TORONTO – Chaz Bono says he would have transitioned from female to male as a teen, if he had the chance.
But the transgender celebrity says he had no idea what a transgender person even was when he was growing up, and that teens today have so much more support available to them.
Bono says that’s one of the reasons he spent much of Thursday on the set of “Degrassi” in east end Toronto, where he shot a cameo with the show’s transgender teen character, Adam.
“There are a lot of trans kids and teens and to have representation of themselves really means a lot,” Bono said before heading in front of the cameras under a sunny sky.
“At that age there wasn’t anything (for me). I didn’t know about transgender people or that there was a possibility to transition or anything. And it made it really difficult to figure out what was going on with me.”
Bono appears as a judge on a battle of the bands contest that involves Adam’s group, WhisperHug. Adam spots Bono and approaches him to talk about girl troubles, and the struggles of gaining acceptance as a transgender teen.
Bono says he jumped at the chance to appear on the show after running into “Degrassi” producers at last year’s Emmy Awards.
The drama was nominated for outstanding children’s program for an episode that delved into Adam’s struggles to live as a boy, even though he was born female.
Bono says he spent “years and years in pain and confusion” because so little was known about transgender issues when he was young.
Had he understood what he was going though and had access to support systems available today, things could have been different.
“If it was like it is today when I was a kid, yeah I’m sure I would have,” he says when asked if he would have transitioned as a teen.
“But it wasn’t. Nobody knew anything…. It’s completely different now.”
Living his entire life in the spotlight didn’t make things any easier.
The former “Dancing With the Stars” contestant was born Chastity Bono to celebrity parents Cher and Sonny Bono, and became an instant celebrity through appearances on their ’70s TV series as a precocious blond toddler.
Bono says he struggled with his gender identity even as he came out as a lesbian in the 1990s.
It wasn’t until much later that he realized he was transgender. From that moment, Bono says it took another nine years to actually begin the transition from female to male.
“I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to do it quietly or privately,” says Bono, who outlines his experience in the book “Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man.”
“Degrassi” producer and star Stefan Brogren says Bono “is a ridiculously perfect fit for ‘Degrassi.’”
“When we met him in Los Angeles at the Emmys there was an instant connection between (creator) Linda Schuyler and (executive producer) Stephen Stohn and him,” says Brogren, who plays Mr. Simpson.
“Having Chaz on board just made sense.”
Bono’s episode will air towards the middle of season 12, which begins July 16 on MuchMusic.