Becoming Chaz

Becoming Chaz


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Everybody knows that the children of famous parents have it tough. Being the offspring of Sonny and Cher was never going to be easy, especially when golden-haired little Chastity regularly featured on their popular TV show and was the darling of America. But as Chastity grew up and gradually became aware of a clash between body and mind, it got tougher still.

This is the story of Chaz Bono's transition to masculinity. It's a transition that he felt must inevitably happen in public - he had to be open and straightforward, to show that he was not ashamed, in order to prevent nasty rumours flying around and the whole thing being treated as a scandal. Of course, there was a lot of crude and clueless media speculation about him anyway. This documentary provides him with the opportunity to tell his own story, and it also addresses head on a lot of the questions viewers are likely to have.

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Of course, Chaz's story is not the story of every transsexual person, or even of everyone transitioning from a female role to a male one. But by quietly observing this one person't personal life, the film provides avenues through which to explore the experiences of others. Other transgender people and those who wonder if they might be will find Chaz's story sad in places but reassuring; he's come through it all with his sense of humour very much intact, possessed of a warmth that belies the familiar tragic archetype. Those with loved ones contemplating such a change will find Cher's honest, pained discussions of her feelings provide a starting point for their own journeys. And those who are just curious about this increasingly visible phenomenon will find it demystified, expressed in simple, human terms.

But this film is much more than a story of personal struggle or medical marvel. It is also, in its way, a delightful comedy about the differences (real and perceived) between men and women. There are sad notes as Chaz's girlfriend struggles to come to terms with the changes testosterone brings about in his personality, but she acknowledges she's had her own problems in the past and that shared experience of survival seems to bind them together through a lot. When Chaz has his breasts removed, one of her first questions is how much weight he has lost in the process, at the response to which she and a female friend gasp in envy. When he applies to legally change his gender, reporters demand to know what his favourite beer is, because, naturally, drinking alcohol must be essential to being a real man.

It's these emotional insights, and this laughter, that lift Becoming Chaz above the average observational documentary and give it wide-ranging appeal. Rather than looking at the transition process in isolation, it introduces us to many aspects of Chaz and his family's lives. Memories of growing up in public. A house milling with cats and dogs. Arguments over how to present dinner. Chaz comes across as remarkably well adjusted by any standards, shattering stereotypes about the famous. This is about life, and growing up, as much as about transitioning; it's about developing confidence, becoming an adult, simply becoming oneself.

Reviewed on: 03 Jun 2011
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Born with a female anatomy, the child of musicians Sonny and Cher, Chaz Bono is now transitioning to live as a man, and he discusses his experiences in this very personal documentary.
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Director: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato

Starring: Chaz Bono, Cher

Year: 2011

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: US

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