As you know, Chaz Bono, 42, has been through some changes lately. He started off as a girl named Chastity, the sole offspring of singers Cher and Sonny Bono; appeared on their TV show in the mid-Seventies as a cute little girl with curly locks, waving at the audience; came out as a lesbian in 1995; reconsidered her sexual identity a few years later; started testosterone treatments to become a dude; got a mastectomy to remove her breasts; started lifting weights; can presently curl 25 pounds with each hand; started going shirtless as often as he could, because, damn it, he was a man now and he could; got on the Dancing With the Stars TV program; was variously called a basketball, a penguin and an Ewok; got booted off after six weeks; has continued to stay in the news, what with Warren Beatty’s trans-gender son calling him a misogynist and him proposing to his girlfriend, Jennifer Elia, 36, atop the Seattle Space Needle, and then breaking up with her in December. It’s enough to make your head spin. What’s not generally known, however, is that, ever since the end of DWTS, Chaz has been studying his finances, adding up the credits and debits, and is pretty sure that within a short while he will finally be able to afford to get himself a penis.
At the moment, he’s in a steakhouse called the Grill on Hollywood Boulevard, right down in the thick of things, near Grauman’s Chinese. He’s a big, friendly guy, with a big, friendly head, and a glowing, light-up-the-room-type smile. That’s one of the things that makes him so popular on a show like DWTS. He’s a beamer. The other, of course, is the undeniable audience-drawing curiosity factor of the guy. Seriously, what are the odds that Sonny and Cher would have had a transgender child? Sonny and Cher — “I Got You, Babe,” “The Beat Goes On,” groovy late-Sixties, early-Seventies hippie-looking duo, pleasing pop for the masses, no scowls for them from Ed Sullivan. They were one in a million, so how could they get a child who was one of the one-in-500 (according to one study, anyway) who are born transgender each year? From their perspective, it had to be crazy. Then again, Sonny never had to deal with it, having died in a skiing accident in 1998, well before Chaz’s transition. Not that he would have minded; he was always on Chaz’s side, didn’t mind that he wanted to wear guy’s clothes and hated anything frilly, didn’t mind that his favorite movie star was Sylvester Stallone, didn’t mind that his favorite spectator sport was boxing, didn’t mind when he came out as a lesbian, and probably wouldn’t have minded if “Chas” had spelled his name “Chaz” throughout his childhood and also referred to himself as a him. Sonny was that kind of guy. Mom, on the other hand, fought her child every step of the way.
“As far back as I remember, my mother always seemed to want me to look and act more like a girl,” Chaz wrote in his recent book, Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man. “She made it very clear that she didn’t like my masculine style or my preference for only male friends.”
Cher wanted Chaz to dress in a girlie way and be happy with her girlie room, pink wallpaper, pink bedspread, matching pink pillow shams, pink shag carpet. She never really yelled at Chaz about anything; mainly, she was baffled by her daughter and how different her daughter was and, as a result, she sometimes found it easier to just ignore her and leave her upbringing to a nanny named Harriet, who turned out to be abusive. More recently, however, Cher has been pretty vocal concerning her support for Chaz. His decision to appear on DWTS in the face of heated criticism from Fox News and other close-minded nitwits led her to tweet, “It took guts to do it. I support him no matter what he chooses to do.” In private, though, it seems that she has yet to fully come to terms with the whole Chastity-into-Chaz thing. And, no, she won’t talk about it (despite repeated requests). “Yeah,” says Chaz, “she’s not 100 percent comfortable. For her, it’s a process. Has she read my book? I don’t think so. I haven’t asked her. I tried to be as kind as possible, but it’s very honest.”
As for himself, he says he’s never felt better. He no longer numbs himself with painkillers and booze, for instance, and he no longer loses himself for days at a time in video games, though he still likes to play them. He has stopped smoking, too; it was quite an ordeal, until he learned of a certain frightening possibility if he continued.
“The way I had my top surgery done,” he says, “they take your nipples off, and from your old nipples, they make male nipples. They totally re-craft them, let’s say, and then they graft them back on. So it’s a graft, and grafts don’t always heal, and then this transgender guy that my girlfriend met said, ‘I know people who were smokers whose nipples have fallen off.’ When she told me that, that was all the incentive I needed. I went cold turkey.”
And now, to more completely match how he looks to how he has always felt, he’s busily saving money to buy a penis. He hasn’t really talked about it that much before. When anybody brings it up, he typically chuckles and says, “I like to keep my privates private.” But now, why not?
“I could get a phalloplasty, which builds the phallus from a donor site on your body,” he says straightforwardly, “but I’m leaning more toward a metoidioplasty. It’s a procedure that uses what you already have down there” – he means his clitoris – “which has grown larger from the testosterone. You end up with a smaller phallus than with the phalloplasty, but it’s fully functional, it gets erect, and the sensation is all there.”
Before he can say another word, the waitress shows up. “You guys ready to order?”
Chaz gets the filet mignon, fried onions on the side. He’s smiling — probably because she said “guys.” It’s still a novelty.
But back to the penis. Does he know how big it’s going to be? He frowns. “You know, I don’t really. I mean, I’ve never seen one erect. So it’s really hard to say. But, you know, soft, probably about three inches, and it grows considerably. I don’t know what the average size difference is, but when I’m having sex I probably get three or four times larger.” He pauses. “I was in a fairly typical heterosexual relationship, which caused some militant members of the queer community to think I’m reinforcing stereotypes or whatever. Anyway, I think Jen wished I wouldn’t get the bottom done, but she understood my need to.” He shrugs. “You have to understand, though, for me the life transformation has already happened.”
So bottom surgery would just be the icing on the ——?
“Exactly. You know, guys can be so vested in their penis. But a guy who is injured and loses his penis is still a man. And like I said, it wasn’t like I felt female before. It’s embarrassing – some of these people I’ve actually met – but as a kid I remember thinking Jamie Lee Curtis was the hottest thing I’d ever seen. Jacqueline Bisset, Rachel Ward too, and Kelly LeBrock, in Weird Science.”
His meal arrives. He digs in.
“I mean, testosterone has changed things, definitely,” he goes on. “For one thing, I’ve pretty much lost the ability to have more than one orgasm at one time. That doesn’t happen anymore. But the ones I do have feel more intense. And then my first year, I spent a lot of time in the mirror, flexing my muscles and looking for hairs. It’s literally like going through a second puberty. I have hair on my chin now, hair on my stomach, and it’s starting to kind of grow in from my armpits to my chest. Actually, I have more hair on my back than on my chest. I’ve waited my whole life to be able to have hair. I never thought I’d have back hair, though. But what are you going to do, right?”
Indeed. But let’s get back to that penis. How much is it going to cost?
“It depends. There’s different ways to do the surgery, from real basic to more and more options. It’s like a car.”
Like a car?
“Well, I mean, to break it down, the surgery I want to have, I’d like to have the testicular implants and all of that, and I’d like to be able to urinate through it. I mean, it’s not that big a deal to sit down, but some of the toilet seats in men’s rooms are disgusting. The doctor I want to use is in Belgrade. It’s going to be a little cheaper there. Probably $25,000, maybe $45,000, I reallv don’t know.”
Later on, a busboy clears away a plate. “Anything else I can take, gentlemen?”
“No, that’s great,” Chaz says. And once again, he smiles.
He drives a dusty, messy, older BMW and is a good, conservative driver, easy on the pedal, doesn’t run the yellows. As Hollywood passes by, he says that his mom isn’t helping him out financially right now. “She has in the past when there’s been a problem or issue, but, no, I don’t like to take money from my mom any more than anybody else does. Being self-supporting is important to me.”
He also says that, in the future, he would like to do some acting. “I could see me as one of the guys on The Sopranos or something. Or a cop. Any of that kind of stuff.”
He goes on to say that, at some point, he will continue his advocacy work on behalf of the transgender community. “For a while, I felt bad about all the things I missed out on by me never being a young man in his physical prime. But then I realized, ‘No, this hasn’t been a curse. This is what it’s supposed to be.’ I was put on Earth in this incredibly famous family, and then I’m transgender, and because of that life experience, hopefully, I can educate people.”
And that’s that, his past, his present, and his future, all mapped out. At the moment, the only unknown is why he and his girlfriend Jennifer broke up. No one is saying. “No further amplification will be forthcoming,” a rep said in December. But a few months before it happened, on a typical Friday evening, the couple gave a demonstration of how things maybe weren’t going so well. Chaz is just arriving at his home, a small but cool Mediterranean-style pad with a swimming pool and a guesthouse where he keeps his drum set and a mounted collection of jackknives. Inside, he’s greeted by five cats (all of them rare – coat-less Mexican sphynxes), two dogs (one a Chihuahua, the other a mutt), and Jen, who is wearing jeans and a T-shirt, is very slender and very cute, with long, dark hair, and has her hands on her hips. She’s standing near the kitchen, lips pursed, forehead knitted, looking into the smallish living room that is dominated by a brown leather couch. Clearly something is on her mind.
“Babe?” she says.
“I know you’re about to do something — —”
“I’m about to play a video game.”
“I’m getting rid of this couch. Soon. I’d rather have no couch in here than look at this. I hate it. It cuts the room wrong. The feng shui isn’t right. Even Denise told me that today.”
“Is Denise a feng shui expert?
“No, but it’s true.”
“She’s a television producer. Look. We’re not gonna have no couch. No, babe. Baby. I’m not gonna come home and . . . Just leave it there.”
Jennifer sighs and backs off. Last year she said, “Hormones change people and . . .he’s leveled out right now. There was a period where I felt they were kind of spiked. The testosterone was, like, really machismo, and it was hard to deal with.” And, from the looks of things, it maybe still is. “All right,” she says now. “Go have fun.”
In the den, Chaz says, “When I first met her, she was sober and I was sober, and she is sober right now. But she’s struggled, gone back and forth. For me, that’s the hardest thing to deal with. I mean, she’s one of those I people who can start drinking, then I stop on the drop of a dime if she _ I wants to. Me, though I quit seven ™ years ago, I reached such an utterly horrible and disgusting place that it’s still very fresh in my memory, and I’m very clear that I never want to go back.”
After that, he opens a video game called Rage and fires it up on the TV. The guy on the screen is real gruff-looking, a real man’s man, with a bunch of gun-toting bandits on his tail. Chaz, looking through the eyes of gruff guy, begins firing away.
Jen sticks her head in. “All right, I’m getting into the shower now.” Chaz doesn’t look over. “Oh, OK, go right ahead.”
He says to her, “This is a good game, babe.”
She folds her arms. “It’s too militant.”
“What do you mean, ‘militant’?”
“Disgusting and violent.”
He shotguns a bandit, atomizing the bandit’s head into a bloody mist, and ignores her. He doesn’t try to explain the appeal. It’d take too long. Anyway, how do you explain such a thing? By mid- December, the two will have broken up. But for right now, he just keeps on blasting – blam, blam, blam, and blam.