Inside Chaz Bono's Life Today

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Chaz Bono has lived in the national spotlight since he was just a toddler. As the only child of legendary pop duo Sonny Bono and Cher, his career in showbiz began with dozens of appearances on their '70s variety series, The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour. However, the well-liked actor, activist, and author, who was biologically assigned female at birth but identifies as male, later paved his own path in Hollywood.

After initially coming out as lesbian in 1995, Bono used his platform to raise awareness as an LGBTQ+ activist, wrote the books Family Outing and The End of Innocence, and navigated the reality TV circuit, before publicly announcing his gender transition in 2009. His turn on Dancing With the Stars two years later broke new ground in transgender representation on television, and the multi-hyphenate shared his experiences in the Emmy-nominated documentary Becoming Chaz. So, what has this transgender star been up to since becoming who he was always meant to be? Here's an inside look at Chaz Bono's life today.

An unbreakable mother-son bond

While Cher has been known as a beloved queer icon and an outspoken LGBTQ+ rights advocate for decades, she unfortunately struggled with her own son's coming out experiences. According to Family Outing, the "Believe" singer initially went "ballistic" when Bono first revealed he was lesbian in the mid-'90s (via CNN), and later told Pride Source in 2018 that she admittedly had a "fear of losing the child you love" when he began transitioning over a decade later. 

"It's generational," Bono explained to Reuters in 2011. "Younger people just seem to deal with this better. People don't look at her as a parent, but she's an actual person ... [For] even the most supportive parent, this is a difficult adjustment." Thankfully, Cher's thinking on the matter has since evolved, and this mother-son duo appear to be closer than ever nowadays. "I think she's always been supportive of everybody's differences," Bono told Access Hollywood in 2017, but added, "It took her a little bit of time to ... just really realize that I was much happier."

One of the first openly transgender stars

According to The Advocate, Chaz Bono's groundbreaking run on Dancing With The Stars in 2011 "marked the first time an openly trans man starred on a major network television show for something unrelated to being trans." While the former reality TV star finished in seventh place, one of Hollywood's first openly transgender stars was undeniably born. While helping to center the fight for LGBTQ+ rights within the public's consciousness, Bono's dance competition stint was more specifically credited for paving the way for additional transgender representation in the media. 

To name just a handful of examples, Laverne Cox later broke new ground with her critically acclaimed portrayal inmate Sophia Burset on Orange Is the New Black, while Jazz Jennings documented her journey as a young trans woman on I Am Jazz. Meanwhile, former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner landed her own E! series with I Am Cait, and scripted series like Transparent and Pose raised the bar when it came to telling transgender stories on television. However, according to a study performed by GLAAD, of the 857 characters in scripted broadcast primetime shows in 2018, only 26 were transgender. So, here's hoping this trend in on-screen LGBTQ+ representation continues to improve across the board.

It's a no-go on reality TV

Best known as the only child of Sonny and Cher for most of his life, Bono began to distance himself from the shadow cast by his parents' fame with a number of appearances on reality TV, including shows like Celebrity Fit Club, Dancing With the Stars, and RuPaul's Drag Race. However, after sharing his gender transition journey on Becoming Chaz in 2011, the aspiring actor officially switched career paths and focused all of his time and energy on developing his craft.

"I remember saying to [my team], 'I'm not going to do [reality TV] anymore, I'm going to be an actor,' and they were like, 'What? You're going to do what?'" Bono told The Advocate in 2018. "I said, 'I can't do that anymore, because people won't take me seriously, and it's going to be hard enough as it is. This is what I've always wanted to be, and I'm going to be an actor.'"

His breakout role came later in life

While Bono always dreamed of becoming an actor, he put these plans on the back burner for decades due to his discomfort in playing female roles prior to transitioning. Instead, he spent much of his career pursuing music, LGBTQ+ activism, and various reality TV gigs, before shifting focus and giving acting another shot. In 2016, Bono scored two breakout roles on the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful and American Horror Story: Roanoke at the age of 47.

"If I was born male, I would have done what so many of my classmates [did] who ... went on to college and then started their careers and are still working," Bono told The Advocate in 2018. "But I couldn't do that." While telling Pride Source that he's "always hustling" to land roles, the TV star noted, "It's a weird thing, because on the one hand I try to emphasize that being transgender doesn't affect my acting at all ... but what it did affect was that, unfortunately, I started doing what I love so late in life because it happens to be a profession where you have to be comfortable and in the right body to do it."

He's passing on trans characters

Amid this renewed momentum in his acting career, Bono made a conscious decision to avoid portraying transgender characters on-screen. "I really consider myself a character actor, and I really like playing parts that are very different from myself," the TV star told Pride Source in 2018. "That's what I enjoy about acting, that's what's fun for me, and I think it's what I'm really good at." 

Other than not wanting to limit himself creatively or be pigeonholed within the entertainment industry, Bono's main strategy was to simply establish himself as an actor above anything else. "I felt the best opportunity that I had for longevity was to do stuff where I was the least recognizable as myself," he revealed during Variety's first-ever transgender actors' roundtable. "Not only have I had to deal with being trans; I've had to deal with being known as something other than an actor, and with nepotism on top of it."

His unique understanding of the opposite sex

After being assigned female at birth, Bono spent the first 39 years of his life living as a male inside a woman's body. However, that doesn't mean he gets the opposite sex as well as some might suspect. "I always felt like the male from the time I was a child. There wasn't much feminine about me," he told Entertainment Tonight in 2009 (via The Advocate). He later explaining to Oprah Winfrey on Where Are They Now? that despite getting "a closer look at women" than most men early on in life, he instead developed a "very different perspective."

"I don't think I understand women particularly better ... not the emotional side that men, that we don't get, that we are just, like, scared of. No, I really don't. I never had that," Bono continued. "Even before, [I] would find myself in relationships doing something that I had no idea what I'd done that really upset my girlfriend and I didn't know why, in the same way that men do."

He found love

After six years of of dating and a brief engagement, Bono and longtime fiancée Jennifer Elia amicably called it quits in 2011 (via People), and the actor found himself largely living the single life throughout the 2010s. "I seem to repel women that I am attracted to," he jokingly told The New York Daily News in 2015. "I have been single for four years, which has been a great thing and [it's] great to have time to myself." However, Bono was swept off his feet by Housing Works staff member Shara Blue Mathes two years later. 

The celeb pairing became Instagram official in February 2017 after attending Cher's Sin City residency. "In Las Vegas with @sharablue," Bono wrote to his followers at the time, captioning a sweet photo of the new couple. "So grateful to be with this beautiful and amazing woman." Since then, these two have continually exhibited total #RelationshipGoals on social media. Some of our favorites posts include Mathes gushing over her man on National Boyfriend Day in October 2017, and Bono's festive snapshot from December 2018.

His weight loss journey

For a number of years, Bono publicly struggled with weight gain due to his longtime experience with gender dysphoria, which the NHS defines as "a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there's a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity." This led to the actor developing a negative self-image, disinterest in taking care of himself, and a battle with prescription drug addiction, which he kicked in 2004 (via After Ellen).

Standing at 5 ft. 5 1/2 in., Bono weighed in at 250 pounds following his gender transition. Finally feeling comfortable in his body, he publicly vowed to lose 50 pounds in November 2012, before shedding an impressive 75 pounds by the following year with the help of The Doctors. "I would have never been able to do it before [transitioning]," he revealed on Oprah: Where Are They Now? in 2016 (via People). "I was too disconnected from my body, and the dysphoria that I had with my body was too much to be able to have cared enough to anything like that."

He's distanced himself from activist work

During the '90s and 2000s, Bono became heavily involved in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. As a high-profile activist, he was a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, Entertainment Media Director for GLAAD, and writer for The Advocate (via Biography). However, he's notably put his activist work more on the back burner ever since transitioning.

"Honestly, I'm not really that involved with anything like that anymore," he told Smashing Interviews Magazine in 2016. "Since I started acting, I've really felt like I had to focus on that and had to just leave everything else aside for now. It's really hard to get work and to be looked at as an actor for me, especially as an actor who happens to be transgender. So for these past few years, I really made the decision to just focus on this and really concentrate on my career." While Bono went on to add, "I've had to take a step away from anything of an activist standpoint," he is still known to use social media as a tool to speak out on various social and political issues.

A surprising no-show in The Cher Show

The 2018 Broadway musical The Cher Show naturally depicts the titular pop star's life, but surprisingly leaves Chaz Bono largely absent from the plot. According to Rolling Stone, our guy only appears on stage briefly as a baby, but is referred to as "Chaz" and he/him pronouns. "It's as if Chaz's life has no bearing on Cher's," wrote critic Peter Marks of The Washington Post, while NewNowNext's Michael Musto wondered, "Is Broadway trying to eradicate trans existence, like Trump is?" Amid the confusion over this artistic decision, a production spokesperson told The New York Daily News, "The creative team behind The Cher Show feel it's Chaz's story to tell and we wanted to make sure the moments we do have in the show are handled with great sensitivity." 

As of this writing, Bono himself has yet to publicly comment on the matter. However, he did visit the show in early January 2019, and it looks as though there are no hard feelings. "Had an amazing trip to NYC!" he wrote in part on Instagram at the time, adding, "Went to see ... #chershow, so amazing!"

He's playing all of his cards

While continuing to make his blossoming acting career his number one priority, Bono is looking toward the future. "I've got little projects and stuff that I'm working on," he told Pride Source, before noting that he'd even be open to the idea of collaborating with mom Cher one day. "That would be so bizarre, but I think she's very talented," the actor said with a laugh. "But I don't have any interest in directing. I'm just not a very visual person, but I do have an interest in getting projects off the ground and producing." 

Whenever he's not working, however, Bono's hobbies and training keep him busy. "I have friends. I'm still in class. I produced a play, and I've done other people's productions," he told Smashing Interviews Magazine in 2016. "I'm also in a musical theatre parody company ... I'm not a workaholic, but that's what I really enjoy doing." At the time of this writing, Bono's latest projects include movies like Reborn, Adi Shankar's Gods and Secrets, and Famous and Fatal.

He's thriving as his true self

Chaz Bono's transition didn't just break new ground in transgender representation in Hollywood and encourage him to finally pursue his dreams as an actor. On a deeply personal level, the experience allowed this multi-talent to finally live his life openly and authentically while outwardly presenting himself as his true self.

"It's not offensive [to say I lived life as a girl], but it would be wrong," Bono said on Oprah: Where Are They Now? in 2016. "I didn't live my life as a girl. I lived my life as a male inside a female body for a long time. But at this point, I really feel just like a 46-year-old man who got here in a slightly different way than most men do." Noting that transgender people are sometimes incorrectly "thought of as we're trying to hoodwink other people," the actor went on to argue, "No, no, we're actually... that wasn't who I was. Now I'm who I am. This is who... this is me." He added, "That was the lie. This is the truth."