Chaz Bono will follow up his three-time Emmy-nominated documentary, Becoming Chaz, with a second documentary, Being Chaz, airing this Sunday, November 27 on OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network). The film follows Bono’s life with his fiancé, Jen, as they deal with both death threats and overwhelming support due to his appearance on Dancing With the Stars.
Choosing to expose his life for the cameras has been extremely challenging for both Bono and Jen. “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,” he said in a recent conference call.
Still, giving others a bird’s eye view of his life has given him the opportunity to educate people about what it means to be transgendered and, hopefully, change some minds for the better. Below, the man who was born Chastity Bono 42 years ago talks about his stint on Dancing With the Stars, his famous mom, and the trials of being called a representative of the transgender community.
Bono wanted to have his surgery and transition sooner, but living in the public eye made it more difficult. “For years and years, I was terrified to transition because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do it privately. And 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.”
Bono works with Transforming Family, a Los Angeles group that helps families with trans-children, and he hopes his story will help other transgendered people. But he in no way sees himself as the “spokesperson” for the transgender community. “One person could never represent our community. I certainly couldn’t do that. So, I just try to share my experience, and I hope that it’s relatable and understandable to people.”
Coming out as a lesbian wasn’t what Bono expected. “Sexual orientation and gender identity are two different things. And I kind of mistakenly thought when I was younger that I was a lesbian because I grew up around gay and lesbian people. 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 didn’t realize 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.”
Cher never really had a problem with Bono’s decision to have surgery. “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. So, it’s a tremendous loss for parents, and there’s a grieving process that happens. Then, I think over time, things become better and more comfortable.”
Bono’s family is very supportive, including his brother and sister and Sonny Bono’s family. “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 just 100 percent.”
Bono had a great time on Dancing With the Stars and developed close relationships with the other dancers. But it was scary. “Nothing can prepare you for the sheer terror of dancing live on television in front of 20 million viewers … I left definitely having more confidence in myself than when I started.”
He has never been happier. “It took me a long time to find the courage to just be myself, and I think that a lot of people struggle with that in different forms in being themselves or going for their dreams … When I found the courage to be myself, I actually started to transition. My whole life opened up. For the first time in my whole life, I’m really comfortable and happy.”
Being Chaz airs at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011, followed by another world television premiere special called I Am Jazz: A Family in Transition about a transgendered pre-teen.