Bono, Chastity 1969–
BONO, Chastity 1969–
PERSONAL: Born 1969; daughter of Sonny (an entertainer, singer, and congressman) and Cher (an entertainer, singer, and actress; maiden name, Sarkisian) Bono; partner of Laura LaMastro. Education: Attended New York University.
CAREER: Journalist. Ceremony (rock band), member, beginning 1989; Advocate, staff journalist, beginning 1995; Human Rights Campaign, spokesperson, c. 1996; Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation (GLAAD), entertainment media director, 1996–98.
(With Billie Fitzpatrick) Family Outing, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1998.
(With Michele Kort) The End of Innocence, Advocate Books/Alyson Publications (Los Angeles, CA), 2002.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A book based on Bono's relationship with an older woman who died of cancer; a screenplay.
SIDELIGHTS: Chastity Bono has both stirred up controversy and won considerable support for her work on gay rights issues. The publicity surrounding her life and activism has been amplified by her inherited celebrity. Bono is the daughter of pop-music superstars Sonny and Cher, who regularly topped the charts with hit songs during the 1960s and 1970s and parlayed their success into a popular television show. Bono grew up in Hollywood amid all the trappings of wealth and fame, and while she was still a toddler, she was regularly featured on her parents' variety show. Though she was frequently dressed in gowns that matched her mother's outrageous Bob Mackie designer clothes, Bono always considered herself a "tomboy" and had a sense that there was something "different" about her. While in her early teens, she identified her feelings as part of a homosexual orientation. Despite her family's Hollywood lifestyle and the fact that there were many gay people in her mother's world, Chastity found that her lesbianism was extremely difficult for her mother to accept. Her family difficulties were compounded when a tabloid newspaper "outed" her as a lesbian when she had been maintaining a facade of heterosexuality. At first, Bono publicly denied the reports, but she eventually became one of the most easily-recognizable figures to publicly proclaim her homosexuality, then followed that move with a meaningful career in gay-rights activism. Bono has also written two books about her life, Family Outing and End of Innocence.
In Family Outing, Bono not only offers a memoir of her own life, but uses her reminiscences and those of others who contribute their stories to the book to illustrate the process of accepting and declaring one's homosexuality. "The book is not a big psychological analysis of coming out," she told Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service writer Nancy Murrell. "I really wanted to write a book about gay and lesbian people for everyone who has a gay or lesbian person in their lives … and the best way to get the tools to come out is to share stories of other people's successes and failures—what they did right and wrong." In Family Outing, Bono recounts a childhood filled with anxiety. Her parents divorced when she was four, but they continued to perform together and shared in their daughter's upbringing. Chastity was shuttled from one house to the other in order to spend equal time with both parents, an arrangement they believed was best for her, but which Bono felt was alienating. She describes increasing tension with her glamorous mother, who went on to a successful career in music and films after her partnership with Sonny ended. Cher often criticized Chastity's choice of boyish clothes and lack of female friends. Bono remembers doing poorly in school, and intuitively associating her mother's disapproval with the fact that she was somehow different from other girls. She recognized what this difference was when she was thirteen, while viewing a scene from the film Personal Best in which actress Mariel Hemingway kisses another woman. "Suddenly I got it," she remembered in a People interview. "I got me."
When she was fourteen, Bono left Los Angeles to attend the High School of Performing Arts in New York, NY. She remembers it as a positive experience. "I'm one of the few gay people who loved high school," she told New York Times reporter Alex Witchel. "High school was the first time I had friends my age." After graduating in 1987, Bono attended New York University, but dropped out after a year to join a rock band, Ceremony. "It's one of my few regrets," she admitted to Witchel. "It was just stupid…. I was never terribly academically inclined. Education was never terribly stressed in my house. Neither one of my parents ever graduated from high school." Ceremony produced the album Hang Out Your Poetry in 1993.
From childhood, Bono had felt more comfortable with her father, who entered politics after retiring from his music career. Sonny Bono was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the state of California and promoted conservative Republican causes, including co-sponsorship of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal recognition of same-sex marriages. This stance strained Chastity's relationship with her father, who died in a skiing accident in early 1998. Despite Representative Bono's conservative record, however, he was supportive of his daughter's life choices—much more so than her mother. When Chastity first admitted her lesbianism to Cher, Cher was said to be very upset and even banished her daughter from the home they shared. Eventually, however, the two were reconciled, and Cher offered her support publicly to Chastity and her gay-rights activities.
It was in 1990 that the Star, a tabloid newspaper, caused a sensation when it reported that Bono was a lesbian. Though she had already come out privately to her parents and those close to her, she denied the charge and lived "in the closet," hiding her sexual identity for the next five years. Her eventual turnaround was due in part to her relationship with an older woman, who died of cancer when Bono was twenty-four. In 1995 she acknowledged her lesbianism in a cover story in the Advocate, where she later took a job as a staff writer. There she did interviews with such celebrity figures as actors Tim Roth and Lindsay Crouse, singer Boy George, and musicians Melissa Ferrick and Linda Perry. In 1996, she had the op-portunity to explore Cher's troubled reaction to her outing when she interviewed her mother for the Advocate. Editor-in-chief Jeff Yarbrough commented in the Advocate that "Cher's answers to her daughter's probing questions are some of the most revealing we've ever published."
In 1996, Bono became a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, and later that year was hired as entertainment media director for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation (GLAAD). Her job was to promote positive images of gays and lesbians in television and movies. "The battle for fair treatment must be fought on several fronts," she said at the time in an AnnOnline biographical profile. "The cultural front—the way we are portrayed in the media—has a huge effect on how we are viewed by the public," she stated in the online interview. One highly visible, and ultimately controversial, project was Bono's involvement with the TV sitcom, Ellen. The sitcom attracted great attention when its star, Ellen DeGeneres, convinced the American Broadcast Company that her character should come out, making Ellen the only program on network television featuring an openly gay leading character. Though Bono was an avid supporter of the show, she felt that the actress "went a little too fast" in presenting this theme, and that the subject matter "had become a bit too gay-specific for Middle America," as she related in an Advocate article. These comments, she says, were quoted out of context in the media and caused a rift between her and DeGeneres. As a result, Bono was asked to leave GLAAD in 1998. She told Gabriel Rotello in the Advocate, "I'm thrilled not to be working for GLAAD. I feel free again." Bono devoted her energies to promoting Family Outing.
Response to Family Outing was generally positive. Critics pointed out that the book, cowritten with writer and editor Billie Fitzpatrick, is much more than mere celebrity gossip, because it weaves the stories of many young gays and lesbians into its narrative. In doing so, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "Bono transforms what could have been a tell-all celebrity memoir into an essential coming-out guide." The reviewer admired the book's empathy and its reassuring tone, concluding that its honest presentation of issues facing young gays and lesbians "may save lives." In the New York Times Book Review, Andrea Cooper wrote that Family Outing sometimes suffers from a "wooden tone" and that Bono "tends to explain rather than feel in her prose," but added that the book would undoubtedly prove useful to its intended audience, an opinion also expressed by reviewers for Library Journal and Booklist.
Lambda Book Report reviewer David Drake lauded Family Outing's "populist spirit," noting that the authors are "especially good at pin-pointing and tying together the most significant emotional and social obstacles encountered within such a diverse gathering of people." Drake observed that, though much of the book repeats material already familiar to outed gays, its sensitivity and thoroughness make it a welcome addition to literature about family relationships for gays. "Family Outing generates a cumulative resonance of inner and outer growth. When Bono dares to get beneath the surface by digging into those murky pockets of shame, self-hatred, self-sabotage, and the emotional consequences of gay bashing … she does so with tender care and, frankly, tremendous success."
After Family Outing, Bono published End of Innocence, a memoir that focuses on her relationship with Joan Stephens, a friend of Cher's. When Bono was a child, Joan frequently acted as her babysitter. Joan functioned as a constant in Bono's sometimes-turbulent life, and eventually, the two became lovers as well. The shocking realization that Joan was terminally ill with cancer was one factor in Bono's decision to come out publicly. She dedicated herself to supporting her friend through her painful ordeal. In the course of caring for Joan, Bono became addicted to prescription drugs and generally neglected her own well-being. Library Journal contributor Debra Moore commented that "this was clearly a very cathartic writing for Bono." Ilene Cooper, a reviewer for Booklist, warned: "There's no upbeat tone here." End of Innocence is "detailed and depressing," as well as a "vivid" evocation of what it is like to care for a dying loved one. A Publishers Weekly writer found that the book lagged when the focus was on Bono's music career, but "packs an emotional punch" in the later chapters, "with brutally frank depictions of loving and living with a person with a terminal illness. Bono spares no one, including herself, with a wrenching and exhausting finish."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Bono, Chastity, and Billie Fitzpatrick, Family Outing, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1998.
Advocate, August 20, 1996, p. 6; October 13, 1998, Gabriel Totello, "The sudden adulthood of Chastity Bono," pp. 33-42; July 9, 2002, Judy Wieder, review of The End of Innocence, p. 26.
Booklist, August, 1998, Mike Tribby, review of Family Outing, p. 1915; April 15, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of The End of Innocence, p. 1362.
Buffalo News, October 28, 1998, Kathleen Rizzo Young, "Straight Talk on Gays from Chastity Bono," p. D1.
Entertainment Weekly, August 27, 1993, p. 112; April 25, 1997, A. J. Jacobs, "Coming out party," p. 39; October 30, 1998, review of Family Outing, p. 105.
Independent Sunday, June 27, 1999, p. 5.
Indianapolis Star, June 18, 2000, Rita Rose, "Out for Change," p. I1.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2002, review of The End of Innocence, p. 465.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, October 9, 1998, Nancy Murrell, "Chastity Bono details coming out before it was in vogue," p. 1009K6379.
Lambda Book Report, November, 1998, David Drake, review of Family Outing, p. 22.
Library Journal, September 1, 1998, Pamela A. Matthews, review of Family Outing, pp. 202-203; May 15, 2002, Debra Moore, review of The End of Innocence, p. 115.
Los Angeles Times, October 18, 1997, p. 6.
McCall's, July, 1988, pp. 95-96.
News & Record (Piedmont Triad, NC), October 26, 1998, Murray Dubin, review of Family Outing, p. D2.
New York Times, July 9, 1997.
New York Times Book Review, November 8, 1998, p. 23.
People, October 12, 1998, "Out and About," p. 85.
Publishers Weekly, August 3, 1998, review of Family Outing, p. 62; April 1, 2002, review of The End of Innocence, p. 61.
Rocky Mountain News, October 11, 1998, Leigh Rich, review of Family Outing, p. 3E.
San Francisco Chronicle, July 22, 1996, Sylvia Rubin, "Chastity Out on Her Own," p. E1; October 24, 1998, Laura Evenson, "Chastity Bono Putting Things Out in the Open," p. E1.
Time, June 28, 1993, Ginia Bellafante, "Thanks, Mom," p. 75.
Biography: Chastity Bono, http://www.annonline.com/ (November 3, 1998).
January Magazine, http://www.januarymagazine.com/ (April 22, 2003), Nicole Malliotakis, interview with Chastity Bono.
Popmatters, http://www.popmatters.com/ (April 22, 2003), N. A. Hayes, review of The End of Innocence.