Chaz Bono: The complete guide to growing up famous, coming out of the closet and becoming a man

Imagine yourself in the following scenario:

You are born with blond hair and blue eyes. Everyone tells you how nice you look, how that shirt brings out your eyes, how your hair just glistens in the sun!

But when you look in the mirror, that’s not who you expect to see looking back at you.
You see yourself with brown hair, and dark eyes.
It’s confusing, but you figure they must know better than me.

You grow older, and with each day that feeling of unease deepens, until eventually you can’t stand being in your own skin. You talk to people about it, but they look at you like you are crazy.

Until one day, you see a movie about a child with brown hair and eyes who believes he has blond hair and blue eyes. He gets beat up, ridiculed, and tormented and at that moment, you realize…

You are not alone.

Meet Chaz

Chaz Bono, born Chastity Sun Bono, is the biological daughter of pop icons Cher and Sonny Bono.

After several years of being outed as a lesbian by the tabloid press, Bono publicly self-identified as such in a cover story in a leading American gay monthly magazine, The Advocate in 1995.

She since went on to be the author of two books Family Outing: A Guide to the Coming Out Process for Gays, Lesbians, and Their Families in 1998 and The End of Innocence, a memoir in which she discusses her outing, music career, and partner Joan’s death from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

In 2008, at 39, Chastity realized something very important, she wasn’t just a lesbian, she was in the wrong body entirely.

Bono began a series of surgeries in 2009 to become male.

He has been quite open about the process, documenting his journey in a film on OWN (The Oprah Winfrey Network). In Becoming Chaz, Bono reveals that:

[He] was a male trapped in a female shell for as long as he can remember. Growing up as Sonny and Cher’s adorable golden-haired daughter in a body he felt wasn’t his own was a crucible it took years to transcend. Now, as he undertakes gender reassignment, he’s bravely decided to share the process on camera.
Becoming Chaz invites us along on Chaz’s remarkable journey of transformation. As hormone shots give way to top surgery, down-to-earth, unflappable Chaz beams with a sense of liberation and goes public with his story to put a face on a misunderstood issue.

Chaz says there are still many people who disagree with his controversial decision. “I guess it’s been a little more of an issue than I expected, but part of that is that the media loves a controversy, so it gets perpetuated,” he told reporters.

Most recently, Chaz has written a New York Times Bestseller memoir entitled Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man.

The Long and Winding Road

The process of gender reassignment surgery,  more commonly referred to as a “sex change operation,” is highly complex and lengthy. The process usually has five steps:

  • Diagnostic assessment
  • Psychotherapy
  • Hormone therapy
  • Real-life experience
  • Surgery to change genitalia and other sex characteristics

A transgender person begins by consulting a mental health professional who performs sessions of psychotherapy and formulates a diagnosis.

To become a candidate for gender reassignment surgery, an individual must first be diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder (GID).  This is defined as a conflict between a person’s actual physical gender and the gender that person identifies himself or herself as.

The person experiences significant discomfort with the biological sex they were born.

Getting Ready

Male hormones, androgens, are given to biological females transitioning to male. Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone-blocking agents are given to biological males transitioning to female.

This causes the development of many of the desired secondary sexual characteristics, such as breast or beard growth. Hormones can be taken orally, by injection or transdermally (a patch).

The “real-life” phase of the process immerses the individual into life as his or her preferred gender.

The individual must maintain full or part-time employment (or attend school full or part-time). They must also legally change their name to a gender appropriate one and clearly and openly state as to which gender they would prefer to be associated.

If, after 12 months of continuous and successful hormone therapy and Real-Life Experience, the individual successfully completes all the steps, are they then eligible for genital surgery, but there’s still one more requirement.

In order to actually undergo the surgery, they still require two letters of recommendation (such as one from their mental health professional and one from the hormone-prescribing physician).

Surgical options

The series of surgeries for trans men (female becoming a male) is different than trans women (male becoming female).

Phalloplasty is the construction or modification of a penis. An erectile prosthesis is needed to achieve erection and there is significant risk of loss of erogenous sensation.

The surgery is long and can take 8-10 hours.

Metoidioplasty is the less risky alternative to phalloplasty. Taking testosterone, the clitoris enlarges, over time, to an average of 4–5 cm.

This is because the clitoris and penis are developmentally similar organs. The enlarged clitoral tissue is  moved forward to more closely approximate the position of a penis. The surgery itself is also considerably shorter, taking only 2–3 hours. It is also usually less expensive.

Chaz had undergone a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus/womb) in 2005, but this was done because of endometriosis. In September 2009, he underwent “top surgery”- surgery to remove his breasts.

At the present time, he is still undecided as to whether to have bottom surgery. “To me the options of bottom surgery aren’t that great, considering the time, money, and pain you have to go though”.

In May 2010, Bono legally changed his gender and name.

Dancing with the Stars

Two weeks ago, the new cast of Dancing with the Stars was announced, and Chaz Bono was among them. Being the show’s first transgender contestant, Chaz, and his partner, dancing pro Lacey Schwimmer, have been one of the most buzzed-about couples in the show’s history.

Conservative groups began to call for a boycott of the show.

The American Family Association says Chaz and ABC are pushing a political agenda, and it could harm families.

Spokesperson Monica Cole  stated: “We will not be able to watch the show with Chaz on there. This is going to be very confusing for children. And should not be included in their cast.”

Mama Cher quickly came to her son’s defense on Twitter:

Chaz is Being Viciously Attacked on Blogs & Message boards about being on DWTS! This is Still America right ? It took guts 2 do it

Chaz Bono’s inclusion on DWTS is a courageous move on his part. Despite what he has been through, he is not going to spend the rest of his life hiding under a rock.

Chaz proves that being different, doesn’t have to mean being afraid.
That standing up for what you believe in, no matter what the odds or obstacles, is the only way to live.
That being true to yourself, regardless of who may doubt you, is not only necessary, it’s your right.

And who knows, maybe he’ll turn out to be a really good dancer….

If you, or anyone you know may be struggling with Gender Identity Disorder, there are a number of resources available to you, but here’s a place where you can start:

Resounding Health Casebook on Gender Identity Disorder

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.


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