BOOK FEA­TURE

Chaz Bono talks Cher, child­hood and tran­si­tion

NOW Magazine - Pride - - Contents - By SUSAN G. COLE

if you’re look­ing for hun­dreds of pages of play-by-play, minute-byminute ac­counts of the hor­mone treat­ments, the breast re­duc­tion and ev­ery­thing else in­volved in gen­der re­as­sign­ment, then Chaz Bono’s book, Tran­si­tion, won’t do it for you.

Three-quarters of the new re­lease is mem­oir: rec­ol­lec­tions of his child­hood, his years as the les­bian Chastity and his achingly dif­fi­cult decision to tran­si­tion.

“I wanted to il­lus­trate how this was an is­sue my whole life. I don’t want peo­ple to think this was a rash thing,” he says on the phone [Blue­tooth, I’m sure], driv­ing down the L.A. Free­way. “They have to un­der­stand that when your gen­der doesn’t fit your body, you feel that when you’re re­ally young.

“And of course for the au­di­ence, there’s an in­ter­est in what it was like to grow up with my par­ents.”

Bono is, of course, the son of Sonny and Cher, the per­form­ing duo who topped the record charts in the 60s and went on to host TV’s popular Sonny & Cher Show. Sonny died in 1998, long be­fore Chastity be­came Chaz.

Cher, on the other hand, has been deeply con­flicted about the de­ci­sions Chaz has made. She openly ques­tions him and, in the doc­u­men­tary Be­com­ing Chaz that screened at Hot Docs, ex­presses her con­cern about what he’s putting his body through.

I’m as­tounded by the im­mense good­will Bono shows to­ward his mother, both in the book and dur­ing our con­ver­sa­tion. It’s as if his per­sonal jour­ney has helped him find a deep com­pas­sion he’d never felt be­fore.

“A lot of peo­ple don’t cut her the slack she de­serves. Be­cause she’s a

“A lot of peo­ple don’t cut her the slack she de­serves. Be­cause she’s a gay icon, she’s got to be cool about ev­ery­thing.”

gay icon, she’s got to be cool about ev­ery­thing,” he says. “But your child tran­si­tion­ing is tough for any par­ent, and many dis­own their kids and wash their hands of them.

“I never felt that I was go­ing to lose her, or that she wasn’t go­ing to be there for me. I just knew she was hav­ing a hard time, and I can al­low her to have that space. One of the things that fi­nally helped me to start my tran­si­tion was be­ing able to let go of hav­ing to make it okay for peo­ple. I had to take care of my­self.”

Fair enough, but Cher’s con­cern about Bono’s phys­i­cal safety strikes me as ab­surd, given what she’s done to her own body. She’s so desperately afraid of grow­ing old that she’s re­moved ribs, for ex­am­ple, and has had count­less cos­metic pro­ce­dures de­signed to keep her for­ever young.

When I sug­gest to Bono that his mother’s be­ing a hyp­ocrite con­cern­ing his phys­i­cal changes, he’s quick to de­fend her.

“You’re not the first per­son to make that point, but I never sensed a con­tra­dic­tion,” he ex­plains. “There’s such a dif­fer­ence be­tween cos­metic pro­ce­dures and this. It’s not like I didn’t like my nose.

“Any fears of what I was do­ing were reg­u­lar parental fears about not know­ing about this field of medicine,” he goes on. “I feel safe un­der a doc­tor’s care, but it is a new form of medicine. The stud­ies haven’t been done – they’re only start­ing now – but I feel com­fort­able. Be­sides, even if it is risky, the pay­off is worth it.”

The pay­off he’s re­fer­ring to is the feel­ing of re­lief and com­fort he’s ex­pe­ri­enc­ing now that he’s in the body he was meant to have.

That sen­sa­tion be­gan as soon as he started tak­ing testos­terone.

“It felt as if some­thing that had been miss­ing from my body for it to work prop­erly – phys­i­cally and on an emo­tional level – fi­nally got added,” he re­calls. “I com­pare it to us­ing an anti-anx­i­ety med­i­ca­tion, the kind you use daily. You’re not sup­posed to feel any­thing, ex­cept that you feel so much bet­ter.

“I was on a level play­ing field with oth­ers for the first time. For so long, ev­ery­thing was tainted by this is­sue. I hadn’t re­al­ized how dif­fi­cult my life had been un­til I had some­thing to com­pare it to.”

In the book, Bono de­scribes the dif­fer­ence be­tween how he was treated be­fore he tran­si­tioned – when he came across as what he calls “a gen­der vari­ant” – and the way peo­ple re­act to him as a man.

When they couldn’t fig­ure out his gen­der at first glance, peo­ple kept their dis­tance and were wary. Now, in his ob­vi­ously male state, he’s met with more friend­li­ness, and a sim­ple hand­shake isn’t nearly as fraught.

I tell Bono that the sec­tion in Tran- sition deal­ing with that phe­nom­e­non makes me think that, as we support trans peo­ple mak­ing de­ci­sions about their bod­ies, it’s just as im­por­tant that we build a new world where gen­der flu­id­ity is more ac­cepted.

The re­cent hys­te­ria over the so­called gen­der­less baby Storm – and the rage ex­pressed to­ward the child’s par­ents – speaks to the gen­der strait­jacket we’re all ex­pected to wear. Been to a baby store lately? The

Chaz Bono

Cher and Chastity

Sonny Bono and Chastity

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