When Chastity Bono first came out as a lesbian, media reports said that her mother, Cher, had a very difficult time accepting it. I was surprised, assuming these reports were true. Surely, Cher, a mega rock and film star, had been friends with gay women and men throughout the years. It was hard to imagine that she could possibly see homosexuals as a feared “other,” or a “team” she wouldn’t want her daughter on.
Then, years later, when Chastity transitioned into a male, the reports said that Cher was having an even more difficult time accepting that her baby girl was now a boy. I was less surprised by these reports. I can empathize with the initial shock—and pain—Cher must have felt upon learning she was “losing” her daughter. I imagine that many parents of children who transition will have to go through a period of mourning the person they raised, in order to learn to accept and love the new person s/he has become. Thankfully, again according to the media, Cher has made her own “transition,” and is now as close and loving to Chas (formerly Chastity) as a mother can be.
One of my favorite performers is Mx. Justin Vivian Bond, a transgender singer/songwriter/performance artist/actor. Mx. Bond, a male at birth, prefers to be called the gender inclusive honorific “Mx.” Instead of Ms./Mr. Bond also prefers that the pronoun “V” be used (with "vself" instead of "herself" or "himself"). Bond has had hormone treatment to feminize v’s appearance, but has chosen not to undergo gender assignment surgery.
I first fell in love with v when v performed in the role of Kiki in the drag cabaret act "Kiki and Herb," before she’d had her hormone treatment. Bond played Kiki, the female half of a lounge duo, who chattered with dark humor about her disappointing life and sang raucous and hilarious medleys of songs. Bond performed as Kiki for a while, putting out records and winning awards, and then went solo as vself, performing a wonderful cabaret act that showcased v’s banter, original songs and some intense covers.
I’d seen Bond as Kiki a number of times, and also as a solo performer. I had worried, on Bond’s behalf, that v might lose v’s ever-widening audience when v became transgender, because there is still so much worldwide hateful violence and discrimination against transgender individuals. (So far, from the full house at Bond’s latest performance in New York City, this doesn’t seem to be the case.) I also don’t cease to wonder at Bond’s courage, as a public figure, to so publically become transgender.
Recently, I binge watched the entire season of the new TV show "Transparent," starring Jeffrey Tambor. The story revolves around an affluent Los Angeles family and their lives following the discovery that father Mort (Tambor) is transgender—a “trans parent.” Maura embraces her new journey, but her life as a woman isn’t easy: her adult children, whose parents had divorced years earlier, struggle (not always successfully) to accept her, and she needs to make friends and find a new community, among other things.
I love "Transparent"—particularly Tambor’s quiet, subtle performance as Maura. The director, Jill Soloway, has had, in her own life, a parent come out as transgender, so she knows her material intimately. The show is moving and groundbreaking, and I can’t wait for Season Two, to see it delve even deeper into Maura’s—and her family’s—struggle and growth.
Currently, there are rumors circulating that Bruce Jenner, the Olympics gold medal winner and current reality TV actor, is on the verge of transitioning, since he’s let his hair grow long and had his Adam’s apple shaved. He is now often the butt of mean-spirited humor, which makes me cringe. Such a personal decision shouldn’t be anyone’s business, except maybe to applaud him if, at this point in his life, he does transition, and to feel sad if the judgment of public opinion prevents him from doing what he yearns to do (assuming the rumors are even true).
As far as I know, I currently have no friends or family members who are transgender. Yet as someone who felt at times very much an outsider growing up, I empathize with the feeling of being born into the wrong body. It took me a long time to fully grow into and accept myself. And I can only begin to imagine the pain and alienation of being trapped in the wrong gender.
I am grateful to all the brave transgender individuals and their friends and families, like Justin Vivian Bond and Jill Soloway, who are gradually but inevitably moving the world into becoming a more tolerant place for themselves and others who, in all possible ways, don’t fit within narrow and restricting boundaries.
And what if my own daughter (who seems happy in her own skin right now, but the future is unknowable) one day tells me she is trapped in the wrong body and will be changing her gender? Will I be able to support her in her journey, as difficult (or not) as it may turn out to be for her and me? I like to believe I would.