Dancing with Controversy

Chaz Bono Defies Critics With ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ Memoir, Emmy Nod

America’s most famous transsexual is on ‘DWTS,’ has a new memoir out, and was nominated for an Emmy. By Jacob Bernstein.

Craig Sjodin / ABC-Getty Images

It pretty much goes with the territory that if you get famous, there are going to be some haters. And it’s only more complicated if you’re Chaz Bono, the biological daughter of Cher and Sonny Bono. Two years ago, she began transitioning to become male, and since then, he’s turned his journey into a documentary on OWN; written a memoir, Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man; and now, is going on Dancing With the Stars in a duo with Lacey Scwhimmer.

Bono says he wasn’t totally surprised to hear that there was quite a debate online about his going on the show, dancing with a woman. But he just can’t get that worked about it all.

“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,” Bono says by phone. Plus, he already thinks there’s been a backlash to the backlash. “It’s garnered me a tremendous amount of positive support from regular, open, fair-minded Americans and people around the world. I’ve gotten stuff from people in England, who said they were really surprised, that this would not be an issue in England.”

The worst of some of the bile that’s been spewed on the Internet, he simply won’t look at. “I never read that stuff, and in general there’s been a lot of progress happening. I kind of eclipsed that there’s an openly gay man on the show, nobody seems to care about that. As more transgendered people become visible, the more we’re going to incur the wrath of the religious right, the way gays and lesbians have been all these years.”

His overall verdict? “It’s progress but it’s a pain in the ass.”

Plus, everything else is pretty good. That aforementioned book of his? It made the New York Times bestseller list. His documentary? Becoming Chaz broke records on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, and was nominated for three Emmy awards. And then there’s the noncontroversial part of appearing on “Dancing With The Stars”—getting paid to do something new, working with a cast that he says has been just great. “There’s no egos or bad behavior,” Bono says. “Everyone’s been supportive of each other.”

Another thing he’s excited about is that there isn’t a trained dancer in the bunch, the way that there was with Jennifer Grey last season (she won, of course) or with Kristi Yamaguchi back in 2008 (she also won). “That really pisses me off,” Bono says, “when there’s a dancer or a figure skater. Thankfully, we’re all coming into this on a fairly level playing field.”

TMZ said recently that Bono could still be in for it, that rumors were rampant he was a “nice guy” without rhythm and a pair of left feet. But this is actually music to Bono’s ears. “The lower expectations are, the happier I’ll be,” he says.

If Bono seems incredibly calm, it’s partly because he’s in what looks like a very secure relationship with a woman who’s weathered the transition and seems prepared to stand by him. Further, Cher—the mother who once had a problem with her daughter’s lesbianism—has now taken to twitter as the defender of her now-son’s honor, striking down practically every swipe that comes from the religious right and “family values” organizations.

Some aspects of the transition have clearly been more difficult than Bono likes to let on.

He admits that he didn’t love the idea of doing all this so openly. “I would have done it many years ago if I could have done it privately. It took me 10 years to do it, because I was so stressed out about doing it publicly.”

And being perhaps the most famous transsexual in America adds a wrinkle (or an asterisk) to his male experience.

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But Bono thinks it’s much easier than had he been a man who wanted to become a woman. “When I was a kid, being viewed as a tomboy was totally different and much more acceptable than being a sissy boy. I had lots of friends, all of them were boys and they accepted me and treated me like a member of the gang. I could wear boy clothes without being viewed as funny, whereas it’s still really difficult for boys who don’t act sufficiently masculine.”

Also, the actual transition process he’s gone through is easier than for a male-to-female transsexual. “When a woman takes testosterone to transition, you just go through puberty as a man. Ninety-nine percent of people masculinize well. But for men becoming women, estrogen doesn’t take away the stuff testosterone has already done. You still have to get your body hair removed. It won’t totally reduce a square jaw line. The one thing that’s better is the genital surgery.” (Bono has said repeatedly that he has no immediate plans to have genital surgery).”

Right now, Bono’s just focused on being the best dancer he can be. “I’m at the studio five hours a day,” he says.

Whether or not he wins, the show seems to be leading to a rapid reduction in the size of his waistline. In just two weeks, “I’ve lost eight pounds,” Bono says. “You always hear that your body gets used to exercise routines and mine was probably really used to the stuff I was doing prior to this. I’d worked out with a trainer, I’d done cardio, but nothing prepares you for ‘Dancing with the Stars.’”