Chaz Bono Mans Up
The child of superstars Sonny and Cher opens up to The Advocate about his transition to become a man, his new memoir, OWN documentary, and the real story through his eyes.
“I’ve learned that if you don’t tell your own story, someone else will, and they’ll do a bad job of it,” Bono explains.
In a new in-depth, emotional cover story for Advocate, Bono discusses in detail his road to transformation, his feelings, and his inspiring journey that enabled him to become the man he always knew he was inside.
Get a special look at this must-read interview below:
By Jeremy Kinser
Photos by Patrick Fraser
“All I can do is share my experience, and you’re either going to relate to it or not,” Chaz Bono says firmly. The 42-year-old is sitting on the edge of a deep leather sofa with his legs crossed, ankle on knee. He’s finally ready, perhaps even eager, to discuss his new book and film after being unable to speak publicly following a lengthy management-imposed media lockdown to heighten the impact of these two tell-all projects.
On May 10 the simultaneous publication of Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man, his perceptive, exceptionally well written memoir (Bono’s third) and broadcast premiere (on the Oprah Winfrey Network) of the bold, unflinching, often very witty film Becoming Chaz, which documents his gender-reassignment surgery, thrust Bono back into the spotlight with which he’s had a love-hate relationship for nearly four decades. Though his demeanor is serious and matter-of-fact, his newfound happiness is also apparent. His face frequently breaks into a beaming grin that his longtime girlfriend, Jennifer Elia, will later describe to me as a smile that can light up a room.
But why did Bono decide to be so public about this most private of transformations? He says he didn’t have a choice. “I’ve learned that if you don’t tell your own story, someone else will, and they’ll do a bad job of it,” Bono says with a smile, surely recognizing the understatement.
His life has been well chronicled by this point. Until two years ago, Bono was widely known as Chastity, the only child from the union of superstar entertainer Cher and the late record producer and singer turned congressman Sonny Bono. While living as a biological female, Bono endured gossip and a tabloid outing before taking control of the story and self-identifying as a lesbian in a 1995 cover story for The Advocate. After coming out, Bono would write numerous articles for this publication, author two books, and eventually become a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign. He also served a controversial stint as entertainment media director for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, during which time he was misquoted in the press as describing Ellen DeGeneres’s sitcom as “too gay.” Bono says he was treated “like a pariah.”
Yet as familiar as many people are with Bono’s life and career, perhaps the biggest revelation in both the book and film is that there are still so many revelations to be found. Among them, Bono divulges that he has few clear memories from early childhood, when America first met him as Chastity. He doesn’t remember the heartwarming spots he filmed on his parents’ television program in the early 1970s, in which he was brought out to wave good night to the audience. He does, however, recall that as a young girl, he wanted to be a boy named Fred.
In the documentary Bono tells of going to bed at night as a little girl and praying that he’d wake up as a boy. In the book Bono also recounts his youthful love of classic horror movies such as Frankenstein and The Wolf Man. Are there parallels between these supernatural tales of transformation and the desires of a young boy trapped in a female body? Bono is momentarily perplexed. “I never even thought of that,” he says. “Maybe subconsciously, but at that point I didn’t even know this type of transformation was possible.”
For more about Bono’s reflections on living openly as a lesbian in the 90s, coming to terms with being transgender, his fears, his trial and error transformation to becoming the type of man he wanted to be, his partner and families’ reactions, read the full interview on Advocate.com now.