Join Email List | About Us | AMERICAblog News
More about: DADT | DOMA | ENDA | Immigration | Marriage | 2012 Elections

Hero of the Month: Chaz Bono

| Reddit | Tumblr | Digg | FARK

Chaz (formerly Chastity) Bono is probably the most well-known person ever to transition. Doing so publicly must be difficult and uncomfortable. Yet Chaz has embraced the spotlight he was forced into by his family’s celebrity, rather than attempt to avoid it. As he explained during a recent appearance on Piers Morgan’s show, if he did not take control and tell his own story, someone else would. So he used the platform he had been thrust onto to bring greater understanding to his experience as a transman. In the process, he is helping to generate understanding for transpeople everywhere. He made the documentary “Becoming Chaz,” wrote an autobiography entitled “Transition,” and has been making the rounds publicizing his story.

Most of the public has little understanding of trans issues and is focused on surgery, genitalia and hormones. In Chaz’s case, they also seem obsessed with the reaction of his famous mother, Cher. He has handled this type of attention with grace and equanimity.

Chaz has shown courage by speaking so openly and candidly about the most intimate details of his body and personal life. I cannot imagine allowing your breast surgery to be filmed and broadcast, fielding questions about bottom surgery on a national talk show, or having family dynamics with your mother and girlfriend be examined so closely on camera. In this era of reality TV some people relish the publicity such exposure brings, but Chaz does not seem to be a publicity hound.

Chaz also confronts an entirely different kind of burden. Because he is the best known representative of the trans community, many people assume he speaks for everyone within it and are disappointed when his experience doesn’t match their expectations. Some have complained that he essentializes gender, i.e., reinforces the notion that one’s sex determines one’s gender and that both are an either/or proposition. See, for instance, this thought-provoking review of “Becoming Chaz” followed by equally thought-provoking comments.

I sympathize with this criticism. Chaz does play into gender stereotypes. In an ABC interview, he says that since undergoing hormone therapy he can’t bear to be in a group of women talking “endlessly” and must get up and “do something physical.” As a feminist who is most comfortable in the androgynous realm of the gender-expression spectrum, I know how gender-based stereotypes have been used to prevent women from attaining equal rights. To the extent that anyone, transsexual or otherwise, embraces such stereotypes, I struggle with fully embracing that person.

Nevertheless, I admire Chaz and don't want to overstate this criticism. In the ABC interview mentioned above, he takes pains to point out that even though he himself is happiest in a gender-conforming role, he does not think it is right that other people are pressured to conform when doing so is not consistent with their nature.

Chaz is handling his transition with dignity and confidence. He strikes me as someone who is very much trying to speak from his own experience and not anyone else’s. If the best way to open hearts and minds is to share your experience and your humanity with others, then Chaz is opening a lot of them. He seems happy. Good for him.

blog comments powered by Disqus