Last night, the Joy Behar Show featured a discussion between Chaz Bono, son of the famous singers Sonny and Cher and author of the new book “Transition”; actress and producer Laverne Cox; actress Harmony Santana; and fashion icon Isis King of America’s Next Top Model. The three celebrities talked to openly gay newscaster Don Lemon about being transgender.
The segment began with Don, the guest host, talking in-depth with Chaz about his personal experience and the struggles that transgender people continue to face. “For me, the difficult part came before I had the courage to transition. And once I finally got that strength, my life has just been a tremendous blessing,” Chaz said. Chaz talked about the difficulties transgender people have today in accessing proper medical care.
Laverne Cox, Harmony Santana, and Isis King, whom Don referred to as “trailblazers in the transgender community,” joined the conversation afterwards. Each woman shared some of her personal story, including her struggles as she grew up. Laverne recalled the powerful transphobia she internalized throughout her childhood. Harmony and Isis spoke about being homeless. Both have lived in group shelters, and Harmony currently still lives in a program for homeless and runaway youth.
Chaz remembers conflating his gender identity with his sexual orientation while he was growing up, because he didn’t know anything about what it meant to be transgender. “I knew I liked women. I had always felt like a boy, but I figured, well, I’m a lesbian, and I guess that’s how lesbians feel…I thought there must be something wrong with me.” Isis agreed, saying “I just knew that I was different from everyone else that I had seen in school.”
The celebrities also discussed the importance of role models in the media. Chaz said that it would have made his life “so much easier” if there were transgender people in the media for him to look up to while he was growing up. “I’m really proud to be out here so that kids who are realizing that they’re transgender have people to look at and say, ‘Okay, you know, maybe I’m going to be okay. Maybe this isn’t the worst thing. Maybe I can have a happy, successful, joyous life.’”
“I think anytime we see transgender people represented in humanized, diverse ways in the media, it helps,” said Laverne, the first African American transgender woman to ever have her own television show. “If we’re ever going to have a real revolution in terms of gender … it’s got to be our whole culture thinking differently about gender, thinking differently about what it means to be a man or woman and defining that for ourselves. … It’s about mass education, it’s about visibility.”
Finally, the conversation turned to LGBT politics and identity within the larger community. “Historically we’re linked, and politically we’re linked,” said Laverne of the LGB and transgender communities, explaining that gay men are often looked down upon as being “feminine” or are emasculated for loving other men.
Chaz agreed and pointed out that for all LGBT people, the majority of discrimination is based on gender expression rather than sexual orientation. Furthermore, many transgender and transsexual people connect with the gay and lesbian community at some point in their process of identifying themselves. “I don’t think a lot of people know this, but trans women were instrumental in the Stonewall Riots—which is the birth of the modern gay movement—and then kind of got pushed aside,” he notes.
The discussion provided a great opportunity for Americans to learn about issues of the transgender community during a primetime news hour on a mainstream television show. Transgender people regularly face discrimination at much larger rates than the general population in educational institutions, the workplace, public accommodations, economic status, and virtually every other area of their lives. Transgender women of color in particular face both race and sex discrimination, and several major news stories this summer have highlighted the violence they regularly face.
GLAAD applauds the Joy Behar Show for airing this segment and devoting their time to such a pressing conversation.