Film News

Chaz Bono transitions from Chastity to his real self

NEW YORK (Reuters) - “I was forced on stage at age two,” says Chaz Bono, only child of Sonny and Cher, of life with the pop stars’ during their heyday in the 1970s. “I looked retarded.”

Chaz Bono speaks at the 22nd annual Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Media Awards in Los Angeles, California April 10, 2011. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

Fast-forward 40 years. The little blonde girl who traded scripted barbs with her famous parents on their popular TV variety show is legally a man, and finally comfortable in his own skin.

“Before, the person in the mirror didn’t reflect the person that I felt I was,” Bono told Reuters in a telephone interview. “Now when I look in the mirror, what I see is really me.”

Bono went public a few years ago with his female-to-male gender transition, and then several steps further by embarking on an intimate documentary chronicling the process, both at home and in the doctor’s office.

“Becoming Chaz”, which had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January, will be broadcast on Tuesday on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) cable TV channel. Bono has also written a book -- “Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man” -- which is published this week.

“I knew I was going to write the book. I never thought of a film, but it seemed a good way to me to share the story,” Bono said.

The film, mostly shot during 2009-10, opens just before Bono’s trip to San Francisco for breast removal surgery, accompanied by her lesbian girlfriend of five years, Jennie. (At this point Bono was still legally a woman).

During the course of filming, Jennie becomes increasingly uncomfortable, not so much with Chaz’s changing appearance, but with the increasingly assertive behavior, emotional swings and increased sex drives brought on by hormone treatments. She moves into the guest room.

Also less than happy is Cher, the pop diva and gay icon, who candidly speaks in the film of her discomfort and admits that, for a time, she was terrified of even seeing Chaz. His father Sonny Bono died in a skiing accident in 1998.

The worst part, Cher confesses, was the voice change, and “knowing I’ll never hear it (Chastity’s) again.”

They didn’t see each other for the better part of a year, Bono said.

But he is empathetic to his mom’s struggle, not just his own. “She was born in 1946. It’s generational. Younger people just seem to deal with this better,” he said.

And speaking to Cher’s public image, Chaz said, “People don’t look at her as a parent, but she’s an actual person. Especially for a parent, even the most supportive parent, this is a difficult adjustment.”

Throughout the film, Cher repeatedly refers to Chaz as “she.”

Mother and son recently have made a lot of progress, and now see each other as regularly as ever, Chaz said. “She’s doing better with the pronouns for sure,” he told Reuters.

Things are better with Jennie, too. “We’ve been doing great,” he said. “We turned a corner starting around the end of the summer”

In the tradition of a true Hollywood ending, the film concludes at the premiere of Cher’s 2010 film, “Burlesque,” where Bono and his mother have a brief rapprochement.

Since filming ended, Bono has continued with hormone treatments and opted for removing his ovaries. That was a personal and health decision owing to gynecological issues, and which not every female-to-male transgendered person opts for.

He has not pursued genital surgery because he believes the technique is still too nascent.

“Ten years ago to me this (decision to change sex) seemed the most radical thing,” he said, thinking someone would have to be miserable and desperate to even consider it.

“But I didn’t realize how difficult my life was -- until I had something to compare it to.”

Editing by Jill Serjeant