Karen Ocamb

Chaz Bono on David Letterman About His New Book

Filed By Karen Ocamb | May 12, 2011 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: book tour, Chaz Bono, David Letterman

Chaz Bono appeared on the David Letterman show on CBS Wednesday night, May 11, promoting his new book, Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man. This is Part One (thanks to indigenous2logic):

Part two is after the jump.

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Pretty good job by both Chaz and Dave. I couldn't tell if Dave was genuinely confused about gender vs. sexuality, or if he was just playing the fool for the part of any clueless viewers, but he was certainly respectful and welcoming. (Loved his joke on "functional but very small.")

Yeah, I thought it was a pretty darn good interview too.

I sort of feel sad for Chaz because, as always happens, I'm seeing a lot of Internet slapback at him, his attitudes, his weight, how he experiences himself as man, his queer cred, yadda, yadda. The guy's transition is fairly recent. He didn't ask to have it all be public... he really didn't have a choice. No, maybe he isn't saying everything and explaining everything the way we want him to, but he's trying to tell his story to people like Letterman, who are genuinely dense (no, I don't think Dave's putting that on). Moreover, his story is being edited and filtered through people who aren't trans and want to oversimplify much of what he's saying for marketing purposes. I really wish him well and maybe he'll work through the 'sometimes an a-hole' stage.

I'd have to agree he has a tough row to hoe. I thought he sounded smart and articulate. He didn't ask for the job of spokesperson. Who gets it right all the time? One can only speak from their own point of view. Much more is required in the way of self understanding in a situation like the one he finds himself in, which is even far more intense than it is for many of us who find ourselves in similar circumstances.

Bob Roehr | May 13, 2011 12:41 PM

"He didn't ask for the job of spokesperson."

Excuse me, but he wrote a book about it AND worked real hard to get an appearance on Letterman. That sounds like a LOT of asking to me.

As Chaz said during the interview, we don't have a good handle on trans numbers because a lot of those who transition simply disappear and live a normal life. While Chaz did not quite have that option, he could have had a lot lower profile.

sure! you're excused. I didn't realize that he worked so hard to be on Letterman. I really haven't been following this too closely. I'm not a celebrity hound. Thanks for filling me in. I doubt I'll read the book, but who knows, maybe I'll pick it up somewhere, some day. I don't see how he could just sit by idly and not stand up for himself. As you point out, he doesn't have the option of keeping a low profile.

I thought he was well spoken but obviously coached to sell the all transsexuals are transgender line and that all transsexuals are to be considered part of the LGBT. Sorry but I think his speil was a little to doctored to be taken as well meaning. I wish him luck and I hope he learns quickly to get over that bad habit.

Jay Kallio | May 13, 2011 7:32 AM

Chaz is doing a terrific job, under great pressure. I feel he is a real credit to our community, and his courage in being out and facing all the hostility and bigotry that will be aimed at him is deeply admirable. He is breaking barriers, big time, and taking huge risks with his own life, and his loved one's lives.

I hope all those who feel Chaz doesn't fully represent their life story and gender identity will write their own books, or otherwise communicate their truth, which is the only way they will ever truly get the satisfaction of being known for who they are. It's ultimately much more self empowering and rewarding than sniping at others who do the work and step forward.

I've been wanting to address this kind of response for a long time, given the frequency with which it crops up (amongst many different people), and I'll do so in a future post, but for now let me just say:

It's perfectly legitimate for those of us in a free, open society, committed to rational public discourse and dialogue (however one wishes to construe the meaning of those terms), to express their thoughts about a subject or a person, especially a public person who has, like it or not, taken on the role of a spokesperson.

To criticise public dialogue/discussion, or any critique of these individuals by simply turn around and saying, "Well, write your own book," or to ask that they share their own experiences is counterproductive and, frankly, petty and profoundly anti-intellectual. I can critique, for instance, the building of, say, yet another glass and steel edifice in downtown Chicago for any number of reasons without having to prove that I can actually build my own building. I can critique an actor in a movie without having to first get a role in a major/minor film project to show.

And I or anyone else can critique Chaz Bono for his public statements and/or his public persona and/or his book without being required to write my own book. And I don't have to be trans, either, to have an opinion about how he uses his celebrity. Surely we all have a stake in these matters, regardless of how we identify. And while he's certainly a person, yes, he's also a public figure and being dissected as such comes with the territory, within reasonable limits. None of us are obliged to assume that he is/is not "doing a terrific job," or is taking risks, or so on. We're not obliged to pretend that we know him intimately.

Not everyone can or wants to "step forward" and write their own books. That does not preclude their critiques of Bono or other public figures. No one here has been needlessly petty, and when they are, there's always been a self-correcting mechanism - at least on TBP, for the most part. So, let people have at it, let them critique him or have an opinion on him or anyone else, or any other matter. Let's not stifle discussion by assuming that only a small, small segment of the population which is EXACTLY like the subject of the conversation is entitled to it.

Om Kalthoum | May 13, 2011 7:09 PM

His voice - it sounds a lot like I remember his father's voice.

Chaz seems like a genuinely nice fellow, someone I'd like to share a meal and a chat with.

This is a very significant interview for many reasons. First, and not least, it is significant for the fact that David Letterman has had a long history of making transphobic jokes that border on the violent. The fact that he had a respectful interview with a trans person before his enormous, country-wide audience is important politically for our rights. Second, Chaz comported himself extremely well. He came in and took the stage, he sat down with brio, and he spoke up with authority. These non-verbal cues are as important to people's understanding of Chaz as anything that is specifically said. There's a saying that encapsulates this point: "who you are speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you are saying." Third, the conversation got right to the heart of the matter -- the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity -- and it was discussed in a manner that everyone can understand without being a Lacanian psychologist.

I understand the criticism that Chaz is repeating a standardized, synthesized narrative of transsexual difference that relies on a binary norm and someone being trapped in someone else's body a little too neatly. But most people understand their feelings in terms of mass narratives that are popularized in one age and later pass on into sepia-toned history. The transsexual narrative is useful precisely because it is neat and clear and accessible to our gender-essentialized culture. The truth is that the "transgender" experience of a gender continuum is different from the "transsexual" experience of gender substitution. I'm not saying one is better than the other, or that we shouldn't form a political movement together. I'm saying that Chaz has a right to adopt whatever narrative feels right to him, and to be honored for his lived experience.

I would note that I disagree with his statement that gender and sex are unrelated. Sure, they are distinct concepts, and he was correct in noting that important point. But there is a relation between the two that is significant for legal protection, as I argued in my 2009 law review article in the Temple Political and Civil Rights Law Review.

The fact that these points were accessed in the first five minute of the interview speaks volumes about the quality and importance of this particular interview. I have no doubt that it made a difference for millions of people watching.

Now I have to go watch the rest. (I probably should have waited to watch the whole thing before commenting, but sometimes I think too fast and I didn't want to lose these points.)