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Chaz Bono crosses gender boundaries, ruffles critics' feathers

Chaz Bono has been all over television and radio lately, hawking his new book, Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man, to fawning talk-show hosts and admiring audiences.

Chaz Bono has been all over television and radio lately, hawking his new


Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man,

to fawning talk-show hosts and admiring audiences.

So his appearance Saturday at the 10th annual Trans Gender Health Conference should have been a love fest, right?

The three-day event is the largest of its kind in the world, said sponsors at the LGBT-friendly Mazzoni Center on South 12th Street. A record 1,900 came this year: adults, teens, and a smattering of children as young as 4, all in various stages of gender transformation (yes, the children, too), as well as their parents and allies.

Mazzoni director Narit Shein introduced Bono:

"What you've done for the movement has propelled it forward so much faster than we could," she told him.

Daniel O'Donoghue, who arrived early to grab a good seat, said he had watched little Chastity Bono on her parents' 1970s television show, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.

"It's so affirming," O'Donoghue said, "to see him out and proud."

In childhood, Bono told the audience, he realized he wanted to be like the boys he knew - not the girls. He came out as a lesbian at 18 and struggled for decades before acknowledging to himself and others his need to transition.

He is in a committed relationship now, with a woman who stuck by him through the change he started two years ago, taking testosterone and undergoing "top surgery," in which the breasts are removed and the chest re-shaped.

"I waited so long because of fear," he told the audience. "Fear of rejection."

By that time, Sonny Bono had already died, in a skiing accident. In the book, Bono describes his ever-shifting relationship with his mother, Cher, as loving but never fully accepting.

The first few attendees who rose to speak thanked Bono for giving a positive public face to a community that has been ignored, ridiculed, and attacked.

But Bono also has been chastised for clinging to traditional gender roles; some critics wish he would emphasize the range of gender expression that is possible.

Their most serious complaint, though, is how Bono describes his post-testosterone - male - personality.

"I find that women seem to have the ability to talk endlessly about things, recounting every little detail," he writes. "When I'm around such chatter, it starts to drive me crazy. . . . When I'm with a group of women . . . I just want to jump out of my skin."

At the conference, some in the audience took Bono to task for that.

"Are you aware people say you are negative and berating to women?" one challenged.

"You said you don't gossip anymore, as if gossiping is a negative female characteristic," someone else complained.

"I do still gossip!" Bono declared, drawing some laughs.

Then he got serious: "It's not my responsibility to speak for every faction of this community."

"I'm sorry that some people are offended, but some people are always going to be offended," he said, and left to an ovation.

Later, Bono said he was not surprised. Being the child of celebrities has always had its downside, and that's exaggerated now that he's a high-profile transman.

German-born Trevor-Norman Schultz, an architect in New York City, was pleased with what he saw and heard.

"It's true that testosterone is very powerful, it's true that many men are ruled by their sexual urges, and it's shameful when we see it in public figures," he said.

"But I'm of another generation. I'm 56, and I started transitioning at 52. My reaction is that it's great that he stands up for being trans. I think it's great that he makes it visible for all of America and the world."