PrettyQueer Exclusive: (Possibly Fictional) Interview with Chaz Bono
Editorial note: Imogen swears that this is a real interview that happened in the real world, but to be frank, we at PrettyQueer don’t believe her, and want to be explicit that we are running it as fiction.
A week or so ago, I got an e-mail from Chaz Bono, asking to be interviewed on PrettyQueer. Stoked for the opportunity, I emailed back and forth with him a couple times, just to make sure that his interest in PQ was sincere; I’d have a hard time even expressing how many important celebrities are clamoring for space here. But after a couple of exchanges, I felt like his interest was coming from a good place, and also like he would be willing to answer difficult questions if they came up– an instinct that proved true. He invited me to Café Gratitude in San Francisco for this interview, where we shared the I Am Grateful, an I Am Grounded, and– the boring appropriateness was noted and mocked off-record– the I Am Transformed.
It’s interesting and worth noting that our whole process didn’t involve his publicist in any way.
PrettyQueer: Ok cool I think it’s recording. Hi Chaz, and thank you for offering to do an interview with PrettyQueer!
Chaz Bono: No problem! Thanks for having me. You know, I don’t really identify as queer in any way, but I’m always happy to help out a cool project, and I really respect the work that you and the other folks at PQ are doing. And I have some things that I want to talk about.
PQ: You mean after that New York Times article, and that “Becoming Chaz” documentary.
CB: Yeah, definitely. I’ve been thinking about stuff a lot, and talking to some folks about some stuff… see, there was some pretty intense backlash against some stuff I said, both in that article and in that documentary, but not from the places I was expecting it to come from. I was prepared for conservative folks not to get it, and like, old people, religious people, y’know– the people from whom we’re told to expect intolerance. But most of those folks have been surprisingly cool! I’ve been getting more static from the queer community, like folks with more aggressive critiques of our culture. Even though ike I said I don’t identify as gay or queer or anything, that stuff really hurt my feelings- accusations of misogyny, for example, that I’ve been essentializing masculinity, specifically by conflating testosterone with this callous, uncritically privileged way of being a man. Embodying hegemony, basically?
PQ: Tell me more about that.
CB: Well, I was pretty mopey after the Trans Health Conference in Philadelphia this year, because while some folks were like ‘Good on you, Chaz,’ a lot of folks just wanted to be critical of things I’ve said on record. And I hadn’t thought I’d said anything messed up at all! I thought I was just saying, like, normal dude stuff.
PQ: Uh huh.
CB: Some of the language people were using, I didn’t even know it. I was like, “what does essentialist even mean?” Turns out, my girlfriend has been trying to explain that sort of thing to me for years!
CB: Anyway, my girlfriend noticed that I was pretty upset, but I wasn’t really responsive to what she was saying, so she went behind my back and told my mom I was unhappy. I was mad at her about it at first, but now I’m pretty grateful– my mom sat me down one night and, over a lot kinds of tea, she laid it out for me: the insidious ways that misogyny can affect people’s lives, for example– I’d never really even felt it. Before transitioning, I was pretty much numb to it, and now, I don’t even have to pay attention to it unless I want to! ‘Cause I’m a dude. But we also talked about things like structural/the structure of oppression, and the ways that messed up stuff I’ve experienced as a trans man might have different specifics compared to the different kinds of messed up things people who experience different kinds of oppression experience, but how often they’re reinforced by the same kind of cultural and even legal hegemony.
PQ: Heavy stuff.
CB: I know! She really broke it down. It was a long night. Anyway, we talked about a bunch of other stuff, and when I was leaving, she gave me a journal. She was like, “Chaz, you can talk about this stuff in public, but in a kind of social inversion of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, having an observer holding a mic to you is going to affect the things you find yourself saying. Trust me, I know.”
That Heisenberg thing might have been a little bit much, but I got what she was saying. I slept on it and then, in the morning, I really got down to writing about everything, and it’s helped me immensely. I’ve also been reading a lot.
PQ: Tell me what you think about that New York Times article these days.
CB: Well, I mean, look. When you have a cis person who’s not really invested in queer or trans liberation writing about a trans man’s experience, nine times out of ten they go into the interview knowing exactly what they’re going to write. They’re going to do a story that reifies the system that pays their rent, buys them fancy dinners, and lets them live in Manhattan: a story in which, yes, in a vague and liberal sense they affirm the trans person’s gender, but also in which that gender is placed squarely and irrevocably into the context of oppressive cultural norms. So like, yes, I absolutely hold myself accountable for saying things like “There is something in testosterone that makes talking and gossiping really grating,” and I apologize, but it’s totally predictable that she chose to print that, instead of any of the things I said about how uncertain I’ve felt about socialization, compared to the confidence I had before transitioning, for example. Or, we had a long conversation about how the two most important things you can do to “save the planet” or whatever are to eat locally and avoid commercial airlines, but that sure didn’t make it into the article. So like, yeah, I messed up, but also, so did she. Well-intentioned liberals do what they can, but we all know what the road to hell is paved with, right?
Sometimes I think about the ways that race affect the way an article like that gets written. I mean, I read as white, and so race wasn’t going to be an issue– but what if I were a trans man of color? The mainstream media doesn’t even have a script for trans men of color, do they? So it’s this kind of complicated question about the ways that trans status and race status intersect, and also that question intersects with the question of representation in media. Like which comes first, the narrative that they fit the person into, or the person they fit into the narrative? It seems pretty clear. I don’t know. Have you read Marshall McLuhan?
PQ: Probably, yeah.