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How Chaz Bono, Cher's son, became a man — and possibly a transgender icon?

Chazbono The changing of one’s voice is a male rite of passage. But most men go through it long before they turn 40. And the news doesn’t usually land in the tabloids.

Chastity Bono became famous when, as a shy, towheaded toddler, she appeared on “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour,” her parents’ hit variety show. Four decades later, the former musician and gay and lesbian activist transitioned into Chaz, a man who — with a new book and documentary on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network — looks poised to become the face of a still-nascent transgender movement.

“We were talking about how we were going to break the story, and it broke without us, because my voice started changing,” Bono, now 42, recently said of his transitioning process achieved through surgery and hormone treatments. “People notice things, and they call the tabloids.

“I couldn’t do it privately,” he continued. “So I could either have done it and people would have known, and other people would have written about it, and it wouldn’t be the truth. Or I could do it myself and try to help people and put a face on an issue people don’t understand.

“Obviously the transgender movement has not progressed in the way that the gay and lesbian movement has. But I’m an activist — that’s just the kind of person I am.”

“Becoming Chaz,” the documentary that premieres Tuesday on OWN, details his breast-removal surgery, interactions with (mostly supportive) family members and relationship with his fiancee, Jenny. Interviews with his mother make it clear that Cher — one of the world’s top entertainers — is still struggling with her son’s decision, not to mention which pronouns to use in referring to him.

Winfrey, who last week taped a Bono interview for her syndicated show on Monday, is using the Chaz movie to launch a documentary series on her cable network. “The goal and intention is for Oprah to do for docs what she’s done for books,” said Fenton Bailey, who made the film with his longtime work partner Randy Barbato (the pair made “Inside Deep Throat” and numerous other projects).

Meanwhile, the book “Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man,” which Bono wrote with Billie Fitzpatrick, delves deeper into Bono’s chaotic childhood after Cher split with Sonny Bono, the songwriter and singer who later became a successful Republican politician before dying in a skiing accident in 1998. Chaz, the couple’s only child, recounts struggling with his identity even through childhood battles with his mother, including arguments about whether Chastity would wear a dress to school. (Cher’s spokeswoman did not respond to an interview request.)

“It’s probably the hardest I’ve worked on anything in my life,” Bono said of the book.

“This journey wasn’t just about transitioning; it was a journey of coming to understand myself, learning how to take care of myself, putting my fears away and putting my needs as a priority instead of concerning myself with what everyone else thought,” he continued. “It’s, essentially, really about growing up.”

Activists are already applauding Bono’s moves. “There are few transgender storylines in entertainment media — television and movies,” said Jarrett Barrios, president of the advocacy group GLAAD. “And even fewer where the story is told fully and fairly, so that the public understands why someone chooses to transition and what they’re hoping for …. Transgender people remain mostly invisible.”

While data are scarce, one commonly cited survey indicated that 0.2% of adults identify themselves as transgender. A UCLA study estimated that there are fewer than 700,000 transgender Americans. Transgender people frequently face discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere, Barrios said. “Here you’ve got a well-known celebrity who transitioned and who chose to open up his life to the world,” Barrios said. “I think it’s extraordinarily generous of Chaz.”

Bono navigated some rough waters to get here. She came out as a lesbian in the 1990s. But a music career collapsed and various other projects didn’t pan out. For some years she drifted through a fog of drug abuse, which Bono now interprets as a way of ignoring the identity problem that had gnawed for years. As a woman, Bono identified in every way as a man but had a woman’s body.

“I thought that transgender people must have felt much worse than I did in order to risk losing all the things that one can lose by transitioning,” Bono said.

“Until I really accepted this about myself and got over any of my own transphobia that I had, I really felt like I wouldn’t be accepted,” he continued. “I thought I would ruin my life. I thought it was, ‘Be yourself but become a pariah and put your family through hell,’ or, ‘Don’t be yourself and live a horribly uncomfortable existence where everybody relates to you in a way that’s not you.’ ”

Even after making the decision to change genders medically (Chaz takes hormone treatments but has yet to have female-to-male surgery on his genitalia), the path was not always easy. He borrowed money for the breast-removal surgery from friends, and his mother did not visit him after the procedure.

“I think especially for parents there’s a grieving process that has to happen,” Bono said. “In a sense, that exact person doesn’t exist anymore. But inside, the essence of me is still the same.”

As for why he didn’t ask his mother for the loan: “It wasn’t something I felt comfortable going to her and asking her for money, for something that was difficult for her. And the truth was, I had the money coming. I had film projects I was working on and checks that were coming. I needed a very short-term loan …. She didn’t need to spend the money on it.”

By opening his life up in this way, Bono is taking more risks than the average tabloid fixture. But he sees the benefits as outweighing the costs.

 “My hope is that by allowing people to do that, they’re going to see that I’m just kind of a regular guy,” he said. “And that being transgender and transitioning isn’t the craziest thing in the world.”

— Scott Collins (twitter.com/scottcollinsLAT)

Photo: Chaz Bono in Los Angeles last month. Credit: Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times.

 

 
Comments () | Archives (27)

So be a man or woman and join the military. Do something with your life other than be a spoiled, freak show spawn of entertainers.

right on, chaz!

Wonderful article! Thank you Scott Collins and thank you L.A. Times! I am an out transgender woman myself and most of the representations of trans folk in the media have been unfavorable. It is wonderful to read an article that shows us as people too. Every minority group in this country goes from invisibility in the media, to being portrayed as fools, to finally being represented by one of their own. Thank you again!

Is her former girlfriend still a lesbian or does her sexual ID change as well to heterosexual?

yuck

I don't know any transgender persons, but from the stories I've read, I can only imagine the struggle they must feel. We are are born who we are and can't help how we feel. I have three young boys and would continue to be proud if they are gay. If I was asked: Would you want your sons straight or gay? Without hesitation, I would always answer straight. Not that there is anything wrong with being gay, but because as a mother, I would not have the heart to see the world hurt them and treat them as such.

We're such a materialistic culture, it's hard for haters to accept the fact that the center of consciousness is in the mind and not in the crotch. Good luck Chaz and Jenny.

Confession: My immediate response to the whole idea of being transgender is revulsion. I don't believe it. A tiny voice says, be open-minded, but a larger voice says these are just severely confused people who are, essentially, cursed. Ultimately, I don't care how they live their lives---I certainly wouldn't go out of my way to discriminate against them. It's all a little beyond my scope right now. I hope it all works out for them.

you have to do what feels right to you! it must have been awfully hard living in a womans body andfeeling lostI'm a woman but after being molested so many times as a child I gave up sex completely,relationships,seems no matter who i went with i was mistreatedand treated like a pariah whenever i told my story or called a liar i was afraid to even try to find love so i stay to myself depression has become a way of life for me,i want love so bad but can't trust anyone my prayers are with you and i wish a very happy life.then i was in a very bad accident breaking my back in so many places numerous surgeries,now i have no feelings in my nether regions,life sucks for me,i can't work due to numerous injuries live on a very small fixed income and no i will never find love I'm so glad you did.Be the man you want to be and be happy.

To be honest, I must confess, I don't understand the desire to transition. But since I am a hetero-sexual female I guess I wouldn't understand. Kinda like someone not understanding being black if they were melanin-challenged. I hope Chaz will be happy. It must be awful to feel so conflicted and then when you come to an acceptance of who you are--you get a lot of flack from those who feel you don't know what you're doing. Mind your own business,is what I think. For the most part I don't think gays have a problem with heteros. Why is it some heteros have such a problem with gays? Live and let live.

Now he is a big fat guy. Lose weight dude, please. ..and get a life. Go to school, get a job, do something...besides capitalizing on your celebrity. No one cares really. Stop focussing on you...there are other people in the world. Help the poor and needy for a start .

I'm looking forward to the TV premiere of Becoming Chaz.

Join the military? Perhaps you didn't know that transgender people can't join the military.

"Is her former girlfriend still a lesbian or does her sexual ID change as well to heterosexual?" As a man who has been in a relationship for 10 years with a trans woman who transitioned 5 years ago, I feel qualifed to answer. My answer is this. If you read this whole article and your only response is this question, you missed the entire point. All labels are works of fiction designed to simplify by omission to facilitate understanding but at all points they break down when pushed hard enough. When I say that I crossed the street I can generally omit the reality that the earth is spiraling through an expanding universe in a dozen complex ways. So it is with gender. Transgender people raise the uncomfortable notion that gender is part mutable hardware and part public performance art. The difference, in a nutshell, is the difference between arithmetic and calculus.

Its lucky Sonny didn't know all this.,.I think he would have been crushed...

I commend Chaz for coming out with all this info - first it will give comfort and hope to others that struggle with this issue. To go thru life fighting yourself each day, trying to sort out each and every aspect of your life, puzzling those that care but are confused since you are pretending to be one thing when you are another must be a torture . I am a retired nurse and later an administrator of rehab centers and have witnessed so many struggling, in pain and listened to the unkind comments issued about them by stupid uncaring souls. I wish him well and hope Cher's suffering will also be resolved and to heck with the world - her son is alive and achieving his happiness - life is short enjoy Thank you

Thank God for the internet -- where the haters can keep on hating, where the cowards can make statements that they would never make in front of another person, where the people who can make judgment on others yet are equally, if not more, "sinful" if they read and embrace the entire Bible, where the people with low self-esteem can trash other people and feel good about themselves, where people can continue to spew their filth without a care in the world how others are affected by their ignorance, and where the uneducated don't make use of this technology to understand and expand their minds (or lack thereof).

Best of luck and a joyful life to Chaz and Jenny, and to Cher as she goes through her own "coming-out" and grieving process.

How can you be "a man" when you don't have a penis? Get the surgery-loose weight- get a job and quit living off the fact that Sonny and Cher were/are your parents.

Imagine if all of us acted on what "feels good?"This is not rocket science, if you have a vagina you are a woman and.............we know the rest. I do not agree, I don't hate the person just the choice he/she has made. We all make horrible choices and I tell you I am sure she is not happy or content. You have to search within and ask God to guide you so you may understand why you are feeling the way you do. She is not attracted to men, so guess what stay alone. Too much radical change, she will not be happy, she is running from something else.

As a former lesbian woman in love with a man who is no longer trans( his transition is complete and no longer feels the need to identify himself other than the heterosexual male that he is) the answer to the what is the girlfriend now….I live a total straight girls life and I am blessed for having a man in my life who understands me and loves me for me…even if I was a butch/stud lover before and doesn’t judge me for my gay-ness…he just accepts me for me. Out of respect of my life with him...I am a hetro woman who is in love with a man. Period.

 
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