Cathy Renna

Chaz Bono Transitions: A Few Memories of His Work at GLAAD

Filed By Cathy Renna | June 12, 2009 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Media, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Capital Pride, Chastity Bono, Chaz Bono, gay pride, pride, transgender

It was announced yesterday to much fanfare that Chaz Bono is transitioning from female to male. The child of Sonny Bono and Cher, Chaz was someone many of us grew up with when his parents hoisted him on stage at the end of their variety show.

But after coming out, Chaz did something many celebrities - or children of celebrities - do not do. He tried to leverage his fame for the community. Initially as a spokesperson for HRC's National Coming Out Day, and then as an entertainment media director for GLAAD.

It was while he was at GLAAD that I got to know Chaz a little, and wanted to share a few of these stories since they can hopefully give the community a better picture of someone we all feel like we know.

First of all, I will be honest and say that many people thought when GLAAD hired him that it was merely an attention getting gesture - but what I came to learn was that Chaz really wanted to make a difference and made some big sacrifices to do that.

It was not always smooth sailing. Chaz was the target of one particularly predatory journalist who convinced him to hypothesize (Media 101 - never hypothesize in an interview...) and was quoted as saying "Ellen" (the sitcom) might not be doing well in the ratings because it was "too gay." Oy.

The NY Post ran with it and I can tell you that we had quite a few days repairing the immediate damage on that one as well as the ire of the community and Ellen herself. But the reality is the problem was more about naivete than anything else, and I still think the writer knew exactly what he was doing.

But to really understand Chaz you need to try and imagine what it might be like to grow up in the spotlight since birth - simply because of your parents. It doesn't help when your Mom is a gay and drag icon and your Dad is a conservative Congressman.

On a trip to Dallas with him, I was appalled at how the crowd at events felt like they owned him, had no boundaries about questions and at one point we finally had to get security to take him out the back of the bar we were in. Chaz was used to it, being tabloid fodder and constantly in the glare of paparazzi - but it was sad to think about how isolating that was for him and how that might make him wary of anyone who seemed remotely interested in working with him.

But I think it became more clear to me that eventually, Chaz would get to a better place. I vividly remember drafting a statement for him when his Dad was killed in a skiing accident and dealing with the media. I remember him telling us he had to leave his house, hiding on the floor of the back seat of his car covered in a blanket so the media outside his home would not realize he was in it. Fred Phelps picketed his Dad's funeral. He loved his father fiercely despite the fact that they had disagreements - and I realized we did maybe have a few things in common.

One moment really stands out for me. On that Dallas trip many years ago, I remember asking him - what is the toughest thing about being the child of two icons? Answer: drag queens who look like your Mom. His ability to say that and laugh was something that made me respect Chaz a lot more and understand a little bit of what was going on.

I admire and respect Chaz for making this decision and wish him all the best.

I know that he has had a lot of privilege - far more than the vast majority of trans people - but life can be challenging in many ways and I hope this step is one that makes Chaz a happier, more whole person.

I also hope he takes this as seriously as when he came out or was outed, depending upon whom you ask.

Either way, this is a story that people will be interested in, and hopefully will be told well.

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Thanks for sharing these memories, Cathy. It gives some insight into the person behind the celebrity.

And best wishes to Chaz.

Cathy Renna Cathy Renna | June 12, 2009 9:20 PM

i have always thought people read way too much into celebrities actions, thinking they now them (my favorite example is Anne Heche, who I will defend for her sexual fluidity (not the alien kookiness) until the day I die

Good luck to Chaz. I can not believe some of the ugly comments on this that I have read on gay blogs. I can not even imagine what it must be like to come to terms on this issue at age 40. I hope that Chaz finds happiness.

I am more than disgusted at all of the transphobia in our own community. It's sickening. Gay people should know better. And those that slur transgendered people (and bisexuals) are just as bad as the anti-gay people who slur us. Bigotry is bigotry and gay people who give into their own ignorance and phobias should be deeply ashamed.

This is one of the nicest comments I have ever read on Bilerico about trans people. You have a beautiful soul.

First of all, congratulations and all the best to Chaz. An as MtF TS, I can really appreciate the diffuculty and struggle you have, are, and will deal with. I would gladly offer you any help I can.
Now then; WTF is with all this negativity? WHY is anyone, especially on LGBT blogs disparaging Chaz? Do they feel he is a "traitor" to the lesbian movement? Bullsh*it. Chaz is being his true self. Why is that wrong? Is it some sort of a crime?
I agree with John. The amount of transphobic prejudice and hate, especially from within the LGBT community itself, is insulting. Even worse, in almost every case it comes purely from ignorance. It is truly sad when the people you need to educate the most are the ones who are your supposed allies.
Pardon the cynic in me, but I feel there is one more thing I need to mention. Chaz has done work before with HRC, so I have to wonder how soon HRC will try to grab him up again, this time as a spokeperson for trans issues, so as to show their "renewed commitment" to transpeople. Yeah, like that will "repair" what HRC did in September 2007 with ENDA...

I just wanted to take a moment to note how Bilerico writers on this immediately switched pronouns, in respect of Chaz's own wishes. Too many gay blogs aren't this trans-friendly.

Angela Brightfeather | June 12, 2009 3:12 PM

Chaz, all the best to you and you have my prayers and wishes for you and your families future as an even more stable on than before.

Thank you for helping to point out one of the big secrets of the GLBT Community. The latent undercarriage of bigoty against Trans people. Don't let it get to you. There have been many who have traveled your path before and there will be many more int he future, despite those in the GLB community who on one hand can fight like crazy for their rights, but think that you should have less right to be Transgender.

Please try to make it to a few conventions and gatherings like SCC and tell your story and unload on our community if you need to. You won't be the first to do that either and you will find that there are people there who totally understand you and what you need to make you happy.

Best of luck to you.

Cathy, you have inadvertently tripped over one of my longstanding pet peeves with your reminiscents of Chaz.

The fact that he didn't know a "Media 101" fundamental says to me that he was not qualified to have been hired by GLAAD in a professional position. If his name wasn't Bono, the odds that he would have been hired as an activist for any GLBT organization was almost nonexistent.

My issue with this is that aside from someone not being able to provide the necessary level of expertise in the role for which he was hired, it took away the opportunity from a seasoned and talented activist from getting a job in the field instead of toiling away as a volunteer doing a defacto full time job for free.

If jobs in GLBT organizations were plentiful, hiring on someone who will bring a little extra cache because of celebrity would be no big deal. But when opportunities are so few and far between (especially in earlier decades), it's unfair and impractical to do so.

I was annoyed when HRC hired Candace Gingrich for the same reason, although pissing off her brother was amusing. And for that matter, I was perturbed when they hired Elizabeth Birch, whose only qualifications were corporate, and never held a single volunteer position, or participated as an activist on any level whatsoever. So much for paying dues, and building leadership upon first hand experience.

Of course by now, our organizations are so large in both budget and staff, that there's no way anyone who doesn't have corporate experience and/or graduate degrees need not apply.

As for Chaz's transition, I wish him all the luck in the world, and congratulate him for the courage to come out. I, myself, came out as FTM when I was 40, having lived my entire adult life as a lesbian. That is, as an out, activist, politically involved, educated, committed, and dedicated lesbian who spent most of my life doing this work.

It occurs to me that Chaz is (as far as I know) the single most famous person to come out and transition in the public eye. As I wish Chaz all the best in his transition, I also hope that he'll use that notoriety to best effect on behalf of transgender equality. We'll take all the help we can get!

Let us not forget that Chaz is going through transition, and how tough that can be.

He owes us nothing. We have no right to ask for his help. If he can help, and wants to, then fine, all help gratefully accepted. But if he wants or needs to avoid the limelight during this difficult period, and afterwards, that's his right too. Anyone who has struggled against this for so long has earnt that and more.

Chaz Bono is not just Chaz Bono, celebrity. He's Chaz Bone, fellow human being. We mustn't lose sight of that.

I have to agree with you on this, Zoe. He owes us nothing. The emotional stress of transitioning is no easier on him than any other trans person going through this journey. If he later on wants to help the community, then that would be nice, but we cannot ask that of him. The only thing I will ask is that he takes care of himself. Where ever life takes him, he will know that he has a new family who wishes him well. There will be room for him at the table when he arrives.

Cathy Renna Cathy Renna | June 13, 2009 8:13 AM

Monica - absolutely right. People need to be in the right place to take on the responsibility of being a visible advocate for any community.....

I remember that trip to Dallas and while you are correct that the crowd had few boundaries, it was also evident that Chaz was unprepared for the spotlight. I know he grew up in a famous household and had the glare of fame on his family but it was rarely aimed directly at him. My hope is that he takes the time for THIS coming out process before undertaking any media tours.

On another note, the comments on some of the other blogs are vile and disgusting. It is evident we have a LOT more work to do in educating the public about transgender issues. It never ceases to amaze me how much hate there is "out there" about our community. Ugh.

So thanks for the bravery Chaz, again.

Thanks for sharing the stories Cathy!

Best wishes to Chaz! It isn't easy to transition as such a public figure.

Just to clarify: I don't mean that Chaz should feel obligated to do anything. I mean, I'd love to interview the guy (my show is coming back very soon, with some cool new features), but until I see Chaz doing media interviews or I learn in some other way that he's interested in talking publicly, I won't be issuing an invitation.

Right now, Chaz is no doubt deep into the process of reorganizing his life to his liking, and the best coming out present the community can give him is the space to do it without breathing down his neck to get out there and play activist.

I just mean that since A) he is a celebrity (enough of one that he came out through a publicist), and B) he is already a well-known LGBT rights activist and author, that if he chooses to continue in those roles I hope he'll choose to do so in a way that promotes the cause of transgender rights and equality.

Late in both hearing this news and reading Cathy's memories. Years back, cannot remember when, I anwsered our phone and it was Chaz, said he, with a "ghost writer" was putting a book together regarding young people coming out and their families and asked if he could include our son's story.
I got our son to the phone and listened when he asked who was Cher. I could hear Chaz laugh over the reciever. Well, our son gave his consent and of all the books written up to that time about this topic, Chaz's book got a great deal of needed attention to young lgbt people and what they faced. Thank you Cathy for such a poignant report and hope Chaz's journey will be more private than the previous one.