On yesterday’s episode of Oprah, Chaz Bono gave his first television interview and enlightened America about the struggles of coming to terms as a transgender man throughout his life. Chaz, whose documentary Becoming Chaz premieres on Oprah’s OWN Network tonight, described on the show the difficulties of living in a body that didn’t feel like his own.
The show highlighted Chaz’s tumultuous journey through debuting as Sonny and Cher’s two-year-old on TV, his parents’ and society’s expectations, publicly coming out as a lesbian at age 26, dealing with the back-to-back deaths of his father and then-girlfriend, and later a prescription pill addiction — and, finally, coming out as a middle-age man.
Chaz, whose new memoir Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man also comes out today, recounted the slow process of discovering his true identity along the journey. When he was a 13-year-old attracted to women, Chaz presumed he was a lesbian. Although he felt better as a part of the lesbian community, upon reaching puberty, he felt “betrayed by his body,” which was doing the complete opposite of what he felt, and had a “nagging feeling” that he wasn’t fitting in. Still, he came out to his parents when he was 18 and despite constant buzz in the tabloids about his sexuality, Chaz didn’t publicly come out until age 26, for fear of compromising his budding music career.
The former Media Director for GLAAD, Chaz also described the impact of Boys Don’t Cry on American culture and, albeit slowly, his subsequent realization of his identity. The film, in which Hilary Swank depicts the true story of trans teen Brandon Teena, set in motion the discovery that Chaz was not a lesbian. Two years after watching the film, he realized that his feeling more like a man and desires to be a man were not typical of other lesbians in the community — that’s what it was to be transgender.
It took a decade of getting sober, attending therapy and finding courage to finally come out to his mother for the second time and start his transition. While Cher at first had a hard time letting go of the idea of her little girl, she has since made leaps and bounds and has become supportive, using correct pronouns and being sensitive to Chaz instead of Chastity.
Another part of the show included Chaz’s longtime girlfriend, Jenny Elia, who stood by his side before, during and after the transition. They aired a clip of Chaz and Jenny, three years into the relationship, going through the Chaz’s desperately needed process of testosterone shots and top surgery. Jenny describes the emotional repercussions of living with a man who was different from the person she had met at the start of their relationship. She never once considered breaking up with him, though, even in spite of his initially hyper-masculine period, and reveals that now, sex with the more emotionally in-touch, comfortable Chaz is much better.
Chaz has no plans to get genital surgery because to him, that’s not what being a man is about; he’s happier and at peace, and finally feels like his “authentic self.”
Becoming Chaz, which follows Chaz’s journey through his transition from female to male, airs tonight at 8 p.m. on the OWN Network, followed by a discussion of the film on Doc Club, hosted by Rosie O’Donnell. Don’t miss it!