Becoming Chaz @ Sundance

Earlier tonight I watched the documentary Becoming Chaz , about Chastity Bono's transition to Chaz Bono which is premiering here in Utah at the Sundance Film Festival. From the Sundance website:
Chaz Bono was a male trapped in a female shell for as long as he can remember. Growing up as Sonny and Cher’s adorable golden-haired daughter in a body he felt wasn’t his own was a crucible it took years to transcend. Now, as he undertakes gender reassignment, he’s bravely decided to share the process on camera. Becoming Chaz invites us along on Chaz’s remarkable journey of transformation. As hormone shots give way to top surgery, down-to-earth, unflappable Chaz beams with a sense of liberation and goes public with his story to put a face on a misunderstood issue. Meanwhile, his gregarious girlfriend grapples with the realities of suddenly living with a man, and it’s clear sex change isn’t solely a physical transition.

Intimate and nakedly honest, the film reveals the humanity and courage it takes for Chaz to ultimately embrace his true self. His moving struggle will reverberate profoundly for anyone to whom authenticity matters

Andrew purchased tickets to it a few weeks ago - but when he invited me I initially had to decline due to class schedule conflicts. That conflict went away after I dropped that Spanish class - but, since I'd declined initially, Andrew had given my ticket to our mutual friend, Erin. But, lucky me, Erin took today off from work to sleep at home due to being sick and gave me his ticket. Woot! Sucka!

Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (who brought us such television gems as Sex Change HospitalTransamerican Love Story) were there to announce the film and for a Q&A afterwards. They mentioned that Chaz approached them to make this documentary and how it's about his bravery to become his authentic self, despite fears of rejection or the media tearing him apart for it. They also mentioned the good news that the Oprah Winfrey Network plans to air this documentary.

While I personally related to Chaz's journey in the film, I had a really difficult time connecting with him. I'm not quite sure what it was, but throughout the entire documentary he seemed to be guarded and disconnected. His girlfriend, Jenny, became the focal point of the documentary. Instead of the substance of the film relying on him, it seemed to end up depending on their relationship. I suspect this may be due to the newness of all of this for him. But I do applaud him for this and, even though the documentary didn't have a huge impact on me, I'm sure it has and will have a huge impact on many other individuals and their families.

Even though I never felt connected to Chaz in the documentary, I was impacted by how the media reacted to his transition and how distant his relationship seem(s/ed) to be with his mother, Cher. Throughout his journey in the film she never once made an appearance with Chaz during his transition. She did an interview separate from him with the directors and we don't see them together until the very end at the premiere of her film, Burlesque. It was sad, but also adorable that she was clearly trying to work on it, trying to understand it, and trying to use the right pronouns.

During the Q&A many people seemed to relate to Cher's struggle with Chaz's transition and her detachment from him throughout the documentary. One woman commented that it would feel like the "death of one child" and "learning to love a new one". I understand this sort of reaction, but I have a hard time empathizing with it. As my parents have explained it to me, they never felt that there was a "death" when I told them I was starting hormone therapy. Melanie didn't "die" and get replaced by "Dexter". My parents have always seen me as, well, me - an authentic, evolving individual and their child. Who is still the same person.

I suspect, with Cher, it seems to be the sort of situation where some times there's who a parent thinks their child is and who their child really is. Like there's a model in their head of their child that, when it conflicts with reality, feels like a "death". Which, is really sad to me and must take an enormous emotional toll on everyone.

There was a portion in the documentary that spurred a bit of an emotionally tense set of questions from a woman in the audience during the Q&A that involved the mention of hormone blockers as an option for young transgender children. In the documentary, Chaz goes to volunteer with a support group for parents with gender-variant/trans children. The moral in the documentary was that, unlike when Chaz was young and he couldn't talk about what he was experiencing with anyone, these children not only have options, but their parents are working to support them and have a genuine dialog about it. The woman in the Q&A, however, was the most impacted by the mention of hormone blockers, which were never explained or elaborated upon in the film.

In the final cut, I hope they do elaborate on it a bit, but overall I did enjoy the documentary and I think it's amazing that the Oprah Winfrey Network has picked it up. As my friend Bonnie put it, "I liked it too but I guess I would describe it as conservative. Controversial enough for mainstream audiences to exotify but relatively unspectacular for self-aware Trans or Queer audiences." Something like that. To learn more about hormone blockers, this article is pretty short n' sweet: Hormone Blockers for Transgender Kids?


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