Becoming Chaz, a documentary about Chaz Bono’s transition from female to male, recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and on TV’s Oprah Winfrey Network. The film takes viewers inside Chaz’s life with his fiancé, Jennifer Elia, as they navigate working his transition into the life they’ve already created together.
Jennifer took a moment to chat with us about the process of making the documentary, exchanging Facebook messages with partners of other trans people, and her and Chaz’s hairless cats.
AfterEllen: How did you and Chaz come to the decision to do the documentary?
Jennifer Elia: He wanted to get his story out, and he also wanted to do it in a way where he had control over how it was presented. He was going to do it as a news interview or a news program and that didn’t come to pass. He sort of stumbled into it. I don’t remember if he thought of it or if it was suggested to him to possibly do a documentary. We thought about it and we met with some people and we got some documentary films sent to us and really liked World of Wonder’s work so we thought it might be good for us.
AE: Your life is put on camera just as much as Chaz’s is in the documentary. Did you have any conversations with Chaz about how much you wanted to let them into your life?
JE: No, we just kind of went with it. I was aware of the cameras in the beginning. As the documentary unfolded I became less aware of them and they became more normal to me.
AE: What was the experience like making the documentary overall?
JE: It was great! At first it was a little weird and I wasn’t used to it so I think I was performing a little bit in the beginning. Then I got very comfortable with it, and ultimately it ended up being a cathartic experience.
With the filmmakers
AE: What did you find cathartic about it?
JE: Having a camera there is like having another person there in a way, a person that’s not present. During the interviews I felt it was a good way to express how I was feeling.
AE: I’m guessing that making a documentary about Chaz’s transition wouldn’t have been on the table as an option — or at least as feasible an option — had Chaz not been a well-known individual already. Do you feel the documentary turned you into a public figure in your own right?
JE: Well, I think everyone’s story is very valuable. There are many transgender people who are not attached to a famous family, and there are many people in documentaries that are not famous. … I guess it has [made me a public figure] in some ways. I’m kind of going with it. At first the press stuff was nerve-racking for me and I had some anxiety about it, but with practice I got used to it. We are very lucky, we’re very blessed because we got very good feedback on the film so it’s been a great experience for me actually.
AE: Can I ask how you identified your sexuality before Chaz came out and then how you negotiated your identity, if at all, after he came out to you?
JE: I’ve always identified myself as bisexual, and I continue to identify myself that way.
AE: Because Chaz’s transition happened in the public eye, with the documentary, did that affect the way you perceived the transition? And the transition that you went through alongside Chaz?
JE: I definitely had my own process and my own transition. We had to re-learn a lot of things and we had to relearn how to communicate with each other and how to live together under a new dynamic. I learned that as I was living and as that was being filmed.