account. This ruling marks Buck Angel’s second win. The spousal support hearing should be held later this month, or in September.
Judge Gould-Saltman ruled that their marriage occurred legally under the “full faith and credit clause”, even though Buck had not yet changed his gender on his birth certificate at the time they entered the marriage contract. It wasn’t until 2006 that Buck was able to obtain a new birth certificate due to a mix-up in processing of his petition to change his gender in 1998.
The judge’s statement of decision states, “She [Elayne] did not voice concerns about the legality at the time of marriage. She testified that she did see Petitioner [Buck] as a man when he asked for spousal support which she believed was an example of him ‘not acting like a man’.”
Elayne Angel hired two expert witnesses in Louisiana law, LSU Law Professor Andrea Carroll and Attorney Frank Tranchina, who both testified that the marriage was an “absolute nullity”. However, the cross-examination brought up the vague nature of Louisiana’s law regarding gender change in Section 40:62 of the Civil Code, which has been around since 1968.
The defense referenced Baton Rouge family law case Carter v. Carter when cross examining Mr. Tranchina.
“There was no issue regarding the out of state birth certificate and that the Louisiana court did give full faith and credit to the Georgia gender change,” Tranchina said.
“A lot of trans people have had their gender changed on their personal identification and passport, but it’s more difficult to have it changed on their birth certificate,” says Buck’s attorney Alana Chazan of Baumer and Chazan Law Group, LLP. “It would have affected other trans marriages if ruled otherwise.”
By his appearance, you’d never know Buck Angel was born a woman. He had sex-reassignment “top surgery” which is the most common surgery for people transitioning from female to male and involves breast removal. Modern science and anatomy limit women seeking to “fully” transition due to the simple fact that it is easier to “dig a hole than build a pole.”
Courts dealing with similar cases have been hesitant to challenge transgendered individuals, who have already gotten approval of sexual reassignment by a doctor and judge. Louisiana law does not specify in exact words what type of surgery is required to fulfill a complete transition, only that a person must look the part. If they can pass as male or female in a government issued identification photo and have undergone some type of surgery, the courts say that is enough.
Physical surgery is only one step of gender transition. Most people go many years taking testosterone or estrogen before undergoing a procedure to alter their genitals.
In a 2009 interview with Lavender Magazine, Buck Angel says, “I have a vagina. My wife has a vagina. When I went to get married, they didn’t ask me to drop my pants. I would like to do a huge campaign showing that I’m married—to a woman—legally in the United States of America. How is it possible that I’m married to a woman, and you’re not letting any of these people [same-sex couples] get married, because you’re basing it on what’s between their legs?”
Correction: This article originally read " women transitioning from female to male". The word women has been replaced by people.