08 April 2011

Review: Becoming Chaz

I had the good fortune to see the documentary Becoming Chaz at this year's 25th London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.

Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato's film was a hit at Sundance and is going to have its TV premiere on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Becoming Chaz follows Chaz Bono as he negotiates his transition from female to male, including undergoing medical procedures and encounters with family, friends, activism and fame. A good chunk of the film is devoted to his relationship with Jennifer Elia, who is depicted as a fully-formed and multifaceted person in her own right. Cher also features, predictably, and the film-makers offer a compelling glimpse behind the Hollywood myth factory that she represents. Anyway, the film was a highlight of the festival for me, its warmth and complexity was unexpected and welcome. Chaz and Jenny rule.

Readers of this blog will know that I think Chaz Bono is a powerful fat and trans role model and all-round great guy. I've tried to make contact in the past and have been fully rebuffed! I still think this is a shame but, having seen this film, I understand why fame makes it impossible for Chaz to make any public comment about this stuff.

Anyway, given this, I was interested to see how Chaz' fatness was addressed in the film. It will come as no surprise that there was little in the way of any trad fat lib analysis, but Chaz appears very at home in his body. Post top surgery there were many shots of him splashing around in various swimming pools, apparently unfazed with public semi-nudity, hurray! Jennifer referred to his top surgery as conferring a minor weight loss, ie his body no longer has the weight of his breasts, but he seemed unconcerned. He talked about his role model being a stocky man, and he appeared not to buy into fatphobia at all, onscreen at least. Go Chaz!

As for me, it was a total pleasure to sit in a packed screening of 400 people and see a feature-length documentary about a fat trans guy, and to see his embodiment right there, bigger than life, on a huge screen, and to know that people were witnessing it sympathetically. People will, no doubt, critique its representation of trans identity, but for now it reminded me that a) I want to see more tales of transmasculine fat, b) Becoming Chaz adds a lot to the currently fairly minimal body of work on men and fat, and c) it's great to see unapologetically fat people on screen. Also, I wish RuPaul would come round for a playdate with me.

Here's the cheesy Oprah Winfrey Network trailer for Becoming Chaz:

2 comments:

Jennifer said...

Thanks for posting that. I had to cry a bit at the cheesy trailer! just thinking what the presence of that narrative on mainstream TV is going to mean to young kids in the process of coming out trans.

Charlotte Cooper said...

Some trans people are already debating the depiction of trans identity in the film, so there's stuff to be said about it, for sure. But I think it's a good portrayal of Chaz Bono's life, given the kind of film it is, ie slick Hollywood product.