“You don’t know what your beliefs are until you’re tested and have to really stand behind them.”
Remembering Your Spirit – Chaz Comes Out, Part 1
“I wanted [my then-daughter] to grow up, get married, have a child, get divorced and live happily ever after.”
-Cher (to Oprah’s audience, half-jokingly)
Cher has had a Top 10 Hit every decade for the past 40 years. She could phone in whatever she wants to at this point—from her recordings to her performances, to her chat show guest spots. But she refuses to: she shows up and she remains present.
Aside from the fact that Cher is your Gay Icon’s favorite Icon and your Diva’s favorite Diva, queer fans who’ve loved Cher over time have realized that loving Cher is a full-time job.
If you’ve loved her during any era of her megawatt super-stardom, you’ve got to give it to her, she’s an incredible talent. If you’ve discovered her or followed her family’s story since the mid 90s, you’ve realized that you’ve had to give her some space while she caught up with all the parts of being an ally. You’ve had to watch and wait for her to continue to catch up as she enlightens herself all along her LGBT ally’s path. All the while, she’d lost the love of her life (though long since divorced, Cher’s love for the late Sonny Bono was complicated and made very public).
Loving and learning from Cher and her journey is an interesting study in what it means to be an ally, and ways in which we can even support our allies (should we choose to).
Though Cher was one of the first people to introduce drag artists to mainstream culture at the level we see today (professional, showgirls, on television), gender expression and LGBTQ culture was still something of abstraction to her—not related to her own immediate family, per se.
When Chaz Bono first came out to Cher as a “lesbian,” well before Chaz himself was aware of being trans* (by his own account), Cher had an exceedingly hard time accepting the fact that Chaz was (at that time self-identified as) a woman who loved women. In a joint interview with Oprah (video here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CupvzhC8_4), Chaz and Cher confirmed that Cher really saw Chaz her the only child. A child made and raised in her own image (dressing alike with the same andro/tomboy vibe that Cher rocked, someday growing up to meet and marry a man). Cher said she “always knew, way before [Chaz] did,” that Chaz was [at that time] a lesbian.
Holding on to the dream of “living in your parents’ image was an idea that took so long for Cher to let go of, while Chaz’s dad Sonny warmed up to the fact that Chaz is a trans* man much more quickly.
Cher, in her own words, went “ballistic” when she realized what she “always knew” Chaz was not going to change.
Meanwhile, Chaz wanted to grow up to be just like his dad, Sonny.
And God/dess bless both Chaz and Cher for outing Chaz’s many realizations with Oprah, many other journalists and the world not once, but twice.
Cher, as we know, did eventually came around (though she still made little jokes from the side of her mouth about having a gay child, reliving that frustration repeatedly).
The fact that Cher has so embraced the LGBTQ community as a whole (rather than just gay folks in her fan base), includes her own child in her appreciation and does so publicly is to be commended. She and Chaz both saw Chaz’s truth an “elephant in the room,” yet they continued to work through things together (enlisting the assistance of gay-affirming therapists also helped), leading by example to all onlookers.
Chaz, composed, articulate and helpful with the press and his mom all along the way, cited statistics about queer youth who need help alongside his own personal story. Such selflessness…it’s why we love Chaz all the more.
Remembering Your Spirit – Chaz Comes Out: Part 2
“How can we persecute people for being who they are?”
Around mid-2008, Chaz Bono began to make his gender transition, and has made so much progress all along the way in terms of the peace of mind he says he feels and in terms of his relationship with his mother.
While Cher admits she still has problems using the appropriate pronoun to this day, at least she’s trying. She knows that each time she uses the wrong pronoun, she’s more the butt of the joke than anyone else. It seems like she does so to cope, and then quickly corrects herself. In a way, she’s modeling the process for parents with each new mistake she makes (oops, fumble, quick sincere correction). And as Cher stumbles along through her journey to continued enlightenment (as we all do), there’s a grace in the fumbling for truth and comfort. It’s a pleasure to see the both of them working together amicably for LGBTQ advocacy when Chaz had once been—however temporarily—kicked out of the house for revealing his truth to his mom.
Remembering your Spirit – You’ve Come A Long Way, Mommy.
“Your job as a parent is to support your children.”
Cher went from Mama Scared to Mama Bear, as she’s come to call out Chaz’s opponents, haters and trolls on Twitter and in the media without hesitation.
The evolution of Cher’s journey continues as the word “No” falls from her lips most effortlessly when Russian Olympic officials ask her to perform in Sochi, Russia for the upcoming Olympic Games. There’s no way that will happen until Russia’s anti-gay legislation and environment changes. As Russia’s embroiled in the debate regarding the IOC’s degrees of homophobia and Russia’s governmental clarity around the issue, Cher doesn’t care about the so-called degrees and semantics involved.
Cher recently told Maclean’s:
“I can’t name names but my friend called who is a big oligarch over there, and asked me if I’d like to be an ambassador for the Olympics and open the show. I immediately said no. I want to know why all of this gay hate just exploded over there. He said the Russian people don’t feel the way the government does….
[But] people hated Sonny and I in the early days because we looked and acted so different. Sonny was always getting into fights—people would called him ‘fag’ and he’d get his nose broken—only because we were dressing different. And these were our street clothes! You can’t forget that.”
Coming out isn’t always safe (family-wise, financially, etc.,) and some of us don’t have parents, families or friends who will take us back and come to understand us. However, when we can and as we can come out and share our experiences, we need substantive support. When people can’t admit their shortcomings or lack of understanding, that’s one thing. But when they lash out violently or destructively in light of their confusion or lack of understanding, everything escalates, and everything’s dangerous.
Kudos to Cher for realizing how dire the situation in Russia is and for boycotting the Olympics and being a “heart-core” ally, in theory, in practice and in love.
Related Links and Resources
Chaz Bono Official Homepage: http://chazbono.net
PFLAG: Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays: http://www.pflag.org/
Family Outing: A Guide to the Coming-Out Process for Gays, Lesbians, & Their Families – by Chaz Bono http://www.amazon.com/Family-Outing-Coming-Out-Lesbians-Families/dp/0316115967
Transition: Becoming Who I Was Always Meant to Be – by Chaz Bono http://www.amazon.com/Transition-Becoming-Always-Meant/dp/B004XFYIBU
Becoming Chaz Documentary: http://chazbono.net/becomingchaz.html