Part of my job here is trolling the Internet for items to put in the weekly E-News. I’m supposed to stick to those things that are HIV-related, but my generous boss allows me to stray into politics and lifestyle items as well, especially if they are relevant to the LGBT community.
So it will be no surprise that I jumped on the headline “ABC receives complaints about Chaz Bono being cast in Dancing with the Stars.” Huh? Chastity is now Chaz and has agreed to be on DWTS?
Yep. ABC deserves credit for daring to add the first transgender person to the cast of its hit show. Like the openly gay Lance Bass, Bono will be paired with Lacey Schwimmer, who, in my brief glimpses of the show, seems to be the “bad girl” who breaks the rules, as well as an innovative choreographer and dancer.
Bono, the only child of Sonny and Cher, was born female but legally changed his gender and name last year. Evidently, he achieved this feat without me knowing a thing about it—maybe it happened while I was recovering from my hip replacement. In any case, the announcement that he would join the dance competition immediately made him one of the most high-profile transgendered people in the world.
A torrent of complaints have been leveled at ABC since the announcement of Bono’s participation. While some criticism has been about Bono’s weight (weightism, the last socially encouraged bigotry) or his celebrity existing only because of his parents (as was said about Bristol Palin and Kelly Osbourne), it unfortunately has also brought to light the kind of prejudice that Bono and other transgender people face. Fortunately, for everyone who vented disgust or questioned whether Bono would dance with a man or a woman, there were many who defended Bono and accused his critics of bigotry.
ABC intended to create a lighthearted “reality” show. Instead, argument could be made that the show has become the impetus for deeper discussions (or dark revelations) about values, tolerance, bigotry, and politics. From the heartening transformation that Kelly Osbourne made with her weird but proud parents sitting right there in the audience; Emmet Smith’s demonstration that an NFL superstar can be graceful and classy; the unfortunately lackadaisical participation of “Master P”; Kirstie Alley’s triumph as the oldest to make the finals and also her display of grace and dignity for a woman her size (like me); the early (and deserved) defeat of Tom DeLay; to the wooden performance of Bristol Palin (without her parents in the audience), DWTS has provided fertile fodder for lunchrooms and beauty parlors, tweets and posts.
No doubt Chaz will add to that fodder. From what I’ve observed in years past, it’s not so much the actual dancing that wins the trophy, but rather the dancer’s sincere effort, respect for the process, and their courage in putting themselves out there in the first place. It’s my hope that, as a member of a marginalized, discriminated against, condemned-by-many population, he will choose to present himself in a way that proves all the bigots and stereotypes wrong. If instead, he gives the audience the caricature they expect, I imagine he’ll be voted off first. Either way, though, it‘s time for the LGBT community (and its allies) to let one of its own know they’ve got his back.
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