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Q Doc Sunday night film review: Becoming Chaz

Becoming Chaz - Chaz Bono and Jennifer Elia

Becoming Chaz - Chaz Bono and partner Jennifer Elia

Mostly famous as the daughter of Sonny and Cher, Becoming Chaz is the story of Chastity Bono’s transition to becoming Chaz Bono, more specifically, Bono’s decision to have top surgery and to come out publicly as a transman. In the process, we see Chaz deal with the difficulties in his relationship to partner Jenny, navigate the murky waters of his relationship to his mother, Cher, and take on the task of tackling the media by coming out publicly as trans. Becoming Chaz, while containing fascinating footage of the added impact of fame and publicity on a transition, is sadly a rather uninspired documentary film that feels oddly dated.

Sandwiches, shaving and sex changes all feature in Becoming Chaz, the 2010 documentary about the transition of (formerly) Chastity Bono. So many sandwiches, in fact, that you almost have to wonder if Chaz (and Jenny) eat anything else. Chaz, as we learn through footage shot at his and Jenny’s home, is a bit of an introvert, shunning the spotlight (some forways into early 90’s Girl Rock Land and a terrible cameo in Bar Girls notwithstanding), staying home, looking after his many cats and dogs, playing videogames, and yes, eating sandwiches. (That’s how Chaz got Jenny out on a date) The narrative of Becoming Chaz fits in squarely with the “I was a man in a woman’s body” flavour of transgendered self-identification, and Chaz readily admits to “hating his body since puberty”, but that he never “considered a sex change”.

Becoming Chaz superficially discusses binders, testosterone, and top/bottom surgery, and employs the expert opinion of Chaz’ doctor, but ultimately provides no new information or insight for those who have seen any other documentary about FtM transitioning before.

The movie poster for Chaz Bono's Becoming Chaz

The movie poster for Chaz Bono's Becoming Chaz

What the documentary does discuss in detail is Chaz’s relationship with his partner Jenny, who, despite being supportive of Chaz’s transition, seems uncomfortable with many aspects of Chaz as a person. Critical of his weight, critical of his video game habit and and obviously struggling with his changes in personality as a result (according to Chaz) to his regular injections of testosterone, the way Jenny is portrayed feels exploitative. We are treated to several wince-inducing moments of interpersonal drama when Chaz terrorizes the overwrought Jenny in the kitchen of their home, and both Chaz and Jenny repeatedly note how he is angrier, less sweethearted and less able to stand “girl stuff” than he used to be. These statements are left unchallenged, and we are simply supposed to believe that this stereotypically “macho” version of manhood is inevitable. The fact that there are many differently bodied men (and women!) who both fit and don’t fit with this version of manhood is not addressed. The only person in the film who presents the charge to “challenge definitions of manhood” is Masen Davis, from the transgender law center.

After Chaz’s surgery, he has to approach dealing with the media, and this is, in my mind, the freshest piece of the film, and what sets Becoming Chaz off against other documentaries. We hear how talk radio taunts and ridicules Chaz’s transition, while television channels are falling over themselves to broadcast “Cher’s daughter becomes a man” type exposes. Cher is barely present in Becoming Chaz, and it’s obvious that Cher still struggles with Chaz’s transition.

Ultimately, Becoming Chaz isn’t too terribly exciting a film, and provides little new insight into the aspects of chemical and surgical transition that Chaz undergoes. It is worth watching as an investigation into how mass media can affect the transition of an individual, but at the end of the day, it asks to few questions, and is too comfortable staying on the surface.

Overall grade: B-

Becoming Chaz screens Sunday June 5 and 7p at the Clinton St Theater (2522 SE Clinton St).

Trailer:

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