The face in the mirror is yours. Yes, you recognize that chin, the eyes that droop when fatigued, the mouth that’s etched parentheses around itself, as if to enclose something you said. That’s your hair. Those are your ears. That’s your nose.
It’s you there in the mirror—the outside you—but inside, well, what you see isn’t what you know. In the new book Transition by Chaz Bono (with Billie Fitzpatrick), you’ll read what it’s like to feel like you’re in the wrong body, and how a tiny Hollywood darling became a man.
On the wall of his home, Chaz Bono has a picture of himself and his parents, taken when he was a toddler. They all look happy, Bono says, but he doesn’t remember that day, or much of his childhood. What he does remember, though, is that he always felt like a boy, even though he was the daughter of Sonny and Cher.
Bono says that, as a child, he dressed in boy clothes as much as possible and answered to a boy’s nickname. He played with boys at school and his best friend was a boy. Nobody thought much about it, he says. That’s just the way it was.
Puberty was rough and Bono came out as a lesbian, but something still wasn’t quite right. He didn’t identify with women, gay or otherwise, and distant feelings of masculinity colored his relationships with them and with his family. Still, he lived his life as a woman: falling in love, starting a band, buying a house, and trying to stay out of the public eye.
Bono’s father seemed supportive of his lesbianism. His mother had trouble with it.
But happiness eluded Bono, and he turned to drugs to cope with the frustration. By then, though, he thought he knew what he needed to do. On March 20, 2009, he says, “I drove myself to the doctor’s office…. I felt only confident that what I was doing was right…. After all the years of fear, ambivalence, doubts, and emotional torture, the day had finally come. I was on testosterone, and I have never looked back—not once.”
Author Chaz Bono says at one point that he was never very good at transitions. He did a pretty good job at this one, with a few minor bumps.
Transition is filled with angst, anger, sadness, and pain, topped off with wonderment and joy. It’s also repetitious, contains a few indelicately squirmy moments, and its occasional bogginess is a challenge for wandering minds.
For wondering minds, even though Bono is quick to defend and explain away his family’s reluctance to accept his gender reassignment, he’s also willing to admit to being hurt by it. Still, contentment and awe shine forth at the end of this book, and readers will breathe a sigh of relief for it.
If you can face the slowness that crops up now and then in Transition, you’ll find it to be a pretty good memoir. For patient readers, it’s a book to put your hands on.
Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.