Chaz (formerly Chastity) Bono has been in the spotlight since before he can remember. As a regular guest on the Sonny and Cher Show, the famous couple’s daughter, now son, never enjoyed the spotlight. In fact, he hated getting his picture taken because of the way he felt in his own body. Puberty is a rough time for us all in one way or another, but for the transgender individuals in the world struggling with their new, unwanted parts, puberty can be devastating. Now, 41-year-old Chaz Bono is reentering puberty in order to transition into the man he always wanted to be. As he transitions, Chaz has to face the challenges presented by his friends, family, and partner in addition to his new personality that emerges as a result of hormone treatments.
As a minor celebrity, Chaz and his family also has to face the media, and I’m sorry to say that in a voyeuristic, celebrity-obsessed way, this was the most compelling part of the film for me. Everyone wants to know what Cher thinks. And Becoming Chaz delivers. The interviews with Cher are also the most interesting part because they represent the most conflicted perspective in the film. While everyone else in Chaz’s life seems to support his surgery wholeheartedly, Cher still refers to him as a “she,” and still has a hard time accepting that she will never hear the female version of his voice again. This kind of hesitation is certainly understandable, because despite what Cher’s own transformative surgery may suggest, she was born in 1946. That’s right everyone, Cher’s old. She may have millions of LGBT fans, but these interviews suggest that she struggles with acceptance the way most in her generation do.
Another interesting aspect of the film is Chaz’s relationship with his partner, Jennifer Elia. Six months after they started dating, Chaz, then Chastity, told Jennifer about his desire to be a man. Though Jennifer signed up for a lesbian relationship, she considered herself open to the possibility of a connection with a member of any gender. As the hormone treatments continue, however, Jennifer realizes that Chaz is becoming different – more masculine and assertive, dominant and serious. She has to deal with these changes on top of her own substance abuse while attending grad school and the pressure starts to wear on the couple.
Becoming Chaz delves into the relationship with a level of honesty I wouldn’t have expected from a celebrity profile. Though the film probably would not have mass appeal were it to focus on a transgendered individual without ridiculously famous parents, Chaz uses his celebrity as a form of advocacy. Like I said, Cher’s old, and fans from her generation who may not have been interested in the subject before may be drawn to this film and develop a greater level of understanding. Likewise, the film eradicates snippets from Entertainment Tonight that may have caused us to judge Chaz a bit prematurely by representing his decision with a greater amount of depth. So, despite its flaws, the film serves the greater good with practical sentimentality.