October 11, 2012
By Kristin E. Holmes
As Chaz Bono recounted his transformation from cute little daughter of singers Sonny and Cher to the 43-year-old transgender man standing at the lectern, students at Penn State Abington found pieces of their own stories.
For Richard Kirchenbauer, 60, it was the memory of seeing a 4-year-old Chastity Bono in Sonny Bono’s arms during a performance at the old Valley Forge Music Fair.
For Seonne Baylor, 23, it was coming out as a lesbian to her parents.
For Erin Donnelly, 18, it was accepting a cousin who announced that she was pansexual.
“Life is too short to compromise yourself and not be yourself, whoever that is,” Bono told a packed meeting room in the Abington campus’ Lares Building.
Bono’s appearance on Thursday was part of the campus’ observance of National Coming Out Day, which celebrates coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, or coming out as an ally of the communities.
The event is one of several on-campus events planned this year to celebrate LGBT equality, said cross-country and track coach Jose Rodriguez, campus coordinator of intercultural affairs.
“There is still a lot of stigma or unawareness of a trans person’s life – their struggles and everyday challenges,” Rodriguez said. “It’s huge for our campus to have a [transgender] person – especially a well-known person – to talk about their journey.”
Bono’s transformation has been public, chronicled in books and an Emmy-nominated documentary. He touted it proudly during a stint on the TV show Dancing With the Stars.
It started with a childhood in the spotlight that Bono described as a troubled coming of age.
During puberty, “I felt like my body was betraying me,” Bono told the more than 200 students and faculty. “My [male] friends were becoming taller, leaner, and more muscular, and I was becoming softer, rounder, fuller – everything I didn’t want to be.”
In the years that followed, Bono lived as a lesbian, a gender identity he initially thought applied to him.
But Bono never felt at ease. At a backyard barbecue, his internal struggle reached a tipping point. He looked around at the women at the party.
“No matter how they expressed themselves, they were comfortable with their gender identity, and I wasn’t,” Bono said. “I felt like a male and wished I had been born male.”
Soon after, he decided to begin the transition.
Sitting in the audience, senior Baylor, 23, felt a kinship. She had come out to her parents at 16.
“It was a heavy burden, and a lot of pressure,” Baylor said. “I could relate to where he’s coming from, and I’m just glad to see so many people come out to talk about this issue.”