With hidden cameras and a hint of pedantry, ABC's primetime series What Would You Do? has tested society's comfort with everything from same-sex parents to public breastfeeding (see "Staged Fright," Bitch #53). This week's segment tackles transphobia and reveals what we already knew: No conversation about transgender people is complete without bringing out the Bono.
Chaz Bono, spawn of Cher, is the unlikely and often unwanted poster child of transness. But his presence has an undeniable impact.
What Would You Do? sets the scene at a small-town New Jersey diner. Former RuPaul's Drag Race contestant Carmen Carrera plays a trans waitress being verbally harrassment by Kevin, an actor who plays a transphobic customer. Kevin gives us a dose of transphobic douchebaggery, the cameras start rolling, and we watch and wait to see who will step in.
"What the hell is the matter with you? Look at yourself! You're a freak!" Kevin sputters.
One patron decides to step in. She drops her fork and stares Kevin down. She has to let Kevin know transphobia is so last year, that transgender people are ok—they're even the children of popstars. Yep, she has to bring out the Bono.
"Look at Chaz Bono," she says. "[Cher] used to have a daughter and now she's a guy."
Bono hasn't been a glowing example for the trans community. His documentary, Becoming Chaz, makes him come off like a sandwich-eating, woman-hating stereotype, and his insistence that gender is biologically programmed erases the experiences of the many transgender people who feel otherwise.
But he's there. And despite his inaccurate and prescriptive views on gender, Bono's out-and-proud presence educates folks who hadn't known that transgender people existed until he danced his way onto reality TV.
Now when I tell people I'm transgender, they don't ask if I've "had the surgery." They don't ask whether I date boys or girls. They just want to know if I watch Dancing With the Stars. While Bono is certainly not an adequate representation of my experience or my community, I'm glad that folks have a way to show me that they're "hip to it."
Bringing out the Bono doesn't deter actor Kevin's transphobia on What Would You Do?, but the scene ends on a hopeful note. A dudely patron struts over to Kevin and tells him to leave Carmen alone or get out.
"It's okay to be whoever you want to be. This is America," the patron says.
Tune in to watch the full episode this Friday at 10 pm EST on ABC.