Cher: ’I Respect the Courage’ in Chaz Transitioning to Male

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday June 19, 2009

As previously reported at EDGE Chaz Bono, the child of Sonny Bono and Cher, has decided to move forward with a female-to-male transition.

As the June 11 article noted, Bono's publicist stated that, "Chaz, after many years of consideration, has made the courageous decision to honor his true identity."

Added the publicist, Howard Bragman, "He is proud of his decision and grateful for the support and respect that has already been shown by his loved ones.

"It is Chaz's hope that his choice to transition will open the hearts and minds of the public regarding this issue, just as his 'coming out' did nearly 20 years ago."

The announcement has raised the profile on a poorly-understood phenomenon in which individuals born with the physical characteristics of one gender experience a deep and persistent conviction that they actually belong to the other gender.

Gender identification that contradicts physical characteristics is also sometimes observable in individuals who are born intersex, which is to say, with both male and female genitalia. In such cases, or when a child is born with indeterminate genitalia, surgery is often performed to "assign" the child a specific gender.

Men who identify as females are more commonplace than women identifying as men, and the surgical and hormone treatment options for physical transition from one gender to the other are easier, relatively speaking, for those undertaking to change their male bodies to female in order to correspond with the gender with which they identify.

Celebrities have transitioned before, but this time the public may be more ready to hear about, and learn about, the issue.

Bono's announcement prompted a June 18 article at, which took the opportunity to educate readers on the subject.

The LiveScience article noted that sex, sexuality, and gender are all specific terms relating to specific ideas and meanings, but that the three are often used interchangeably.

Explained Seton Hall Univerity professor C. Lynn Carr, "Sex is the biological," meaning the person's physical characteristics. By contrast, "gender is the social," as in gender roles and expectations: boys wear blue and girls wear pink.

And "sexuality is the erotic," Carr added, meaning whether a person is gay, straight, bisexual, or other.

The public, and even some academics, become confused when thinking about these notions in ways that may be unfamiliar to them. For example, some might assume that a person with a male body seeking to transition to a female physique must be homosexual--which, in their reckoning, means that he's a man who is sexually attracted to other men.

But some males who identify as female and wish to live in a woman's body are actually attracted to women. Does that make them "male lesbians?" At this point, Western society is not as yet equipped semantically or culturally to know quite how to think about such issues. But other societies have long made room for a wider understanding of gender; in some cultures, there can be up to five options for gender identification.

Though blanket assumptions about a person's sexuality based on his or her perception of gender fall far short of true understanding, one thing that transgendered individuals share in common with gays and lesbians is social stigma from others who do not or cannot comprehend what their differences mean, or indeed, accept their differences. Such biased attitudes can make it difficult for a transgendered person to be open and honest about his or her deep-seated and ineradicable sense of gender, in much the same way than many gays and lesbians still remain in the closet out of fear of persecution, a loss of legal equality, or social shunning.

In such cases, it can take considerable courage to lilve openly and honestly, a facty acknowledged by the president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Neil G. Giuliano, who was quoted in the LiveScience article as saying, "Chaz Bono's decision to live his life authentically represents an important step forward, both for him personally and for all who are committed to advancing discussions about fairness and equality for transgender people."

Added Giuliano, "Coming out as transgender is an extremely personal decision and one that is never made lightly."

Not all transgendered individuals decide to transition physically, but the majority of those who do say that for the first time they feel comfortable and at home in their own bodies, the article reported.

The article noted that those who do come out as transgendered, and especially those tho undertake surgical and hormonal treatments to transition from one gender to the other, need the understanding and the backing of their families.

In that respect, Chaz Bono need not worry; reported in a June 18 article that Chaz's mother, Cher, as well as his stepmother, the widow of his late father Sonny Bono, are fully supportive of his decision to transition physically.

Cher told People, "Chaz is embarking on a difficult journey, but one that I will support."

Added the singer and actress--who is herself an icon to her gay fan base--"I respect the courage it takes to go through this transition in the glare of public scrutiny and although I may not understand I will strive to be understanding.

"The one thing that will never change is my abiding love for my child."

The article noted that in Chaz's book "Family Outing," Cher is described as having briefly rejected her child, then known as Chastity Bono, when Chastity came out as a lesbian.

However, it wasn't long before fences were mended between mother and child--and Cher began to speak out on GLBT equality issues.

Stepmother Mary Bono Mack, a member of Congress, as was Chaz's late father, echoed Cher's message of support, saying, "Chaz has always been a loving and important part of our family who has supported us all through thick and thin," the article reported.

"This is a very difficult decision that Chaz has fully vetted, and over the past decade, has discussed the matter thoroughly and consulted therapists and medical experts.

"As he moves forward, I will be there to support him and love him every step of the way."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.