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Seattle, WA – Back in June while I was in Vancouver, I sat down with Ed Woody, a freelance writer and regular contributor to Xtra West. We chatted for a little over a hour for what became a fairly extensive interview. Our conversation covered a broad range of topics. We talk about all the travel I've been doing lately and the various events where I've presented. We discussed my educational and advocacy work around responsible BDSM play and safer sex. We also spoke at length about my work in the adult industry, the Rough line with Titan Media, BDSM play and this year's Grabbys. Other topics covered included the nature and expression of the polyamorous relationships that comprise my family and the differences between private play, sex on set and live performances. While much of the article was omitted in both the print and online versions of Xtra West, I'm posting the full version of the piece here with Ed Woody's permission...
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A self-described "kinky bisexual queer," porn star Tony Buff is one of the biggest names of the fetish scene. An exclusive model with San Francisco's Titan Media, and co-creator of their ultra-hardcore Rough line of videos (which document real-life fetish play featuring real-life fetish players), Buff is also a community activist and touring coach, who spends the year teaching others safe and responsible ways of expanding their sexual horizons. Add on the multiple adult industry awards, and it's no wonder Priape Vancouver wanted him to help them celebrate their fifth birthday in June.
Did I mention he's fuck-off gorgeous, too?
Xtra: What is an average day for you?
There haven't been too many average days lately. I've been doing a lot of travelling around the US and Canada, teaching SM classes and techniques, places like Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver.
You're involved with a lot of community activities as well - tell me about that.
Well my passion definitely lies in the leather community. I'm a kinky bisexual queer so it's just a good fit for me. I've made some really strong ties in my local community in Seattle, and that's kind of branched out into a regional thing. And now since doing the art film work, it's branched out into a national and even international thing.
It's not just about you, you like to educate other people how to do it.
Absolutely, and that's really where the focus is. It's about sharing my passions with other people, about advocating safer sex and responsible play, showing people new techniques that they might not know, how you can mitigate any risks associated with that scene, so that people can explore their fetishes, own them, but experience and expand their sexuality in a way that is healthy, positive and responsible.
Clearly there are others who don't feel the same way about safe sex.
Unfortunately. I always try to be respectful to everyone but no, I never want to be associated with promoting unsafe activities. It's been a good fit with Titan, because they are very concerned with promoting and advocating healthy choices among the consumers of their videos. When it comes to the fetish work, I have been very mindful of presenting things in a way that showcase what you do to mitigate the risks of fetish scenes. For example, gloving up when you do fisting. Obviously showing the condom going on if you're doing anal penetration.
I'm pretty vanilla. So can you explain to me what appeals to you about this lifestyle?
We're talking about a few different things here. If we're talking about rope bondage, the idea of being tied down, fully submitted, unable to fully move, while you're engaged in a sexual activity, is hot. It's a turn on. Lots of people who would not consider themselves particularly kinky play those kind of games all over the United States and Canada.
Something like piercing - that's not necessarily about the sexual gratification. The focus on that scene is more about the hormonal response in the body. Now, it can lead to something very sexual, but SM is not always about sex. I mean, I personally love to tie it all together. To create an intense, heavy scene that gets those juices flowing and then culminates in sexual activity, but it doesn't have to.
For me, fisting is an extremely intimate act, very personal and connecting. You see a lot of videos that capture this kind of really athletic, punch-fuck how-fast-how-hard-how-much can you take sort of thing. And that's fine, but I take a different approach. It's about the process, about the ride. It's slow, methodical, lots of eye contact, lots of breathing.
Luckily I've been able to create those kind of scenes on film, especially with the Rough line of films I've co-created with Titan. Most notably in a scene with my partner of eight years, Chris Josef. It's not about fantasy, it's about documenting contemporary play in the BDSM community. So we've been very mindful to recruit real players and sometimes with the partners they've been playing with for years. And then we shoot it with minimal interruption to the action, so it captures a raw animalistic kind of energy that BDSM really is, in a way that I don't think anyone else is doing right now.
Where do you think that comes from, though? How do you start exploring that?
Human sexuality is a fluid thing, and you never really know where your fluids will flow.I've been doing this for 20 years. I started getting tied up when I came out into a military SM family, back when I was in the marine corps in the late 80s. If you go back even further than that, I remember watching the old Tarzan series when I was a kid, and I remember taking the steak knives out of the kitchen and butchering my tighty whities.
And is there times when you just can't be bothered with all that, and you just want to have "normal" sex?
I don't have to have the boy tied down. I still engage in a full spectrum of sexual activity. The BDSM and fetish stuff is just added entrees to the buffet table.
Is there anything you don't do, that is just too freaky even for you?
I'm a man who has sex with men, so I understand that, well... shit happens. But I'm not really into it.
Your Facebook relationship status says "it's complicated." That seems to be an understatement.
I maintain a polyamorous relationship in my own immediate leather family. I've got a collared boy here in Vancouver who I've been with for eight years. I have a collared boy in Seattle who lives with me.
What does that mean, to you as a couple?
Collared, in terms of the chain and the lock, is a symbol within the leather community of a committed Dom-sub relationship. And those relationships are really defined by the individuals involved. So for me, it's polyamorous - we're like a small family unit. And then we're part of a larger leather family called the Dragons, and within the Dragon clan there are 14 brothers and sisters and their smaller immediate families. We do kind of a family reunion each year, support each other.
And that's not something you do just in the bedroom. It's a full-time thing, it's how the relationship exists.
Yes. There is a bit of a distinction there, because I own my training business, and I do the art film work, and I travel across the country teaching. I get to live in leather, I don't have to compartmentalize my corporate day job from the kink. It all gets to blend seamlessly and I'm very fortunate for that.
I also find it interesting that you refer to them as art films, not as porn films. That indicates a certain respect for the form, I think.
I call them that to remind me of what I'm trying to do with it. If you look back, like 1972, Fred Halsted released LA Plays Itself, a film, it was the first depiction of the iconic urban leather man, and it contained a fisting scene, for the first time ever on film. That film was curated by the Museum of Modern Art. Then we had Christopher Rage capture that essence of BDSM through his movies in the 80s, and Daddy Zeus was doing it in the 90s, and I wanted my efforts in the industry to reflect that. To represent to the best of my ability the members of my tribe, and actually create community out of it. It's not just porn for me, it's a documentation of real play.
So you don't particularly enjoy these studios who simply rely on "boy on couch" ?
Yeah, I prefer substance. I love Joe Gage's movies, because he's a storyteller. I like the setup, the environment, the context. It helps me engage with the people on the screen and actually feel something, rather than just looking at cocks being jacked.
How do you make it work when you're just not into your scene partner?
I've been really lucky. I've been working with people like Dean Flynn, François Sagat, my own boys. If there ever is a challenge, I'm usually able to connect with my scene partner, at least on some level, and create something that's going to work. I have a lot more control over my choice of scene partners now than I did in the beginning, now that I've been doing it a while. Out in the real world, I have very broad tastes, from the 18-year-old twink with a budding interest, to the 40-year-old men who I can push their limits, to the 70-year-olds who can teach me new things. They may not look like they'd be cast in one of the art films that I do, but my admiration and my respect for them make them extremely attractive.
It seems like you bottom in your personal life, but never on screen. How come?
Well I have a rule - if you're going to top me, you need to be at least as good as I am. I still bottom on occasion, especially if I've been uber-topping for a while. It's maybe like 10-15% of my overall activity. I think that I offer more as a top in the BDSM field than I do as a bottom.
It always seems to me, whatever scene you're involved in, that bottoms outnumber tops ten to one. So certainly a talented top is always in demand.
Finding skilled BDSM practitioners to top is a real challenge. You have to know what the fuck you're doing. It takes not just the technical skill but a personal ability to read your bottom and know where they're at, even if they're not communicating with you verbally, so that you can take them on the ride that's going to be enjoyable for them.
To me, BDSM tops fall into three categories. There's the novice top peeing on his partner in the bathtub for the first time and isn't that cute? The bully top who basically dominates a scene with bravado and something to prove. And then there's the nuanced top that actually understands what it's all about. There are a few of us out there, but it's a pretty elite group that can actually do these things.
I think it's another truism that to be a good top you have to have been a good bottom first.
I've known some tops that have not been bottoms, they identify as total tops. I mean no disrespect to them by saying this but my personal belief is that you become a much better top if you have experienced what you do from the bottom's perspective.
You've also done live sex shows as well.
Yeah, that's really just been an extension of playing in semi-public spaces, like the Chicago Hellfire Club. Performing at the Folsom festival over the last couple of years has been an exciting experience. There've been other opportunities like performing at the House of Blues over IML weekend a few years ago. It's been a lot of fun.
How is it different for you between sex for yourself, sex on a set and sex on a stage?
Three completely different animals. All are exciting and rewarding in their own right. Obviously private sex in my own playspace is the most intimate and personally rewarding for myself and my partner, at least I hope. It's a lot more open and freeing and you're able to lose yourself in the act. You don't have to worry about how it looks to the camera. In front of a camera you're doing something that will be captured for posterity, that goes out there for people to consume, that is permanent. And then the live performances, it's not just the scene between myself and the partner. The audience becomes kind of a third participant in the theatre that is us. And it takes a very special partner to be able to handle that.
What if somebody gets a bit touchy at those shows?
Luckily, my performances on shows are generally on stage, so there's that barrier. But having been doing this for three years now, it can be a little daunting with people getting touchy-feely. But I don't understand this idea that just being naked gives people a license to touch you. People should have learned in kindergarten that they shouldn't touch people without asking permission first. It really irritates me to be touched by people I don't know.
So you've travelled around a lot. Of all the places you've visited in the world, which has the most perverted guys?
The Chicago Hellfire Club's yearly run is by far the most intense week of SM I've ever experienced. I've witnessed some really incredible scenes, stuff I've never done before.
You had a great night at the Grabbys the other weekend.
My god, yes. That really blew me away, I had not prepared anything. Folsom Flesh won Best Fetish movie - that's three years in a row that a movie I've been involved in has won. The Hottest Cock thing is okay - it still kinda squicks me out to be reduced to just my dick. But Performer of the Year (tied with Adam Killian) was a real shock and very humbling. It brings some attention and recognition to the work that we've been doing - and I say "we" because it is a collaborative effort. The production team at Titan, my co-director Paul Wilde, the cameramen, the assistants, and all the performers that have been willing to come in and share their lives with us.
Now you've moved onto directing too. What made you want to do that? And what have you learned in the process?
I have been absolutely blessed with some of the best on-the-job training through Titan's production department that I could ever have asked for. The production quality of their pictures is through the roof. Everything is shot HD, two sometimes three cameras, they pull everything together and make it absolutely beautiful. This is something that Halstead, Rage, and Daddy Zeus didn't have - it's something that's never been seen.
How did the event go at Priape?
Absolutely wonderful. It was long day - I did a few hours of signing DVDs and meeting people. I was so happy I could make it here to help them celebrate their fifth birthday. I love their fetish wear because it's not just the traditional biker leather gear - it's a new kind of couture, cutting edge fashion that makes their fetish wear very attractive to the younger generation of BDSM players. Fetish is getting a new look - it doesn't all have to be the Village People stereotype. There's a new energy and vibrancy to it, and Priape has been investing here in Vancouver, through their sponsorship of the Leather and Rubber contests and their charity efforts. They're a company that invests in their community in real ways - ways that might hurt their pocket book, like not stocking bareback porn, but that are the responsible thing to do. And I'm very attracted to that kind of leadership.
Do you think there are more people getting involved in the scene these days?
Sexual liberation and queer liberation, the exploration of people's kinky sides, I think that's expanding. But there's a lot of assimilationist tendencies in the gay community right now, a move to push the drag queens and the leathermen back into the closet, because they want to promote worthy things like equal rights, but I don't think that the two are mutually exclusive. I think it's extremely important that we encourage a positive sexual philosophy. In some ways I think the fact that what we do is taboo is exciting in itself. People will always be exploring the boundaries of their sexuality, especially in my world, but then I surround myself with very open and honest people.
Have you had a chance to play here in Vancouver?
Oh yeah, I'm a regular. I've got a collared boy here. I got to do a demo at the Pumpjack - I got to tie up a really beautiful young man in full suspension in front of the crowd. He seemed to enjoy himself quite a bit. I've played at the new Steamworks a few months ago. I generally prefer private dungeons to playing in bathhouses, because then you face the grabbing problem again. But there are fetish communities everywhere, and the larger metropolitan cities like Vancouver definitely have their share.
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My thanks go out to Ed Woody for an excellent interview.