I was in the studio audience when Chaz Bono stopped by The Wendy Williams Show. Chaz, Sonny and Cher's kid, has been chatting up all the talk show hosts lately to promote his new memoir Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man and corresponding film Becoming Chaz, which documents his transformation from female to male. The vision of Wendy -- the "drag queen" of the disenfranchised, herself -- and Chaz together on stage got me thinking about the many obstacles that individuals face in the pursuit of their own happiness.
Wendy kicked off the conversation by commenting on Chaz's weight loss, mom, and love relationship before getting down to the business of him being a man. "What's it like to shave your face," she asked. To the studio audience -- who may have never known him as Chastity -- Chaz looked like a man. He sounded like a man. He crossed his legs like a man. Man, oh man, some might've even called him the man: the rich, white one responsible for all of the world's oppression, inequality, and sadness. Yet, he faced down more discrimination in a day than I probably have in my entire life.
Chaz didn't ask for fame. His parents chose that lifestyle. As an adult, he chose to be a spokesperson -- initially coming out in 1995 as a lesbian on the cover of The Advocate. Seemed like the logical explanation at the time, Chaz was attracted to women. Bono then penned two coming out books for lesbians, gays, and their families, worked for the Gays and Lesbians Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), and campaigned for marriage equality -- amongst other activist initiatives. Sixteen years later, Chaz will once again grace the cover of The Advocate as a transgender man for this year's Pride issue. Transgender people have a lot to be proud of in Chaz. He has eloquently responded to everyone from David Letterman telling the age old, "What if I'm a lesbian trapped in a man's body?" joke to his mom rolling her eyes, resigning herself to "one of these days I suppose I'm going to have to start calling her him."
I wasn't above reproach. As a lesbian, I've never quite known how to react when a fellow lesbian became a man. One of the fundamental things that made us "us" vs. "them" was removed. Not just the breasts, the public identification, too. Yet, I was shocked to read responses to Chaz's press tour. Even in communities such as Salon.com that I counted on to think through sophisticated scenarios turned into trolls and haters that would make Tea Partiers raise a glass to toast their vitriol over Mary Elizabeth Williams' article, "Chaz Bono's Complicated Path to Manhood." I found myself getting protective of the FTM Ts in my LGBTQ community -- sure, it can be a mouthful of alphabet soup at times -- but its mine. My family and friends who have stood in for brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers when I needed them most. And Chaz's activist efforts contributed to making my life better.
When Wendy patted Chaz on the hand, saying, "You make an attractive man! Doesn't he audience?" We whooped, whooped on command. Underneath the practiced clapping and cheering, I heard my neighbor ask, "Who he, again?"
Chaz looked past the cameras and bright lights at us. Wendy over her decades in the entertainment business tended to attract survivors. We looked the part: ladies in our Sunday best with some wearing Wendy-esque Louboutins heels and others stilettos with price tags still stuck to the soles. Queens. Men in three-piece suits. Missing teeth. Perfect hair. And moms and daughters from Jersey. We must have been a blur to Chaz, waving and cheering and hoping the camera might swoop over us; so we could point and say, we were there. We saw celebrities, live, in person.
Soon enough we would all file out of The Wendy Williams Show studio back out onto West 53rd Street where still high we'd laugh and replay best of highlights. Slowly the pressures of gender, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, socioeconomic inequality et al would seep back in as we went about our lives. The only thing that made our individual pursuits of happiness equal was that we each had realities that helped and hindered us along the way. Life was what we made of it. Look at Chaz doing him. Wendy doing her. How you doin?
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