Chaz Bono: ‘I Just Feel Like a Regular Guy’

By Kathy Gurchiek Oct 15, 2014
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NEW ORLEANS—Chaz Bono remembers as a child feeling uncomfortable in a girl’s body and the feminine trappings that went with it. The daughter of ’70s superstars Sonny and Cher gravitated toward boys’ games and clothing and his friends tended to be other boys.

“I knew there was something different about me. I wished I were a boy and felt like a boy,” the 40-something Bono said during the closing general session of the 2014 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Diversity & Inclusion Conference and Exposition.

When puberty hit, Bono was in agony. He wanted to be lean and muscular, and he was attracted to girls. He was horrified that his body was developing feminine curves, and he felt physically uncomfortable. The growing breasts felt foreign and wrong.

“It felt like everything I wanted my body to be, it was doing the opposite,” he said during the discussion moderated by Eric Peterson, senior consultant at Cook Ross Inc., and formerly the diversity and inclusion manager for SHRM.

It was not until Bono was in his early 30s that awareness began to dawn that he was not a lesbian, but a man in a woman’s body. He recalled attending a barbecue attended by other lesbians and observing the interactions of the other women. It became clear to him, he said, “that they were all comfortable being female. I remember thinking, ‘I don’t think I’ve ever been comfortable as a female.’”

It would be nine years, though, before the advocate for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and people questioning their sexuality (LGBTQ) would undergo the transition to match his physical gender identity with his inner gender identity.

“For me and my generation, there was a tremendous amount of denial, and it was a really hard thing to grasp … until recently. People didn’t know anything about [transgender people],” and portrayals in the media, including movies and TV, were negative.

Bono finally summoned the courage to make the transition, fully realizing it would not happen privately, given his public life.

“[W]hen something as basic as the physical body doesn’t match the internal view we have in our minds, then there is a searing division within the self,” he says in the book he co-wrote, Transition: Becoming Who I Was Always Meant to Be (Penguin Group, 2012). 

“I really feel like my life [began] at 40,” Bono told conference attendees. “It feels like I’ve lived really two lives and the one before was very, very difficult. Now life feels very complete and carefree by comparison,” he said. “I just kind of feel like a regular guy.”

Bono offered some insights on how employers can provide a more welcoming and inclusive environment for employees who are transitioning from one gender to another:

  • When someone shares that he or she is transitioning, offer congratulations. That supportive and welcoming attitude is important. The fear of losing employment and relationships is very real, he said.

The notion that he might be transgender terrified him, he said in his book.

He feared, in part, that his relationships with family and friends would be irreparably harmed. It has only been in the last two years, he said, that his mother has become comfortable with the change he’s undergone. It’s typical, even for supportive parents, to mourn the loss of hopes and plans they had for the child they brought into the world, he noted.

  • Educate managers and other employees about the transgender experience by bringing in someone from the community who has transitioned. One source for “Transgender 101,” he said, is a local LGBTQ group.
  • Implement a no-discrimination policy that includes transgender employees. A policy that states an employee cannot be fired because of his or her gender identification is important, he said.
  • Ask questions. “I would rather have somebody ask me a question,” he said, “… than get bad information [from some other source], especially in the workplace. Find out what the [transgender employee’s] needs are and devise a program together” that fits the needs.

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor at HR News.

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