Chaz Bono: Living Life for All of Us

ChazBonoFor the past couple of weeks, the media have been abuzz with reports of Chastity/Chaz Bono’s transition from female to male.

Everyone from the major news agencies to the LGBT press to entertainment shows and blogs have gotten in on the action:

Chaz’s mom, Cher, the entertainer and actress known infamously by her singular name,  says she respects the courage of the planned surgical transition. In a statement to US Magazine she said:

“Chaz is embarking on a difficult journey, but one that I will support. I respect the courage it takes to go through this transition in the glare of public scrutiny, and although I may not understand, I will strive to be understanding. The one thing that will never change is my abiding love for my child.”

In my opinion, this is one of those statement that damns with faint support: “… although I may not understand, I will strive… I’ll love you no matter what you do… because I hold judgment but will rise above it…”. Of course, I’m paraphrasing here, but that’s what her statement reeks of.

For crap’s sake, Cher. You’ve lived an absolutely outrageous life filled with men, plastic surgery, tattoos, bare-assed videos, skimpy costumes, and wigs. Chaz’s gender identity and sexual orientation isn’t a wig or a Bob Mackie dress that comes off and on at will. This is the kid you thrust into the public eye, who is now struggling to make the best of it. Chaz’s internal work will be public – not only by choice – and primarily because of you.

After all you’re the one who once told ABC about your plastic surgeries and body modifications:

“If I want to put my tits on my back, it’s nobody’s business but my own.”

And yet, your child’s personal business belongs to the world because you set those wheels in motion years ago.

And most remarkably, while Cher has been celebrated for her style and outrageousness, and for her music and acting career, none of it may equal the societal contributions of her daughter, now her son.

Chaz Bono has been marked in the media as a “celebrity child,” and indeed, his early life was a creation of his parents and their publicity machine. He came out to his parents at 18, and in 1990 was publically outed without permission by Star, and then by choice on the cover of The Advocate. He went on to author two books, Family Outing: A Guide to the Coming Out Process for Gays, Lesbians, and Their Families (1998) tells the story of his own coming out, and also the stories of other gay and lesbian people, and The End of Innocence: A Memoir which discusses his outing, music career, and late partner Joan’s death from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

He created a band and had a brief musical career with the band “Ceremony”.

Born into the spotlight, Chaz has made the best of it, using that platform to work for the rights of LGBT people everywhere. He has written for The Advocate, been a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), campaigned for Democratic candidates, worked against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and has worked for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).

In 1996, speaking at an HRC event:

I can’t begin to imagine Chaz’s life. His dad, Sonny Bono, was a entertainer-turned-Republican congressman, who died in a ski accident.

His mother may be the femme-fatale most often imitated by drag queens around the world.

Can you imagine coming out in a community where everywhere you turned you heard your mother’s voice, or saw men dressed like her, doing campy imitations of her gestures? It’s a nightmare of mythic proportions.

And, yet Chaz Bono has survived all of this and more. He’s been determined to carve out his own path – authentically – raising the visibility of the LGBT community along the way. And for that we owe him a debt of gratitude.

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2 responses to “Chaz Bono: Living Life for All of Us

  1. While I agree with you that Chaz has done so much for the LGBT community, and is owed a debt of gratitude, I think you’re being a little hard on Cher. You seem ready to jump down her throat for putting her child in the spotlight and for being honest about the fact that she “doesn’t understand”, saying it “reeks of” “hold[ing] judgment but [rising] above it.” But she doesn’t understand. How could she? How could you? How could I? How could anyone who’s not going through it, really? You might understand in the abstract, but you don’t understand what it’s like to feel like you’re really male and trapped in a woman’s body. I don’t think Cher’s statement had judgment in it at all. She’s a mother who loves her child. She doesn’t get what her kid is doing, but she supports his right to be himself. Do you need her to lead a parade to REALLY show she cares?

    As for thrusting her kid into the spotlight, it was the family business! Both she and Sonny were entertainers and (God forbid!) they wanted their daughter to be a part of it. Would you blame husband and wife doctors for encouraging their child toward science classes and medical school? Chaz didn’t have to stay in the spotlight, but he chose to.

    I work for a public relations company. It is VERY easy to not get media coverage – yes, even when you’re a big celebrity. Nine times out of 10, paparazzi and other media are alerted to things by managers or publicists. If someone really wants to be under the radar, they always can be. People are fickle and will quickly forget. This is why most celebrities, while calling out the paparazzi (and I agree that they go too far a lot of the time), don’t really crawl under a rock. In fact, they take their issues with the paparazzi TO THE PRESS. Because they don’t want to be forgotten.

    • Maybe then, what Cher needs is better PR assistance, so her statements don’t sound parsed.

      Family Outing detailed her discomfort with Chaz’s initial coming out, and Cher’s relationship to the LGBT community has been one of an icon first (let’s face it, because of her campiness, not because of her daughter) and a supporter second. I don’t think she needed to pretend to understand what Chaz is feeling, but I think it was a weak statement that didn’t come off as very supportive.

      Cher has been handed the opportunity to lead a parade, so what better time and who better to do it?

      After all, Chaz took the opportunity to work against DOMA even while her father was working to promote it.

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