First aired on Q (18/05/11)
Chaz Bono has lived a very public life. First introduced to audiences as a blonde three-year-old girl on The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour in the 1970s, Chaz (then Chastity) re-entered the public eye in the 1990s by coming out as a lesbian. Chastity chronicled this ground-breaking journey in her book Family Outing. But as it turned out, her journey was far from over. In 2008, Chastity decided to become a man. Her years-long physical and emotional passage from Chastity to Chaz is the subject of a documentary, Becoming Chaz, and a book, Transition.
Now that Chaz's transition is public knowledge, he's a confident and talkative man, proud to be an advocate for the transgendered. But it wasn't always this way. When he first realized who he was, he was too scared to do anything about it. "I was really terrified of having to do this publicly. There's such a stigma around being transgendered," Bono revealed to Q host Jian Ghomeshi in a recent interview. "It's starting to get better, but people still don't understand this and the idea of going from one minority to an even greater minority was something that really frightened me."
Even though Chaz realized he was different at a very young age, he didn't have the knowledge or language to discuss or understand why he felt so out of place. Instead, he began to focus on his sexual orientation rather than his gender identity and threw himself into the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) community, becoming an activist, speaker and advocate. For a while, Chaz felt comfortable in this role, but quickly realized it wasn't who he was. "At first it was a comforting thought," he admitted. "But the older I got and the longer I spent in the lesbian community the more that I realized that all lesbians still had a strong female identification that I didn't have. That was kind of the thing that made me really start to question what I was, who I was."
Chaz wasn't the only one asking questions. Also affected were his mother, and his long-time partner, Jenny. His famous mother, Cher, struggled when Chaz came out as a lesbian in the 1990s, and this journey was no different. Initially supportive, Cher had a hard time dealing with the changes she saw in Chaz, both in his physical form and in his personality. "She probably had expectations of what her daughter was going to be like before I was even born and I was nothing like a little girl should be like," he said.
As for Jenny? The couple has been in therapy and are dealing with the many changes Chaz's transition brings to the relationship, from having a deeper voice and more aggression thanks to the testosterone, to Jenny's self-identification as a woman moving from a homosexual relationship to a heterosexual one. It wasn't easy. "We really love each other and had a strong connection and we really did the work," Chaz said. "We did the work we needed to do."
Despite these challenges, Chaz couldn't be happier. He finally has a body he enjoys and feels he belongs in, and he wants to share his journey with the world so that others can better understand that sometimes it's not as simple as being a boy or a girl. "For the first time, I feel completely comfortable. I feel at home in my body," he said. "I lived most of my life up in my head and just tried to ignore my body as much as possible. To feel like I am really inhabiting it now is something amazing."
Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man
From Dutton Books:
"At first, America knew the only child of Sonny and Cher as Chastity, the cherubic little girl who appeared on her parents' TV show. In later years, she became famous for coming out on a national stage, working with two major organizations toward LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) rights and publishing two books. And just within the past eighteen months, Chaz Bono has entered the public consciousness as the most high-profile transgender person ever..."
Read more at Dutton Books