Will Chaz Bono Throw Your Kid Into an Identity Crisis?

Family Matters on 09.12.11
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Photo: Noel Vasquez/Contributor/Getty Images Entertainment

When the most recent cast of Dancing With the Stars was announced on August 29, there were the usual characters: reality stars (Kristin Cavallari and Rob Kardashian), athletes (Ron Artest and Hope Solo), and celebrities hoping for some kind of comeback (David Arquette, Chynna Phillips, and Ricki Lake). Pretty standard fare compared with season's past.

But this fall, the dancing reality competition added one contestant to its lineup who is causing a bit of controversy: Chaz Bono, the only child of Cher and the late Sonny Bono. The drama stems from the fact that Chaz is transgender and -- gasp! -- will be dancing with a woman.

Although Chaz was born a female (Chastity), he has gone through gender reassignment surgery and is living his life as a man. Even the courts recognize the gender change with a judge granting Chaz's petition for a gender and name change in May 2010. So, I don't see what all the fuss is about. To me, Chaz Bono is a man, and is perfectly within his right to dance with a woman. (And for the record, I'd be perfectly comfortable with same-sex couples sharing the brightly lit stage, too.)

Not everyone agrees with me, however. There's been some backlash that he's not technically a man and shouldn't be able to compete on the show. Many think it would provide too much confusion for viewers, in particular to children who watch the show. Dr. Keith Ablow, psychiatrist and contributor to Fox News, for example, recently wrote that parents shouldn't let their children watch him at all because there's a risk that kids will enter into their own identity crisis based on his example.

I have three things to say about this. One, if a transgender contestant makes you uncomfortable,  then don't let your children watch the show, but I see no reason why Chaz should be excluded from participating because he's more comfortable living his life as a man.

Second, why does it even have to be an issue with children? A show like Dancing With the Stars is a form of escapism, so we can all watch "celebrities" wear fun costumes and dance to good music. Let your children watch the show simply because it's fun. It doesn't have to have this complex undertone to it. It's only dancing.

And finally, this could prove to be the perfect opportunity to open the conversational doors with your children about such issues as sex, identity, bullying, overcoming obstacles, and a myriad of other hard issues that may get swept under the rug, otherwise. If a child really does develop an identity crisis from watching the show, as Dr. Ablow is convinced it will, then shouldn't we, as parents, talk to them about their feelings and help them work through what's happening?  It didn't take a TV show for Chaz to realize he was different, and if a child is going to have these feelings, too, then it will come out eventually, TV show or not. I believe if we're open and honest with our kids, we answer a lot of questions they have and, hopefully, eliminate some of the confusion they may feel.

And if you don't agree with any of the points I've made, maybe Dr. John M. Oldham can put you at ease. He is also a psychiatrist and the president of the American Psychiatric Association. In a statement to TMZ, he said, "There is no evidence that viewing a television game show with a transgender contestant would induce Gender Identity Disorder in young people."

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