Chaz Bono talks gender, celebrity, Cher
Published: Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 01:04
Though he said his body isn’t perfect, Chaz Bono told students and community members Tuesday that he likes what he sees in the mirror.
“Like everybody who looks in the mirror, I say ‘I wish that was tighter or smaller,’” he said. “But I feel very comfortable. I look like myself.”
Bono, the son of celebrities Cher and Sonny Bono, is a LGBT advocate, writer and performer, and gave the last lecture of the University Lecture Series (ULS) in the Marshall Student Center Ballroom to about 600 people Tuesday, focussing on his experience growing up physically female and transitioning to a male.
“The vast majority of people’s sex and gender identities are in alignment, and I think people really start to think it’s one thing,” he said. “I always ask people: Just take a second and imagine what you would feel if you just woke up one morning and felt the same way you do now, but were in the body of the opposite sex and how uncomfortable it would be having people treat you as one sex when, inside, you know without a shadow of a doubt that you are another.”
Growing up, Bono said he was attracted to “all things kind of male or masculine.”
“From my taste in friends, to clothing, toys, just all of that stuff was really oriented in that kind of way,” he said.
Once his puberty began, Bono said he felt like his body was betraying him. Though it was “confusing,” he said the one thing he knew for certain was that he was attracted to girls.
Bono said he realized he was transgender at age 30 or 31 and told his mother three or four years later. While he said Cher was initially supportive, her commitment was tested after Bono started hormone therapy.
“We had a really good conversation and she was very supportive of it,” he said. “And then when the physical changes started to happen, it became very real, and I think difficult for her. And I think she probably went through a long grieving process that I hear a lot of parents of transgender people go through.”
Eventually, his family came around and when he was 40 years old, Bono said he began his physical transition to male.
“I’m happy, I’m healthy, I’m thriving in life,” he said. “It was so clear that that was the issue that was making my life so difficult, but until you have something to compare it to, I think it’s difficult for people to see. So don’t be afraid to go ahead and transition and let your family members catch up, because sometimes that will do the trick as well.”
Before the transition, Bono said he did everything he could to deemphasize his breasts.
“I knew having top surgery was really profoundly going to change my life,” he said. “And even with all that information nothing could prepare me for how incredibly freeing and wonderful I would feel once that surgery was done.”
But Bono said some of the physical changes he encountered after beginning the transition process were less welcome than others.
“I couldn’t wait to grow (facial) hair and I didn’t anticipate, like, back hair,” he said. “And it’s one of those, ‘Be careful what you wish for’ things.’”
The entire lecture followed a question-and-answer format. Questions submitted to the ULS board prior to the lecture through Facebook were read aloud by Brent Grunig, a graduate assistant in the Center for Student Development, and live questions were asked of the audience.
While his journey from a man born in a female body and the name Chastity to man in a male body named Chaz shaped Bono’s life immeasurably, he said his experience on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” also played a crucial role in his life.
“I think when people think ‘I can’t imagine doing that, I would be scared,’ and think somehow for the people doing it, it’s less scary, it’s not,” he said. “We just somehow figure it out. I’ve never been so terrified to do anything like I was that first show, dancing on live TV in front of 20 million viewers. There’s nothing in life that prepares you for that. Something about conquering that big of a fear, I left the show feeling like I could do anything after that. That was just an unbelievable gift to me.”