Tuesday, September 20, 2011

If Chaz Bono bothers you, ask yourself why.

I admit it: I'm an occasional watcher of "Dancing With the Stars." I took dance all through my formative years, and although I can assure you I never would have looked like Karina Smirnoff in a costume, I know my way around a pas de beurre and a jete or two. I can even tap. (Stop laughing.)

I also like a good story, so I've been following the journey of Cher's child, Chaz Bono, with whom I've been familiar most of my life. As a little girl, I was an avid viewer of the "Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour," and the shows would always end with Cher and Sonny trotting out poor Chastity, a cute little blonde toddler who looked like she'd rather be anywhere else.

Now, Chastity is somewhere else, all right. And she -- now he -- is even someone else. After suffering for years from gender identity disorder, Chastity underwent surgery and hormone therapy and now lives as Chaz, a man. And he's on "Dancing with the Stars," and that's making some people really angry.

A CNN.com reader who commented on a story about Chaz's dancing debut said this: "This show used to be good family entertainment, but I won't let my children watch this season. I don't want them to be swayed into believing they can choose to switch gender when they get older."

After reading that, I didn't know whether to laugh hysterically or possibly cry a little. I must have missed something during all these many years of life: I guess I didn't realize I could, on a whim, become a man. Silly me -- after all, I'm acquainted with two people who changed, or are in the process of changing, genders. I wonder why they haven't "swayed" me to take the leap.

Come on, folks. First, "good family entertainment"? I like the show, but "wholesome" it's not. Doubt me? Google footage of Pamela Anderson from a couple of years ago. Second, gender identity disorder is an actual disorder, identified and recognized by the medical community. Most people who suffer from it spend years, even decades, feeling as if they're living in bodies that don't belong to them.

Changing genders is not a decision a person makes lightly, or that the medical community takes lightly: People who desire gender-reassignment surgery first must be evaluated, then undergo extensive therapy. After all that, they have to come up with a boatload of money, as medical insurance doesn't cover the procedure.

(I need to add a note here: I'm not gay or transgender. Every time I blog about issues that even remotely have to do with sexuality, I receive emails telling me I'm trying to "advance the gay agenda." (According to Google Analytics, some people have found my blog via searching for "Is Lisa Lavia Ryan gay?") If I were gay, there's no part of me that would be ashamed. I'm just "outing" myself as a heterosexual so people can know me as one of the many straight individuals who support and defend all groups of people (those who don't hurt others, anyway) simply because it's the right thing to do.)

So, back to Chaz. I used to watch a show called "Celebrity Fit Club," and one season, Chaz was a "celebrity" who was trying to lose weight. Chaz was still Chastity then, and living as a lesbian; she was also, hands-down, the nicest person on the show. She didn't lose much weight, but she was encouraging to everyone else; she was the first to volunteer for every stupid task, and she was unfailingly polite to the doctors and trainers and nutritionists who were trying to help her.

Combine that with the fact that Chaz is the child of Cher -- Cher! -- who looks like this and, by her own account if you've ever read anything about her, wasn't jazzed about having an overweight, masculine daughter who refused to wear a skirt, let alone a bustier. So you have to have some sympathy for Chaz, really, just because.

When Chaz decided to be a contestant on Dancing With the Stars, he said: “I’m just a regular person. All these ideas that children shouldn’t watch me, that I’m going to be confusing (and) all this stuff, it’s crazy.” It would be one thing if Chaz were going on the show and holding up a sign saying, “Kids! Change your gender! Ask me how!” But I have a feeling that what Chaz, or people in his position, want more than anything is to simply blend in.

The thing I least understand about all this vitriol toward Chaz is that there are so many more people, or groups of people, out there to feel threatened by. Look at our current election-season political climate: Why not worry about people who lie and insult and threaten and alarm? Why not turn the channel from commercials featuring people who create entire campaigns out of hate and misinformation? Compared to folks who enter your living rooms every day via the news and political ads and Piers Morgan, Chaz is a cute, furry little baby puppy.

You may tell me, "I'm offended by Chaz and don't want my children exposed to him because I'm a Christian, and the premise of gender reassignment is contrary to my faith." Fair enough. But if you're a Christian, think hard about John 8:7 or Matthew 7:1. Then we'll talk.

Speaking practically, parents, your small children are not likely to notice anything "weird" about Chaz. If older kids inquire based on stories they're heard or read, my advice would be to explain his situation simply and honestly.

But to little ones who may wander in and out of the room and be enticed by the mirror ball, my guess is that they would assume Chaz is just a guy -- a chubby guy who's pretty light on his feet but otherwise unremarkable, and certainly nonthreatening. And what a coincidence, as I would imagine that's all Chaz -- or anyone else who has spent his or her life being "different" -- really wants to be.



  1. Very well said. This should be required reading for all those that are bashing him.

  2. Thank you both very much. I appreciate the fact that you took the time to read my post!