Chaz Bono, the son of icon Cher and a trailblazing transgender actor in his own right, recently sat down with the popular United Kingdom podcast A Gay and a Nongay in a rare interview to discuss rising transphobia in the U.K.
In the episode, which is available Wednesday on all streaming platforms (listen to the full interview below), Bono, a self-confessed Harry Potter fan (he has Hogwarts tattoos on his leg), opened up to cohosts James Barr and Dan Hudson about his thoughts on J.K. Rowling’s recent transphobic tirades on Twitter.
“When the person who writes your favorite series of books about oppressed people decides to start oppressing you, it’s very strange. It doesn’t make any sense,” the American Horror Story star said. “It’s hard to wrap your head around. On a personal note, it just sucked. Politically, it’s dangerous because I don’t think people realize that she’s just regurgitating the same things that people are saying about us, that have been debunked for 30 years. It’s just wrapped up in a new package with a zillion Twitter followers.”
In June, Rowling retweeted an op-ed piece discussing “people who menstruate,” seemingly raising concern that the writers didn’t use the word women. The retweet, which coincided with the start of Pride Month and nationwide protests against systemic racism and discrimination, received backlash and prompted a series of follow-ups to try to explain her views.
Rowling, perhaps unknowingly, lit a flame in white privileged feminists by invoking old anti-trans language commonly used by trans-exclusionary radical feminists (also known as TERFs).
“We have different issues,” Bono explained of the battle in America versus the United Kingdom. “Our opponents come in a package that we understand much more: in the religious right. That’s where its always been for LGBT people. We know and understand our opponent. I’m still trying to wrap my head around this idea of white privileged feminists that think somehow transgender women are a threat to their rights, their existence, or whatever insanity they’re saying.”
As far as how activists and allies can speak to right-wingers or uneducated cis people about the trans experience, Bono said we must be resilient and continue to focus on real stories.
“You just gotta keep trying to fight it and have people tell their stories so hopefully people can understand what the reality is,” the actor said. “They’re trying to address a problem that doesn’t exist, this idea of female spaces. They’re looking at transgender women like their men. They’re looking at transgender men like they’re women. We’re not. I am a man. Transgender women are women. Look at them that way. Listen to our stories. Get to know us. Anybody who’s around me for two seconds will know that I’m a man. There’s nothing female about me.”
Bono spoke eloquently about this in Netflix’s Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen, directed and produced by Sam Seder. The film explores Hollywood’s depiction of trans people and the impact of their stories on cultural perception — including a scene from 1992’s The Crying Game in which the characters Fergus and Dil have sex, only for Fergus to strike Dil and rush to the toilet to vomit upon learning that Dil is trans.
That scene ended up becoming a link to further depictions of cis people throwing up at the sight of a trans body, in many ways as comic relief, which is even more degrading.
“I learned a lot from it,” he said of watching Disclosure. “Things that at the time they came out I thought were amazing, [but] looking back at it you think, Oh, actually that’s problematic. Like The Crying Game. At the time I thought it was cutting-edge and beautiful. I had no idea I was trans at that time. I look back at it and realize how troubling that film is and what it led to."
Bono, who this year appears in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, also opened up about his experience coming to terms with his trans identity and how different it is for young trans folks today.
“I’m not a lesbian. I never fit in,” he says. “I tried for 30 years, then it took me about 10 years to get the courage to actually be who I am. People don’t seem to understand that even if you come to it later in life, or figuring it out, trans people are trans people. I was never a lesbian, nor was I ever a woman. I was always transgender. I took time to figure it out. Now we see people figuring it out much earlier because they’re able to see it. There are people out there they can look at and say, ‘That’s me.’”
He continued, “When I was growing up, that didn’t exist. There was nobody to look to. There were a couple references of trans women that were kind of before my time. There were absolutely no transgender men, so there was nothing for me to identify with, though as a kid I was very clear that I felt like a boy and wished I was a boy and often went to bed at night praying that I woke up as a boy. There was no clarity. What I didn’t know was that there was a word called transgender and that I could do anything about it.”
Listen to the full episode below. Learn more at GayNonGay.com.
Hosted by comedians James Barr and Dan Hudson, A Gay and a Nongay is an award-winning LGBTQ+ podcast based in the United Kingdom. Last year, Barr and Hudson recorded the BBC documentary From Gay to Nongay? which shined a light on so-called gay conversion therapy in the U.K. They recently released their Pronoun Collection, a customizable clothing range with sales raising money for trans youth charity Mermaids. Follow them at @gaynongay.