BY Jeremy Kinser
May 11 2011 11:00 AM ET
Bono says his 34-year-old half-brother, Elijah (from Cher’s marriage to rock star Gregg Allman), was initially disturbed by the news. “For a while it was this shocking thing because I was his big sister,” Bono recalls. “I think it was the fear of change and the unknown—thinking that he was going to lose me was scary. When he spent time with me, he could see that I hadn’t gone anywhere.”
Bono thinks his father, Sonny, who allowed his daughter to dress in boys’ clothing and to be a tomboy as a child, would have handled the news without difficulty. “He was always cooler with that stuff than my mom, so I think it would have been easier for him,” Bono speculates. “As a kid I wanted to be just like him, which made him feel good. Though it was hard for my mom, who was the one I probably should have been trying to emulate, but I didn’t want to be anything like.”
Despite all the early years spent wishing he had been born male and regardless of the time he’s previously invested as vocal proponent of LGBT rights, Bono believes he transitioned when he was meant to. “Had I done this 15 years ago, it would have been more difficult and really traumatic on my life,” he says. “I wasn’t ready, and I don’t know the culture was ready either.”
Bono is now devoted to preventing others from spending decades suffering as the wrong gender. “I want to help people avoid going through what I went through,” he says. “I don’t want people to wait until they’re 40 to be who they are.” Bono has become close friends with Dawn Berg, the mother of a young transgender son. He donates time each month to Los Angeles–based Transforming Family, a playgroup and support group for families of trans kids that Berg helped found. “There’s a peer support group that I facilitate with another trans guy,” he says.
“Sometimes in our group it’s like pulling teeth to get them to talk to each other,” he adds. Some of what Bono does is play with the kids. In play, gender issues are not discussed, but the kids learn how to be at ease with themselves and each other. “It’s just worked out that all the older kids are trans guys, so we all talk about things trans guys are obsessed with, like facial hair and this and that,” he says. “They ask questions like ‘When can you do this?’ and ‘When did this start growing?’ ”
Bono acknowledges the power that shared experiences can have to educate people and that a generation that grew up watching him on television or reading about him in magazines now suddenly knows a transgender person.
“I don’t feel that it’s a mistake that I had the life I’ve had,” Bono says. “I feel fortunate, from being put in front of the camera as a very small child and growing up to be transgender and being able to get this education out there.” It seems that Bono is finally the man he always wanted to be.