Hot Docs Review: Becoming Chaz

By  · Published on May 2nd, 2011

by Lauren Flanagan

Chaz Bono is a pretty regular guy. He plays a lot of video games, he fawns over his pets, he gets into domestic squabbles with his girlfriend, and does pretty much everything else your typical 30 or 40-something guy does. But unlike most men, Chaz is the child of 70s superstars Sonny and Cher and, oh yeah, he was born a woman.

Chaz (nee Chastity) grew up feeling like an alien inside of his body. Complicated struggles that lasted throughout his life led him to finally make the decision to transition into a man. As he went through the process he allowed cameras into his home as well as follow him to the various clinics, hospitals and seminars that helped him throughout the process. But this is just the anatomy of the film.

At its heart, Becoming Chaz is a love story. The relationship between Chaz and his girlfriend of 5 years, Jenny, is represented beautifully. Being the partner of someone going through such a difficult process is almost as difficult as going through it yourself, and Jenny, while wholeheartedly supportive, isn’t afraid to admit her fears and occasionally her anger with Chaz for changing (although the changes she refers to are in his manner and attitude, not his body). Throughout the movie Chaz and Jenny kiss, fight, make up, almost break up and come together again. They deal with things as massive as gender transition and sobriety, and then fight about things as miniscule as what bowl to put the fruit in at a party. They’re a wonderfully flawed couple and they’re represented charmingly (even if Jenny comes off as a little wacky at times).

But the elephant in the room is Cher. Chaz is a public figure, but he wouldn’t be if he hadn’t been born Cher’s daughter, and you can’t have a movie about Cher’s daughter becoming a man without hearing form the woman herself. And when you do it’s a little sad. Despite her reputation for being a gay icon and advocate, she is openly uncomfortable with Chaz’s transition and consistently refers to him as “her” during her interview. She admits to being afraid to go see him after his surgery, and while it’s sad for both of them, it takes great courage for someone like Cher to admit that, and it proves to be one of the most poignant segments of the film.

Becoming Chaz is definitely worth seeing. It’s a fairly in-depth look at Chaz’s change and it will likely bring a lot more awareness to a subject that is still a mystery to many people. That said, it likely wouldn’t be the case if Chaz Bono weren’t the child of Sonny and Cher. The movie itself isn’t particularly groundbreaking when it comes to gender reassignment. I think I learned more about it on a 20/20 special I saw a few years ago. It just happens to be about someone who lives in the public eye, and that makes it seem more accessible to us. But regardless, Chaz, Jenny, Cher and their friends and family should be applauded for being so open and honest about subjects that any of us would find very difficult to deal with.

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