As the only child of world-renowned pop duo Sonny and Cher Bono, many of us remember Chaz as their cherub-faced daughter Chastity, blowing kisses to the audience of her parents' top-rated variety television show "Sonny & Cher."
In 1995, Chaz came out as a lesbian after years of tabloid speculation.
But this time Chaz is in control, and on his own volition he has announced that he's legally a man, and he will now appear on the 13th season of "Dancing with the Stars," premiering Sept. 19.
But not everyone is cheering, and ABC is catching some of the fallout.
The "Dancing with the Stars" message board lit up with a tsunami of transphobic remarks about Chaz's upcoming appearance, giving us a window into what this segment of the population confronts:
"HUGE HUGE fan of this show since season two and eagerly await each season to get my dancing/entertainment 'fix'!! But when I heard that Chaz Bono was going to be on, I was sick. Not that I have anything personally again her/him, I just don't want that lifestyle choice continually flaunted in the media esp ABC."
"[T]here are a few women in my office that are very much against having Chaz Bono on the show because he is transgendered."
Because dance contestants are heterosexually paired with a professional dancer, some critics are concerned with which "DWTS" dancer Chaz is coupled with: "Chaz will have to dance with one of the girls because she/he says she/he is a man but chromesomes say different no matter how many surgeries you have."
In the film "Becoming Chaz," a documentary about Chaz Bono's female-to-male (FTM) gender reassignment that aired in May on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, the arduous trek of coming out as transgender was captured.
And the topic of male and female genitalia, not surprisingly, is always front and center in transphobic arguments: "It's just hard for me to get my head around that cute little blonde headed girl that belonged to Sonny and Cher now has a penis."
Chaz told Winfrey that he doesn't want male genitalia. "At this point, I really don't have any plans to do bottom surgery," he said. "I feel really good, I feel like a man now, and I'm really happy."
As Reuters explains, "Transgendered people believe that their gender identity does not correspond to the one into which they were physically born. Many seek surgery or hormones to change their physical gender."
Although the show is about getting high rating by any means necessary, the shock and awe of Chaz appearing in this upcoming season will be a teaching moment for its viewers.
"With both gay and transgender contestants represented on this upcoming season, ABC will send viewers a strong message about the diversity within the LGBT community," said Herndon Graddick, senior of director of programs for GLAAD, in a statement. "At a time when transgender representation in the media is sorely lacking, Chaz Bono joining the cast is a tremendous step forward for the public to recognize that transgender people are another wonderful part of the fabric of American culture. Appearing on such a high-profile show will allow millions of Americans to get to know him in a whole new light."
The general public may not be aware that people who have had sex-change surgery, cross-dressers and people who are gender non-conforming are often targets of violence and biases that force them to live in fear for their safety and suffer the loss of their jobs and shelter.
The annual Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) is an international event memorializing transgender people murdered because of their gender identities or gender expressions. The purpose of TDOR is to raise public awareness of hate crimes against transgendered people and to honor their lives that might otherwise be forgotten.
This event is held every November honoring Rita Hester, a 34-year-old African-American transsexual who was mysteriously found murdered inside her first-floor apartment outside Boston on Nov. 28, 1998. The crime kicked off the "Remembering Our Dead" Web project.
As a matter of fact, many transgender people, because of transphobia and anti-trans violence in this society, feel most comfortable moving about their lives out of the view of the general public. In urban enclaves known for their gang violence, crimes against transgender people often go unnoticed or are seen as lesser crimes.
Many parents of transgender children worry and for sound reasons.
When we see in the documentary that Cher, the gay icon nonpareil, is not as celebratory about Chaz's transition as his close friends and girlfriend Jenny are, it's unnerving. But Cher, in my opinion, comes across more as a frightened parent than as an insensitive transphobic. Worried about the physical and mental toll it will take on Chaz to endure ongoing male hormone shots for the rest of his life, Cher, still using the female pronoun, states, "I'm afraid she's not going to be healthy; I'm afraid it's too much for her."
But Cher understands Chaz's courageous act to transition. "If I woke up tomorrow in the body of a man, I couldn't get to the surgeon fast enough," she stated in the documentary.
Cher is a lucky parent. Her child is alive, well and will soon be flaunting his fancy footwork on "Dancing with the Stars."
But Rita's mother exemplifies the unknown hurt and quiet grief that a myriad of parents endure, which is why we have TDOR. I won't soon forget the vigil we held for Rita in 1998, because I am still haunted by the words of Hester's mother: "I would have gladly died for you, Rita. I would have taken the stabs and told you to run. I loved you."
With what has now amounted to a tsunami of criticism for having Chaz in this season's lineup, I applaud "Dancing with the Stars" for not wavering, and Chaz for stepping out.
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