Tonight, Oprah’s new network OWN debuts its Documentary Club by airing a documentary film from the producers of RuPaul’s Drag Race that follows Sonny and Cher’s child Chaz Bono’s transition from female to male.
Becoming Chaz debuted at Sundance earlier this year and is directed by World of Wonder’s Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, and its television debut on OWN at 9 p.m. ET will be followed by a one-hour special and discussion about the film called The Doc Club with Rosie O’Donnell at 10:30. Chaz’s memoir, Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man, is also out today.
The film is about the person formerly known as Chastity Bono as he transitions to life as a man, a journey he takes with the support of his lesbian girlfriend Jennifer Elia, and which includes everything from hormone treatments to the removal of his breasts. While gay and bisexual people have been part of nonfiction TV and film for years, stories of transgendered people are far less common, just as being transgendered–the feeling that one’s body and brain are misaligned, basically–isn’t as widely understood.
In a New York Times essay, Cintra Wilson writes that the documentary is “unflinchingly personal” and the surgery part “is so graphic, and such a commitment — physically, emotionally and financially — that as a wincing viewer you come away with a palpable understanding of how unendurably he must be suffering in his body to want to have his own sex characteristics amputated.” She also admits, however, that the film was “as unsettling as it was inspiring. I came away forced to confront a whole swag-bag full of transphobias that I didn’t know I’d had.”
Cintra Wilson talks to Chaz, who said, “I knew my whole life something was different. As a small kid, I could be one of the boys, playing sports, fitting in. When I hit puberty, I felt like my body was literally betraying me. I got smacked everywhere with femaleness. That was really traumatic.” Chaz lived life as a lesbian for years, and said, “Around 2001, I started analyzing lesbians. I started to realize that even really butch-acting or -dressing women still had a strong female identity that I never had. … I thought, transgender people are much worse off than I am. That’s why they’re willing to risk everything to be who they are. But the older I got, the harder it got to stay in my body.”
Here’s the trailer to Becoming Chaz:
Correction: This story temporarily misidentified the order of Chaz’s transition. He transitioned from female to male. I regret the error.