Author and entertainer Chaz Bono follows up his Becoming Chaz Emmy Award-nominated documentary with Being Chaz. This film, by the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), follows Bono on Dancing with the Stars and gives a behind the scenes account of life with fiancé Jennifer Elia.
Produced by the Worlds of Wonder team of Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, with Elise Duran directing, this film shows an example of the trials and tribulations of being openly transgender in life today.
Windy City Times: Hi, Chaz. I interviewed you for your book Transition. How did you deal with the pressure of being on Dancing with the Stars since then?
Chaz Bono: I've been doing LGBT activism for a long time now, since 1995, and I've gone up against people like Jerry Falwell and stuff like that. So dealing with that kind of controversy isn't really new to me and it was pretty easy to let that roll off my back because of the support that I was getting. I got so much support that I did feel a lot of pressure and I wanted to do a good job because I knew people were supporting me. I didn't want to let anybody down. So I think that's where some of the pressure that I felt came from.
WCT: Was the controversy expected?
CB: I was prepared for something but I think it became larger than I expected, not just the criticism but then the supportive response to that was so completely overwhelming to me.
WCT: Are you ready for the finale next week?
CB: I had such a good time doing the show and I'm really excited because I get to dance and I don't have to stand in front of the judges afterwards, which is the worst part of it. I've got a rehearsal this afternoon. I had rehearsal last week. It's great to see everybody and it's great to be dancing.
WCT: Did you know it would be that tough mentally and physically?
CB: It's mentally and physically the toughest job I've ever done. You really can't understand it until you do it. I think one of the nice things about doing a documentary on OWN is that you do get a behind the scenes look at what it's really like.
Physically, I was somewhat prepared but nothing can prepare you for the sheer terror of dancing live on television in front of 20 million viewers.
WCT: What response did you receive from the first documentary that made you want to make a second one?
CB: I got a really amazing response from the first documentary. When OWN originally bought Becoming Chaz they wanted to be able to do a follow-up special with that. So at that point I knew that we would be making this and I was excited to do it and have the opportunity to show a little bit more. I know that the documentary is made well. Hopefully it leaves you wanting more and wanting to know what's going on with this person now.
WCT: Was it easier or harder making the second documentary?
CB: I think the second one was actually a little bit harder just because the way we made it. We kind of had less time and so we packed more into it and also we shot it during kind of a crazy time in my life.
WCT: Did you always know you would let people into your life this way?
CB: No, not really. I think that for years and years I was terrified to transition because I knew that I wouldn't be able to do it privately. If I could have done it privately, I would have done it a long time ago. When I finally did get comfortable I wanted to tell my story my way and I didn't want other people to tell it for me. I wanted to try and help people in the process.
WCT: What do you think is the current biggest misconception with transgender people?
CB: I think, first of all, there's a lot of people who don't understand the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity. So I think that would be the first one of people thinking that transgender people are just like gay people only more so. I guess the other thing would be there's some type of mental illness that is behind feeling uncomfortable with your physical gender.
WCT: How has the lesbian community's reaction been since transitioning?
CB: I can only really comment on my circle. I have a lot of close friends who are lesbians and I haven't lost any of them as a result of my transitioning. My transition was in no way a slap in the face to the lesbian community or anything. I just realized that wasn't what the issue was until I didn't get the comfort that somebody who is a lesbian would get by coming out.
WCT: Will your mother, Cher, be on this documentary?
CB: You're going to hear her more than you'll see her.
WCT: Things seem to be better between the two of you.
CB: I think it's just difficult for parents. I think for my mom she had ideas of who her daughter was going to be even before I was born. It's a tremendous loss for parents and there's a grieving process that happens. I think over time things become better and more comfortable. Nothing specifically happened. Time has happened.
WCT: Would you ever do a project together?
CB: NoI mean, she has her projects. I have my projects. Sometimes they intertwine for a second. But for me I think it's always been important to be my own person and be my own man.
WCT: On the first documentary there was fighting with Jennifer. Are things smoother?
CB: No, I don't think things are smoothed out. Actually, things are kind of a little difficult. They were smoother for quite a long time but I think things got just a little bit complicated again. You kind of have to watch it. It's hard for me to explain but Jen and I are really different people and we always handled things differently.
I think that Jen kind of started to feel some pressure in what was happening with my life, my public profile getting a little bigger, also with having cameras and stuff on us.
WCT: Now that you are engaged, how is the wedding planning going?
CB: To be honest, we have not made any plans yet. We've been pretty happily engaged all this time.
WCT: Have you taken her out dancing since you've been on Dancing with the Stars?
CB: You know, Jen is a horrible dancer and would be the person to say that. She's really got two left feet. So I tried to teach her some stuff when I first started and it really didn't go well. I was trying to teach her the basic cha-cha-cha steps and she couldn't quite get it so much. Jen is rhythmically challenged.
WCT: Well, you both should come back to Chicago soon. We would love to see you again.
CB: Oh, thank you so much. I appreciate it.
Being Chaz airs on OWN Nov. 27 with multiple showings afterward. Visit www.oprah.com/own for details and listings.