BY Jeremy Kinser
May 11 2011 11:00 AM ET
There’s a moment at the beginning of Becoming Chaz when Bono reflects on what it meant to be the child of two in-demand celebrities. “I just learned to stay under the radar,” he says.
But Bono’s place in the public eye is unique, so it’s not difficult to imagine the media feeding frenzy over a story with this much potential to titillate. On one side of his family there’s his mother, Cher, a household name, a bona fide gay icon, and an entertainer of the highest magnitude. On the paternal side of his family is politics—Republican politics. Bono’s late father, Sonny, famously served as mayor of Palm Springs, Calif., before being elected to Congress is 1994. After he died as a result of a skiing accident in 1998, his third wife, Mary—with whom he had two children, a son, Chesare, and daughter, Chianna—won a special election to succeed him. Still in the House of Representatives, she is now married to fellow Republican congressman Connie Mack IV of Florida.
First there’s Cher, forever in a class by herself. She’s notoriously unflappable, a performer whose five decade-career has earned her respect and devoted fans. Her endurance has made her the punch line of a hackneyed joke about what would survive after a nuclear apocalypse. Notwithstanding her indisputable credentials with her LGBT fans, Cher didn’t handle Chaz’s initial decision to transition entirely smoothly. Bono admits that it was more difficult to tell his mother than it was to come out as trans to other family members. Mother and child experienced a temporary estrangement that followed Chaz’s decision to transition. In the documentary Cher expresses the concerns she initially had—chiefly, whether she’d recognize her child, and that she feared for Chaz’s health. She’s since come around, and during the media blitz for her film Burlesque last year, she spoke candidly about this. Cher acknowledged the bravery of her oldest child and admitted to her difficulty with getting the gender pronouns right. Bono thinks it’s mostly due to the generational difference.
“She’s my 65-year-old mother, and that has nothing to do with her being Cher,” he says. “She’s referred to me one way for 42 years of her life, so this is a big adjustment. My mom is pretty liberal, but once in a while she’ll come up with something and I’ll be like ‘Are you kidding me?’ I mean, she was a huge Ross Perot supporter!” Bono laughs when he mentions that his mother still occasionally slips up with pronouns. “She’s getting better,” he says. “She’s a work in progress.” The documentary ends with the two arm in arm at the premiere of Burlesque.
How Bono’s transition has affected other family members varies by generation, though not necessarily in predictable ways. His 83-year-old maternal grandmother, Georgia Holt, is unfazed. “She’s been great through this, though she didn’t really understand it at first but didn’t care,” Bono says. “She asked me if I was the first person to do this. I was like ‘No, grandma, I’m not.’ ”
Mary Bono Mack and her children appear in the documentary, and their acceptance that Chaz is finally content is genuine. “I have always respected and supported Chaz’s decision to live life on his own terms, and it is deeply gratifying to see him so happy and fulfilled,” Bono Mack says in an e-mail for this story. “I am extremely proud of Chaz and will always love him and be there for him.”