Chaz Bono talks Cher, childhood and transition
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
Cher and Chastity
Sonny Bono and Chastity