Fresh off a run on Dancing with the Stars, in which he was widely praised for his audience appeal, Chaz Bono is gearing up for the premiere of Being Chaz, a new documentary special on OWN. Viewers may be familiar with Becoming Chaz, a documentary that chronicled his physical transition. The new special follows Chaz as he jumps into his new life – and his girlfriend Jen Elia as she adjusts to having a boyfriend. It also shows Chaz’s preparation for Dancing with the Stars and the insane swirl of bile and death threats that followed the announcement that he would be on the show.
As if he isn’t already busy enough, Chaz took some time to talk to the media in a group interview about all that and then some.
On the difficulties of participating in a documentary about your own life:
I think the second one was actually a little bit harder, just because of the way we made it. We kind of had less time and so we packed more into it. And we shot it during kind of a crazy time in my life. …I didn’t anticipate a lot of the stuff that happened during that time would happen. …The thing about any kind of documentary is that you never know what’s going to happen in your life during any period and that there are cameras there and they’re going to catch it. I think that’s the great thing about the medium, but it can also be a hard thing for the subject.
And, indeed, it can also be hard on the subject’s relationship, as Chaz was all too well aware:
It’s hard for me to explain… Jen and I are really different people, and we always handled things really differently. And I think that Jen kind of started to feel some pressure in what was happening with my life and kind of my public profile getting a little bigger and also with, you know, having cameras and stuff on us.
Bono admitted that his own life in the spotlight as the child of an entertainment power couple made his decision to transition even more difficult for a long time:
If I could have done it privately, I would have, and probably would have done it a long time ago. But when I finally did get comfortable, I wanted to tell my story my way and I didn’t want other people to tell it for me. I wanted to try and help people in the process.
Bono is aware of his position as the public face of the transgender community, but is careful not to put himself forward as the unofficial trans spokesman:
I always just really try to tell my story and put forth my experiences, because the trans community is very diverse and encompasses so much. So I could never — one person could never represent our community. I certainly couldn’t do that. I just try to share my experience and I hope that it’s relatable and understandable to people. …A lot of what I do is just to try and open up discussions on what it means to be transgender. I think there are so many misconceptions of that in our society and there are, you know, not a lot of transgender people in comparison to, say, gay and lesbian people. So there’s not as much information.
One of my goals is to keep being out there and to keep the discussion moving forward.
Chaz pointed out that visibility can make all the difference:
When I was a kid, I knew about gay and lesbian people and that was really helpful to me to a certain extent, but I had no idea anything about being transgender, or that it was even an option that one could transition. So, in any forum, if I had grown up with being able to see transgender people on television — we didn’t have the internet back then, you know — that would have really been the thing that would have made a big difference for me.
(To help with that, Chaz did note that he made an It Gets Better video.)
Bono’s advice to trans kids who may not have support at home:
You know, I get these types of questions a lot, and it’s so hard, because it’s such an individual issue. And I guess the only thing I can say is to use the Internet to try and get more information and to try to find some support and some resources. But it’s, you know, it is really hard.
Thank God there are a lot of parents who are starting to deal with this issue with their kids and support their kids. Unfortunately, there are other kids and other parents who don’t get it at all. And I would never want to give advice that would put a child or a teen in danger. It wouldn’t make sense.
On his relationship with the lesbian community since his transition:
I can only really comment on how it’s changed with individuals — lesbian friends and my new life. It hasn’t changed at all. I have a lot of very close friends that are lesbians. And I haven’t lost any of them as a result of transitioning.
So, it’s hard. I mean, I don’t really have a gauge of the larger lesbian community, but I think that probably there’s just still not a full understanding that sexual orientation and gender identity are two different things. And I kind of mistakenly thought when I was younger and coming out that I was a lesbian because I knew about gay and lesbian people. I grew up around gay and lesbian people. You know, that was very comfortable and something I understood.
And later in life, I realized that wasn’t what the issue was, but it was an issue of my gender identity.
So, my transition was in no way a slap in the face to the lesbian community or anything. I just realized that wasn’t what the issue was until I didn’t get the comfort that somebody who is a lesbian would get by coming out.
On the biggest misconception about the transgender community:
Well, I think first of all, there are a lot of people who don’t understand the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity. So I think that would be the first one — people thinking that transgender people are just like gay people, only more so. And then I guess the other thing would be that there’s some type of mental illness that is behind feeling uncomfortable with your physical gender.
The most difficult obstacle to transitioning:
I think that the hardest thing for me was to stop worrying about everybody else’s needs and start worrying about my own, really. You know, I’ve always been the classic people-pleaser, which is not a good way to go through life. I had so many fears about what people would think of me if I transitioned and I it took me a long time to work through all of that, but I was finally able to do that, and it made all the difference in my life.
His relationship with his father’s side of the family:
I’m very close to his side of the family. (Mary) and I and my brother and sister — I see them as much as I possibly can, and they have been just incredibly supportive of me from the time I told them that I was planning on transitioning. They were there for me 100%. So, we’re very tight with them.
On his mother Cher’s coming to terms with his gender:
I don’t think it’s ever been about changing her mind, or that she has any kind of fundamental difficulty with transgender people in any way. I think it’s just difficult for parents. I think for my mom, she had ideas of who her daughter was going to be even before I was born. And so it’s a tremendous loss for parents, and there’s a grieving process that happens. And then, I think, over time things become better and more comfortable. And so nothing specifically happened. Time has happened.
On the wave of bigotry that was inspired by his entry on Dancing with the Stars:
I didn’t watch any of that or look at any of those things. I’ve been doing LGBT activism for a long time now — since 1995 — and I’ve gone up against people like Jerry Falwell and stuff like that.
So dealing with that kind of controversy isn’t really new to me and it was pretty easy to let that roll off my back. I think that any pressure I felt was pressure because of the support that I was getting. I got so much support and response to that that I did feel a lot of pressure and I wanted to do a good job because I knew people were supporting me and there for me, and I didn’t want to let anybody down.