BY Jeremy Kinser
May 11 2011 11:00 AM ET
“All I can do is share my experience, and you’re either going to relate to it or not,” Chaz Bono says firmly. The 42-year-old is sitting on the edge of a deep leather sofa with his legs crossed, ankle on knee. He’s finally ready, perhaps even eager, to discuss his new book and film after being unable to speak publicly following a lengthy management-imposed media lockdown to heighten the impact of these two tell-all projects.
On May 10 the simultaneous publication of Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man, his perceptive, exceptionally well written memoir (Bono’s third) and broadcast premiere (on the Oprah Winfrey Network) of the bold, unflinching, often very witty film Becoming Chaz, which documents his gender-reassignment surgery, thrust Bono back into the spotlight with which he’s had a love-hate relationship for nearly four decades. Though his demeanor is serious and matter-of-fact, his newfound happiness is also apparent. His face frequently breaks into a beaming grin that his longtime girlfriend, Jennifer Elia, will later describe to me as a smile that can light up a room.
But why did Bono decide to be so public about this most private of transformations? He says he didn’t have a choice. “I’ve learned that if you don’t tell your own story, someone else will, and they’ll do a bad job of it,” Bono says with a smile, surely recognizing the understatement.
His life has been well chronicled by this point. Until two years ago, Bono was widely known as Chastity, the only child from the union of superstar entertainer Cher and the late record producer and singer turned congressman Sonny Bono. While living as a biological female, Bono endured gossip and a tabloid outing before taking control of the story and self-identifying as a lesbian in a 1995 cover story for The Advocate. After coming out, Bono would write numerous articles for this publication, author two books, and eventually become a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign. He also served a controversial stint as entertainment media director for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, during which time he was misquoted in the press as describing Ellen DeGeneres’s sitcom as “too gay.” Bono says he was treated “like a pariah.”