It hasn’t been Chaz Bono’s style to figuratively dance around controversy, but he’s perfectly willing to do it literally.
Bono, the 42-year-old offspring of pop icon Cher and her late ex-husband Sonny Bono, made headlines when after four decades of living as a woman he transitioned into life as a transgendered man. Now he’s making history as the first transgendered competitor on one of mainstream America’s most popular unscripted series, “Dancing With the Stars,” where he hopes to effect significant changes – both other people’s and his own.
“I'm pretty stoked, I have to say,” Bono tells PopcornBiz. “So far I'm having a great time, and I just feel really grateful that I get to go to work every day and dance with this beautiful girl and meet all these amazing people. What else could you want?” The icing on this particular cake, he explains, is the opportunity to demystify the transgender experience for wide audience. “I just really hope that people will open up their hearts and minds a little bit and give me a chance and learn that there's nothing wrong with transgender people, that were just like everyone else. We deal with this issue and it's kind of rare, but nothing scary or abhorrent in any way.”
Thus far, Bono says that despite some phobic responses circulating online – his mother even took to Twitter to defuse some of the “haters” – he’s been mostly pleased with the response to his “DWTS” plans. “Everything that I've gotten from social media has been incredibly positive,” he explains. “Probably like 50-to1 Tweets at this point, so it's been really amazing. People have been just so supportive and seem genuinely excited. I'm genuinely excited about it, too.”
Bono isn’t solely looking to affect the cultural perspective of the transgendered community – he’s also pursuing some personal growth. “I think the people who do know about me and the stuff that I've done usually see me being really serious,” says the activist. “Doing this show, I get to show a really different side to me that people haven't seen before.”
“I think for me it took me so long to get comfortable in my physical body and it happened so late in my life that now that I am the idea of challenging myself in that way is exciting and doing it in a fun way, dancing and dancing with a partner and all of that is just really appealing,” he adds, citing last’s season runner-up Kirstie Alley as an inspiration. “She's older than I am, but I'm not a spring chicken anymore and I'm overweight. But I think I've got a lot of heart and I'm going to do my best and I think it's going to be good.”
Cher, he says, has shown tremendous support of his choice to compete, despite dealing with any online uproar. “She has been very supportive,” he says. “I feel bad. I think some of the negative stuff is upsetting her, I think. That's always the thing that pisses me off: I don't really mind if people Tweet nasty sh*t to me, but it pisses me off when they tweet it to my mom.” He’s not sure just how into the show his mother’s been in the past, but expects his share of family feedback during his stint. “I have to ask her if she'd ever gotten into it before,” he wonders. “My aunt and uncle are, like, huge fans, so I definitely have people in the family who have been watching this for years.”
He rates his dance skill level as “beginner” but says thanks to his celebrity parentage he’s got some showmanship in his background. “As a teen I went to a performing arts high school and I was a drama major and then my first career was in the music industry – I put a record out, so I'm not really uncomfortable on stage.”
For now, Bono’s focused on getting himself ready for that first on-camera spin around the dance floor, mentally and physically. “Today was my sixth rehearsal, so I'm in the thick of it,” he says. “It is very challenging, but I like it. It's doable. I guess going into it my worst fear was, like, 'What if you just CAN’T do this?' But I'm finding it extremely challenging, but really rewarding and something that, like, everyday I feel little bit better. Whatever I learned today, when I go over it tomorrow I know it's going to be a little bit easier.”
PopcornBiz will be checking in with Chaz Bono throughout his journey on “Dancing With the Stars,” which debuts Sept. 19 on ABC.