The long awaited film Becoming Chaz, a documentary about Chaz Bonâ€™s female-to-male (FTM) gender reassignment aired this week on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. It captures not only the arduous trek of coming out as transgender, but it also captures the universal experience we all face of coming out as true selves.
As the only child of the world renown pop duo Sonny and Cher, many of us remember Chaz as their cherub face daughter Chastity, blowing kisses to the audience of her parents top-rated variety television show Sonny & Cher.
In 1995 Chaz, still Chastity, was outed as a lesbian. But now Chaz is in control, and on his on volition has announced he is now legally a man.
But our trans males and females who have the courage to come out, sadly and too often, receive more criticism, sarcasm and ridicule about which they say they are than praise.
For example, in New York Timesâ€™ reporter Cintra Wilsonâ€™s article, â€śThe Reluctant Transgender Role Model,â€ť she attempts to comprehend the enormity of Chazâ€™s courage, and perhaps applaud his perseverance to undergo surgery. As a cisgendered person (one whose gender matches his or her biological sex), Wilsonâ€™s remark is, nonetheless, at best, insensitive and, at worst, insulting.
â€ś...you come away with a palpable understanding of how unendurably he must be suffering in his body to want to have his own sex characteristics amputated,â€ť Wilson wrote.
And with the heterosexist assumption that the reason any child who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) might have something to do with inept parenting, Wilson ask these naggingly insulting questions in her article:
â€śCould it be possible that the fact that Chaz is now a man is somehow Cherâ€™s fault? Did the toxic culture of celebrity damage Chastity/Chazâ€™s gender identity? Did Cherâ€™s almost drag-queen like hyper-female persona somehow devour Chastityâ€™s emerging femininity? Could Chazâ€™s transition have been motivated by gender-bent Oedipal revenge? Is he reclaiming the childhood attention his superstar mother always diverted? It is remotely possible that he needed to make the transition because his mom is Cher?â€ť
â€śI donâ€™t think the way I grew up had any effect on this issue,â€ť Chaz told Wilson. â€śThereâ€™s a gender in your brain and a gender in your body. For 99 percent of people, those things are in alignment. For transgender people, theyâ€™re mismatched. Thatâ€™s all it is. Itâ€™s not complicated, itâ€™s not a neurosis. Itâ€™s a mix-up. Itâ€™s a birth defect, like a cleft palate.â€ť
To no oneâ€™s surprise, social critic and self-described dissident feminist Camille Paglia, in a 54-second video by â€śXtraonlineâ€ť that went viral, had to volunteer her scurrilous viewpoint on Chazâ€™s choice to transition as bodily mutilation. Pagilia, also cisgendered, opines that Chazâ€™s unhappy and confusing childhood had nothing to do with him wanting a sex change, but she never states what Chazâ€™s unhappy and confusing childhood was about.
Instead, Pagilia voices her worries, the biggest of which is that such an outrageous act of changing ones gender would gravely influence children who feel born in the wrong body - an adolescent phase she disdainfully states she once experienced but overcame.
And when we see in the documentary Cher - gay icon nonpareil - not celebratory about Chazâ€™s transition as her close friends and girlfriend, Jenny, are, itâ€™s unnerving. But Cher, in my opinion, comes across more as a frightened parent than as an insensitive transphobic. Worried about the toll it will take - physically and mentally- on Chaz to endure ongoing male hormone shots for the rest of her life, Cher, still using the female pronoun, states, â€śIâ€™m afraid sheâ€™s not going to be healthy, Iâ€™m afraid itâ€™s too much for her.â€ť
Watching the documentary you hear Cher pining about what she perceives as the loss of her daughter forever when she stated she should have saved the familiar sound of Chazâ€™s voice on an answering machine before he began male hormone therapy.
But Cher understands Chazâ€™s courageous act to transition. â€śIf I woke up tomorrow in the body of a man, I couldnâ€™t get to the surgeon fast enough,â€ť she stated in the documentary.
While you root Chazâ€™s graphic and â€śno holds barredâ€ť coming out process, Chazâ€™s doesnâ€™t walk away from the documentary without disturbingly turning a few heads in what many would agree are both sexists and misogynist remarks.
â€śJenny and I had to relearn how to be together,â€ť Chaz states in the film. â€śI never really understood women before, to be honest, but I had a tolerance for women that I donâ€™t have now... There is something in testosterone that makes talking and gossiping really grating. Iâ€™ve stopped talking as much. Iâ€™ve noticed that Jen can talk endlessly... I just kind of zone out. I just donâ€™t care!â€ť Chazâ€™s laughs.
Unthinkingly, Chaz buys into the fallacious notions of â€śbiology is destiny,â€ť meaning we are slaves to our genes, and in his case hormones; he, also, is buying into the gender binary of male and female, which would categorically be dismissive of trans males and females.
â€śIâ€™ve learned that the differences between men and women are so biological. I think if people realized that, it would be easier. I would be a great relationship counselor. I know the difference that hormones really make.â€ť
Chaz isnâ€™t realizing that espousing biological essentialist rhetoric heâ€™s categorizing people by a few fixed characteristics and not allowing for change or variation within Godâ€™s human tapestry.
I have to realize as a cisgendered lesbian, this is not my experience, and this is not my story.
But rather I am reminded that the documentary Becoming Chaz is all about Chaz.