Explaining Chaz Bono on Dancing with the Stars to NPR: It's all about the transformation
Here's the thing people don't understand about stereotypes, prejudice and bigotry.
They're often not ugly and repellent; they're seductive.
Stereotypes help simplify a complex world. Why worry about economic justice for the poor if they're mostly welfare-bound freeloaders? Who cares about civil rights for gay people if they're considered deviants in need of serious spiritual and psychological help?
And why tolerate a transgender person joining one of network TV's top shows, if you can dismiss him as a confused symbol of America's moral decline?
Which brings us to Chaz Bono and Dancing with the Stars.
Since news broke that the show cast Chaz -- born a girl called Chastity to pop stars Sonny and Cher -- there have been reports of a backlash from the public that supposedly surprised the show's producers. Gauging the truth of that surprise, given how closely the program courts controversy to spike ratings -- they considered, for example, having gay fashion expert Carson Kressley dance with a male partner -- is tough to measure.
But Dr. Keith Ablow, the psychiatrist who panders regularly to Fox News Channel's right-leaning audience, slapped his face on the anti-Bono prejudice with a column urging parents not to let their kids watch the show.
Calling Bono's struggle with his sexual identity "discomfort" with his gender, Ablow compared gender reassignment surgery to asking a surgeon to put a tail on your body or remove your arms. These, however, are connections his colleagues in world of actual psychological research have yet to make.
And, to be honest, what a consenting, sane adult chooses to do with his or her own body, as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else, is mostly their business.
Even as Bono hopes to dispel stereotypes about transgender people, Ablow argues the example will encourage impressionable children to seek gender reassignment surgery -- as if changing your gender was a choice comparable to trying weed for the first time or going on a joyride.Stuff like this even inspired Bono's mom Cher, who was not initially enthusiastic about her son's gender change, defending her boy on Twitter.
The saddest part about all this is that the corporate and moneymaking priorities over this debate are so transparent. Ablow wants to hitch his media star to a fast-emerging controversy, secure that his core audience will never look past their own prejudices to refute his flawed rhetoric.
Dancing with the Stars sees a ready-made controversy pre-packaged for its audience of affluent women. Bono has appeared on Oprah Winfrey's syndicated TV show and aired the documentary about his change on Winfrey's OWN cable channel (by the way, if Ablow wants to keep kids from unnecessarily getting gender reassignment surgery, all he has to do is show them that unsparing, incisive film about how tough it was for Bono to make the change).
With Winfrey's help, Bono was already known to Dancing's core audience -- viewers who love stories of redemption, transformation and positive change. He's now poised to tell all kinds of stories, from his journey to male indentity to being an overweight guy competing on the most visible dancing contest in the world.
In a just world, panderers like Ablow would suffer the obscurity and scorn they deserve. But in a media universe where controversy is the grease that spins the wheels of commerce, it is far too easy to spit up stereotypes and prejudice, leading the willing toward a less-complicated vision of life.
Tell you this: I'll be watching Chaz with my 7-year-old daughter when the show debuts.
Check out my comments on the issue for National Public Radio's Tell Me More show, aired on Friday, along with the trailer for Bono's documentary, Becoming Chaz: