New York Times Fail on Chaz Bono: Did Cher make you transgender?

With the news abuzz around the documentary premiering on Oprah Winfrey’s network tonight about Chaz Bono’s transition, I had expected there to be a decent amount of transphobic reporting around Sonny and Cher’s son — but come on.

In Cintra Wilson’s New York Times piece on Chaz, the writer discloses her own “questions” about Bono’s gender identity in her interview with him, and they are the most ridiculously ignorant and straight-up asinine questions you could imagine:

Could it be possible that the fact that Chaz is now a man is somehow Cher’s fault? Did the toxic culture of celebrity damage Chastity/Chaz’s gender identity? Did Cher’s almost drag-queenlike hyper-female persona somehow devour Chastity’s emerging femininity? Could Chaz’s transition have been motivated by gender-bent Oedipal revenge? Is he reclaiming the childhood attention his superstar mother always diverted?

I had to ask: It is remotely possible that he needed to make the transition because his mom is Cher?

Uh, what?

It looks like Chaz handled it with serious grace, but to me, these questions are likened with the same kind of absurd accusations by tabloids thrown at Angelina Jolie for allowing her daughter Shiloh to wear boys’ clothes. Not only will the media take any opportunity to demonize Hollywood mothers as raising “bizarre” and “troubled” celebrity children, but invalidate being transgender as a real identity in the process. Anything for a little controversy, right?

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  • kelbesque

    This piece was super-problematic, but not all of it came from the piece’s author–the bit about testosterone making woman-things grating, and the part about how great straight guys treat each other, said as though it’s just an inherent quality of being male.

    • Katia

      kelbesque, I was thinking exactely the same thing!!

      The parts were he says:
      “No, really. There is something in testosterone that makes talking and gossiping really grating. I’ve stopped talking as much. I’ve noticed that Jen can talk endlessly.”
      “I just don’t care!” He laughed. “I’ve learned that the differences between men and women are so biological. I think if people realized that, it would be easier. I would be a great relationship counselor. I know the difference that hormones really make.”
      really really shocked me…

      It just throws away all the feminist base I believe in… but then again he really experienced both sides, so… what if he’s right… then again I’m not sure if we can really assume, that he was ever really a woman (I think he always felt like a man… so…)

      I’m so lost, I don’t know what to think right now…

  • nazza

    It’s not much of a stretch in the imagination of many people that transgender = freak show. Everyone seems to love making fun of Cher’s over-the-top persona, but roping her son into it is crass and exploitative. If Cher’s antics make her somehow suspect in the court of popular opinion, Chaz is guilty by association.

  • ADHD PhD

    OK, I also read the article and my impression is that it was about how the author saw the film, and was forced to confront her own transphobias, and how she (and Chaz’s partner, and Cher, and others) learn to accept. I don’t think that necessarily makes this article a fail. Though I would have liked to also see a review about the film that is not about the critic’s special learning experience.

    • Annie

      I agree. I think the author was confronting her own transphobia — trying to understand why she has it and hoping she can move past it. She asked an honest question — if anything, she was ashamed of this question — and she seemed to accept Chaz’s response as sincere. I thought it was a good article. I think there are a lot of well-minded, otherwise progressive people who are transphobic and I feel like this article met them where they were at, with the intention of bringing them over to the non-transphobic side.

  • Foxxe Wilder

    The more I see the new york times in the news, the more I think that it belongs in the same pile of crap of publishings that include such classics as The National Enquirer, & Weekly World News. Just HOW is it that people take that rag as being serious at all??

    “Straight Men” need to learn that just because there are no gay men near them it does not stop them from their open (and often proud) display of homophobia. The actual definition of the word is from Homo (meaning MAN – not sodomists!) and Phobia (meaning fear). In short they fear other men and are PROUD OF IT?!

    It was a relatively illiterate social MORON that brought the term to popularity and the wide spread misuse of the word. Who was that moron? Non other than the writers of South Park!

    Guys could learn a few lessons from women but you know… unless there are tits in their faces no guy is gonna listen and even then only part of it will ever sink in…

    Kudos to ya Chaz! “unto thine own self be true”

  • Cyn

    While the framing of that question is problematic, the author does address her transphobia and explains clearly that the notion is wrong further on. It’s confusing and not very well done, but overall I didn’t think the piece was too bad.

    What concerns me more, though, is why this is listed under the “Fashion & Style” section of the paper. A lot of gender issues seem to be categorized under that in the Times, and beats me if I know why