For those who can remember the adorable little blonde girl on “Sonny and Cher,” Chaz Bono’s very public transformation from a woman into a man has likely been a jarring one — and probably accounts for some of the angry response to Bono’s decision to star in the current season of “Dancing with the Stars.” But Bono has inspired people (and not just transgendered people) everywhere with both his honesty and his willingness to share his transition with the world in the OWN documentary “Becoming Chaz,” which was nominated for three Emmys. Now comes “Being Chaz,” a second doc showing Bono’s life after becoming a man. Bono talked to reporters on a conference call about the new show, what it was like to be called an Ewok on “Dancing with the Stars” and how his mom finally came around to having a son.
On the response to “Becoming Chaz” “I got an amazing response from the first documentary,” Bono says.T”o set the record straight, we got three Emmy nominations. Unfortunately, we didn’t win one. When OWN bought ‘Becoming Chaz,’ they wanted to be able to do a follow up special with that. I was excited to do it and show a little bit more of my life.
On being called an Ewok by judge Bruno Tonioli on “Dancing with the Stars” Mentioning an article he’d read about reality TV judging, Bono said, “The judges are in a position that this is ultimately about entertainment, and that is the first thing on their mind — to entertain the audience. But i think sometimes that can be at odds with thinking about the contestants’ feelings. i would like to see them reach a way to do both. Certainly on ‘DWTS’ [the show] became my whole life and i dedicated myself to it 100 percent, so when i’m giving that much i expect back at least being treated with respect. i would hope on any show judges find a way to entertain but also remember they’re dealing with a human being.
On the public response to his appearing on “Dancing with the Stars” “I was prepared for something, but it became larger than I expected. Not just the criticism, but the response to that criticism was completely overwhelming.” Still, he was ready for the backlash. “I’ve been doing LGBT activism for a long time, since 1995 and I’ve gone up against people like Jerry Falwell, so dealing with controversy isn’t new to me… I let go of that. if I felt pressure, it’s only that I got so much support in response to that [negativity] that I wanted to do a good job, because people were there for me and supporting me.”
On why he didn’t begin to transition until his late 30s “For years and years, I was terrified to transition because I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it privately, and it scared me to transition in front of the public,” he says. “If i could have done it privately, I probably would have done it years ago. But when I did this, I wanted to tell the story my way. That’s why I did it the way I did it.”
On shooting “Being Chaz” versus “Becoming Chaz” “I think the second one was actually a little bit harder. We had less time, so we packed a little more into it, and also we shot it during a crazy time in my life. Going into it, I didn’t anticipate a lot of the stuff that happened would happen. The thing about any documentary, you never know what’s going to happen and then that there will be cameras there to catch it.”
On doing “Dancing with the Stars” “It’s mentally and physically the toughest job i’ve ever done, ” he says. “You can’t understand it until you do it. in the documentary, you get a view of what it’s really like. Physically i was able to prepare some and i knew it would be incredibly physically challenging, but nothing can prepare you for the sheer terror of dancing live on television in front of 20 million viewers.” Still, he says he had a “great time” doing the show. “I’m really looking forward to dancing [in the finale] without having to stand in front of the judges, which is the worst part.”
On Hope Solo’s decision to snub reporters after her elimination from “DWTS” “I’m not gonna say that,” he said. “I like Hope and she’s a friend of mine. i can tell you the longer you’re on the show the more you get involved with it, so it’s harder and harder to deal with some of the things that happen on there. For me there was a greater mission, as I was on as an activest, to let such a larger number of people get to know me a little bit. That was always my goal. I don’t know what Hope’s was. i haven’t talked to her since then… [but] it wouldn’t have served my purposes.”
On the disadvantages facing gay contestants on “DWTS” “i know there’s been talk about doing a same sex couple, but still think that would put the couple at a disadvantage physically,” he says. “Look, i’m a pretty traditional person and I feel fairly male and my attraction is to females, so for me it worked pretty well. I know Carson would get creative with some of his dances that were traditionally about romance between a man and a woman, and i remember one of his dances was about coveting his partners shoes instead of her, which was kind of genius.”
On Cher accepting him as a man “I don’t think its ever been about changing her mind,” he says. “i don’t think she has any difficulty with transgendered people in any way. She’s just typical of most parents in that she had ideas of what her daughter would be before she was even born. nothing specifically happened, just time happened.
On his engagement Bono, who is engaged to his long time girlfriend Jennifer, admits he has no plans to officially tie the knot anytime soon. “We’ve been pretty happily engaged, which is fine.” But he admits that not all is well in the relationship, which was revealed to have substantial issues in “Becoming Chaz.” “I don’t think things are smoothing out, actually. Things are a little difficult. They were smoother for quite a long time, but… things got a little complicated again. You kind of have to watch ‘Being Chaz.’ Jen and I are are really different people and we’ve always handled things differently, and i think Jen started to feel the pressure in what was happening in my life with my public profile getting bigger and having cameras and stuff following us around.”