An Exclusive Interview by Patrick Shannon, New Orleans, Louisiana
". . . there's always going to be people who hate us just like there's always going to be people who hate black people but at least they have all the same legal protections and civil liberties like everyone else." (Chastity Bono, New Orleans, Oct. 4, 1996)
Children of celebrities are usually snobs, idiots, or
paranoid assholes. This is true at least of the few I have
met. I wondered which, if any of the above, Ms. Chastity Bono might prove to be when I interviewed her this bright sunny October afternoon. None, I hoped. I got to the place where she was staying at exactly 4:30pm.
Bono was settled in a ground floor suite at the grand and historic Claiborne Mansion on Dauphine Street. This mansion is now being operated as a beautiful bed and breakfast residence. It stands next to Washington Square Park, a lovely green space nestled within a border of large oak trees. This little park has become a very important place for the lesbian and gay community of New Orleans during the last decade or so. It's where gays go on public display one weekend a year.
The annual lesbian and gay celebration, Pride Fest '96, commemorating the Stonewall lesbian and gay civil rights riots of 1969 in New York City, are held in this park. A colorful parade and the weekend celebrations for Pride Fest '96 would occur right outside Ms. Bono's window the next day.
Twenty-seven years old, Chastity Bono, daughter of celebrity parents Cher and Sonny Bono, had come to New Orleans to be the Honorary Grand Marshal of the Pride Fest '96 parade. Ms. Bono would be sharing that privilege with our own local celebrities, Grand Marshals Rip and Marsha Naquin-Delain, owners of this publication.
Ms. Bono was on the telephone when I arrived and the owner of the Claiborne Mansion, the charming and very perceptive Ms. Cleo Pelitier, made me comfortable with a drink after suggesting I wait near the large pool until Ms. Bono finished her telephone conversations. Cleo took me to the extensive garden behind the mansion. Sitting at a table next to the pool, I enjoyed a pleasant half hour watching a beautiful cardinal flutter in the bushes bordering the garden and speaking with two middle-aged lesbians who were visiting New Orleans.
In a solitary moment I thought about ghosts of the many famous people whom I had met and partied with in this gracious estate. The previous owner, Cecil Burglass, a well-known lawyer allegedly for the local Mafioso, had entertained lavishly in this very garden. Surely the spirits of such people as Clay Shaw and Vet Boswell were busy adding some special ambiance to the place.
Soon Cleo came to get me. Ms. Bono was finishing her calls. I entered the suite and she rose to greet me as she hung up the phone. She was wearing a white blouse under a plaid flannel shirt which hung out over a pair of loose trousers. It was obvious she preferred comfort over style, like any sensible lesbian. So far so good. I had decided earlier to test her with a certain request. If she said yes to the request, I'd alter my questions. If she said no, I'd stick to the questions I had written. I settled down on a sofa. She sort of slumped into a chair next to the couch. I liked her already. Nothing stiff and phony about this womyn, I thought. But what kind of mind did she have? What kind of soul! I couldn't wait to probe.
But I must confess, I was soon distracted by something I would never have suspected. My first impression upon meeting this daughter of world renown parents was unusual for myself, a gay man. I was immediately charmed by her unaffected and friendly attitude but I was moreso distracted by her natural beauty, especially her complexion. Ms. Bono has the glowing skin of a female figure as painted by Boucher. Her face is a delicate mixture of pure pink and ivory tones which seems as soft and delicate as a rose petal painted with a sable brush. Add to that a dazzling smile and you've got a living work of art, even if hidden under flannel shirts and bulky pants.
In another time and place I could imagine her posing for Boucher, then centuries later hanging on the wall somewhere in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. There it would hang, an astonishing female nude glowing with skin tones only a master artist could paint. She would no doubt look as voluptuous and beautiful as any of the putti or sensual females in his works. I wonder what she might have thought had she been able to read my mind. So there! I've done it. I've "outed" Chastity Bono as a voluptuous closet beauty. Let everyone know. See her through my eyes and be delighted.
Hidden in my brief case was a copy of The Advocate magazine in which she had interviewed her mother, Cher Bono. This was my little test. First,I took a couple of quick shots of Ms. Bono holding a telephone, pretending to talk. She said she loved to talk on the phone.
Then, I eased the magazine out of my brief case, saying, "Now you don't have to do this, but would you mind if I took a shot of you holding this copy of the Advocate?"
"No," she snapped with a fast glance at her mother's face smiling out at her from the cover.
"That's ok," I said quickly slipping the mag back into my brief case and moving in for a couple of close ups. This was the test question. As I snapped the pics, I realized without a doubt that Ms. Chastity Bono was her own womyn. No matter who her famous mom and dad might have been, she was not hanging on to anyone's coattails. Not this Chastity Bono, a very likable, articulate and down-to-earth womyn with no pretentions.
She knew what she wanted to do with her life and was doing it with a great deal of success and personal satisfaction. It was especially nice to know that this "celebrity child" now a handsome and accomplished womyn, was neither a snob, an idiot or a paranoid asshole.
She was quite simply Ms. Chastity Bono, closet beauty, well rounded in both body and mind, and not afraid to stand alone. However subtly, she will insist upon the right to her own destiny and person.
Since being "outed" as a lesbian by a tabloid publication about two years ago, Ms. Chastity Bono is now as famous as her parents and consequently as an openly gay member of our tribe, she has dedicated her life to advocating our causes via her work with the Human Rights Campaign, and as a contributing writer for the Advocate Magazine, a national gay publication.
I'm glad to report that this child of celebrity parents is definitely NOT a snob, nor an idiot, and certainly NOT a paranoid asshole. As a spokesperson, and as a writer for our community, Ms. Chastity Bono is something for which we can all be very, very proud! Even though she will probably remain a "closet beauty" to everyone but her significant other. But maybe not. You can't keep all those blush tones, all that pink and ivory rose stuff under lose wraps. Sooner or later some art loving journalist will find discover it and "out" her. Her mind and soul? Here is a sample:
PS: I think this is your second time in New Orleans?
CB: Uh, huh.
PS: Why did you decide to come and be our Honorary Grand Marshal?
CB: This actually is probably the only place that I asked to come to do a parade because I was here in April, I'm not exactly sure. It was in the Spring. And I had such a great time that I was looking for an excuse to come back.
PS: Is there someone special in your life?
CB: Yeah, I have a partner. She had to work so she had to stay home. She usually works. She usually doesn't come with me. She's not a real good flyer. She hates to fly.
PS: You've no doubt met many celebrities in you life. Who, if any left an impression?
CB: You know I haven't been around that many celebrities. Nobody really sticks out, to be honest. There were never really that many celebrities in the house. I mean, I don't have any friends who are celebrities. I don't know any famous lesbians. Other than Candace who is a friend of mine.
PS: Have any hobbies? What did you study, where?
CB: I did a year of college only. I went to NYU and studied film and then I dropped out to be in the music business. I don't really have any hobbies. When I'm not working I just like to kind of be at home with my girlfriend and animals. . .
PS: Pets? What kind do you have?
CB: Yeah. Four cats and a dog.
PS: What's your friend's first name?
PS: Are you the kind of person who looks for a long term relationship?
CB: I been with Laura two and a half years. Yeah, I'm a long-term relationship type person.
PS: Do you believe in God?
CB: Uh huh. I don't believe in organized religion. It's kind of - a lot of times it can be really negative. And as you know, for the most part, it's not kind to homosexuality. I'm not into any specific kind of religion, but I think I do believe in a God, you know, life after death and all that kind of stuff.
PS: Who will you vote for as President?
CB: Oh, ummm, Clinton. I don't think there is any other choice but aside from that, I think he's done a lot of really positive things for the community. Not everything, but I think he's been much more supportive than any other President we've seen. I'm excited to see what will happen when he's in the White House and not worrying about re-election. We'll see even more good stuff from him.
PS: What's your daily life like? Everyone assumes you're probably living some glamorous existence. Or are you just an ordinary person like the rest of us, your finances are your own; surviving from paycheck to paycheck?
CB: Yeah. I mean I think if I ever needed money or anything I know that I could rely on my mother, but no, I'm making money working for the Advocate and for HRC. We have a small house in San Francisco that we rent. A little yard. We've done a lot of work on the house. I usually get up and watch "Sisters" on "Lifetime" in the morning. I'm addicted to it. I have coffee and a Danish muffin with fat-free cream cheese. Then I usually turn on my computer and work or do whatever, if I'm in town. I spend a lot of time traveling for my work.
PS: Was working with the Advocate your first job in journalism?
CB: Yes. I'm just a regular reporter journalist on the staff. I don't do a column. I do interviews and stories, but I don't write a column. Yeah. I'm enjoying it very much. No complaints. I do it all electronically like most of their writers. Copy editors and editors and all that kind of publishing people have the staff meetings. I don't usually go to staff meetings. Yeah, I use my computer and a modem.
PS: What's your dream for the future of the gay community. What would you like to see happen?
CB: Oh, I would like to see us have equal rights. I'd like to see farther down in the future, because I don't think it's in our near future, but at some point I'd like to see same-sex marriage become a legal and viable thing. Besides all the legal reasons, it's important, it's nice to be able to take that next step into commitment that heterosexual people can take. I think it's important because if someone we love gets sick, or God forbid, dies, or if there are children, I mean you know, all of those kinds of reasons we've all had to deal with. . . .
PS: Would you like to have your own child sometime in the future?
CB: Uh, huh. I would. Yeah. It's a big responsibility. I mean in the far future.
PS: What do you hope to accomplish most in your lifetime?
CB: I would like to be happy. As often as possible.
PS: Are you happy?
CB: Yeah. I am happy. For the most part. I like my work and the relationship and the animals make me happy. I'm not a terribly complicated person. It's, you know, you're striking a balance and enjoying the things that you do and not being too consumed by any one thing. For me it's kind of trying to strike that balance between my work and my personal life. I think I've been able to do that for the most part successfully and I've been able to enjoy them both. Which I think is a lot more than most people have.
PS: You don't strike me as a "material girl" if I can use that expression? You seem to be much more spiritual than most people I think would expect you to be.
CB: Yeah. Obviously, like everyone else I'd like to be comfortable in life, own a house someday, that kind of stuff. But you know, as long as I'm comfortable. I think money is really good only because it just gives you more freedom than when you don't have it. As far as expensive cars and things like that, I don't really care about that. You want things, you see things you want, I won't say that I'm a person who doesn't have any materialistic needs, I won't say that. But that's not what really makes me tick. I mean, you know, I haven't picked a career that's particularly lucrative. You know, working in non-profit and journalism - both of those things don't pay very well as I'm sure you know. I mean you're not going to get rich. As long as I'm comfortable and enjoy my work. I think you should either love your job or make a lot of money or both, if you can swing it. But I really like what I do so I'm lucky.
PS: What might have been one or more of your favorite assignments as a journalist for the Advocate?
CB: Boy George was really fun and my mother. That was fun and I think it was exciting just 'cause I knew that I captured something special. Boy George was really fun. He was interesting. He really also had this spiritual side to him and just reeked of a person who has been through a lot and really learned from it and come through it in a really nice way.
PS: What historical or famous people do you most identity with or respect?
CB: God. I don't' think there's any body, at least not that I identity with. People I most admire are people that I know now or work with or have been associate with in the movement like Elizabeth Burch, you know, people like that who just seem really admirable.
PS: Do you read a lot?
CB: I do read a lot. All different things. Pop fiction. Ann Rice I love. All the vampire books.
PS: Do you have a favorite film or city?
CB: Favorite film, well "The Godfather." City, Paris.
PS: Do you think the gay community has become so assimilated by straight society that we've lost our cause. Have we become heterosexualized?
CB: I don't know, I mean I do want to be part of the mainstream and be accepted. And I don't really think that there's all that much of a difference between homosexuals and heterosexuals at this point other than sexual orientation. I don't think that there really needs to be. I feel like we are moving towards kind of an assimilation but I guess I feel that assimilation is kind of a necessary thing in order to fit in.
I mean it's like when you hear African Americans getting mad at their own because they're educated and talk educated and they say, "aw you're turning white." I kind of don't think that's the case, and I think it's the same way with gay people. I have to say I'm much more attracted to a more moderate gay person. I mean that's kind of how I live my life and everything. I'm not radical or on the fringe. I don't really understand that. I don't think that necessarily helps our movement 'cause. I think at this point that's what scares heterosexuals away and makes them think badly of us.
Of course there's fun cultural things, I mean drag I think is a very fun part of our culture and the flamboyancy and every thing but I don't think there's anything wrong with a gay man in a three piece suit or a gay women in a dress wearing makeup. I don't think that we need to be different for the sake of being different.
The message that we're trying to put out is that sexual orientation is something that you develop, it's not a choice and it's not any different from your sexual orientation being hetero. And there is a big change when you look at the older generation.
I saw "The Bird Cage" the other day and I thought I don't know any gay men like that who are just that effeminate and over the top. I mean, I've been around drag queens and I don't know any who are like that and I was talking to my aunt about it and she said, well, you know, those guys were a lot older and that's kind of how it was a long time ago.
So I do think things are changing because the more that we are accepted, you know, it's no longer such a statement to be gay and you're so ostracized that you just have to fully create your nitch in your own world. I think that though there's a very far ways to go, it is starting to become more acceptable (to be gay) with fair minded people of this country.
PS: So you can envision a world of the future where everyone is judged by who they are rather than by what they do in the bedroom?
CB: No. I can't envision that world. I don't think that will ever happen. I don't think it's in our nature as human beings to be without prejudice. It's just like I don't envision a world where we don't see color ever. But I'd like to get to the point where we are treated like other minorities at least.
Where yes, there's always going to be people who hate us just like there's always going to be people who hate black people, but at least they have all the same legal protections and civil liberties like everyone else. I'd like to get to the point where we're bitching 'cause no gay person is nominated for an Oscar and we have a cover on People Magazine. Yeah, I kind of think that the most I would hope for, at least in my lifetime, is just to be treated like other minorities, to have the same rights and privileges.
PS: Are we made as we are by God and if so, what's our purpose in the universe.
CB: You mean what's the purpose of homosexuals in the universe?
PS: I mean, if there is a great plan of the God or Goddess, how do we homosexuals fit in?
CB: Because we're so hated in this society I think we have a certain compassion and strength that other people don't have, like heterosexual males and females who don't have to struggle a lot and take things for granted. We seem to be, as a group of people, very creative and artistic and talented in many different facets. I don't know why that is and I don't know what our purpose is other than to remind other people that we're not all the same on this planet and that's ok.