It was announced yesterday to much fanfare that Chaz Bono is transitioning from female to male. The child of Sonny Bono and Cher, Chaz was someone many of us grew up with when his parents hoisted him on stage at the end of their variety show.
But after coming out, Chaz did something many celebrities - or children of celebrities - do not do. He tried to leverage his fame for the community. Initially as a spokesperson for HRC's National Coming Out Day, and then as an entertainment media director for GLAAD.
It was while he was at GLAAD that I got to know Chaz a little, and wanted to share a few of these stories since they can hopefully give the community a better picture of someone we all feel like we know.
First of all, I will be honest and say that many people thought when GLAAD hired him that it was merely an attention getting gesture - but what I came to learn was that Chaz really wanted to make a difference and made some big sacrifices to do that.
It was not always smooth sailing. Chaz was the target of one particularly predatory journalist who convinced him to hypothesize (Media 101 - never hypothesize in an interview...) and was quoted as saying "Ellen" (the sitcom) might not be doing well in the ratings because it was "too gay." Oy.
The NY Post ran with it and I can tell you that we had quite a few days repairing the immediate damage on that one as well as the ire of the community and Ellen herself. But the reality is the problem was more about naivete than anything else, and I still think the writer knew exactly what he was doing.
But to really understand Chaz you need to try and imagine what it might be like to grow up in the spotlight since birth - simply because of your parents. It doesn't help when your Mom is a gay and drag icon and your Dad is a conservative Congressman.
On a trip to Dallas with him, I was appalled at how the crowd at events felt like they owned him, had no boundaries about questions and at one point we finally had to get security to take him out the back of the bar we were in. Chaz was used to it, being tabloid fodder and constantly in the glare of paparazzi - but it was sad to think about how isolating that was for him and how that might make him wary of anyone who seemed remotely interested in working with him.
But I think it became more clear to me that eventually, Chaz would get to a better place. I vividly remember drafting a statement for him when his Dad was killed in a skiing accident and dealing with the media. I remember him telling us he had to leave his house, hiding on the floor of the back seat of his car covered in a blanket so the media outside his home would not realize he was in it. Fred Phelps picketed his Dad's funeral. He loved his father fiercely despite the fact that they had disagreements - and I realized we did maybe have a few things in common.
One moment really stands out for me. On that Dallas trip many years ago, I remember asking him - what is the toughest thing about being the child of two icons? Answer: drag queens who look like your Mom. His ability to say that and laugh was something that made me respect Chaz a lot more and understand a little bit of what was going on.
I admire and respect Chaz for making this decision and wish him all the best.
I know that he has had a lot of privilege - far more than the vast majority of trans people - but life can be challenging in many ways and I hope this step is one that makes Chaz a happier, more whole person.
I also hope he takes this as seriously as when he came out or was outed, depending upon whom you ask.
Either way, this is a story that people will be interested in, and hopefully will be told well.