"Dancing With the Stars" aims for provocative casts, and Chaz Bono joining the show this week has already yielded strong reaction -- some of it ugly.
Bono, the only child of Sonny Bono and Cher, was born female but legally changed his gender and name last year. The announcement Monday that he would join the highly rated ABC dance competition immediately made him one of the highest-profile transgendered people in the world.
It also brought to the surface prejudices about Bono and others who have changed their gender, judging from the "Dancing With the Stars" message board. In hundreds of comments, Bono was the most common subject.
"HUGE HUGE fan of this show since season two and eagerly await each season to get my dancing/entertainment 'fix'!! But when I heard that Chaz Bono was going to be on, I was sick. Not that I have anything personally again her/him, I just don't want that lifestyle choice continually flaunted in the media esp ABC," went one typical anti-Bono comment.
Many also questioned, before Bono was paired Wednesday with Lacey Schwimmer, whether his partner would be a man or woman. But for everyone who vented disgust, there were many who defended Bono and accused his critics of bigotry.
Bono's casting is only the latest to make a lighthearted reality show the impetus for deeper discussions about values, tolerance, bigotry and politics. Gay "American Idol" contestants have opted not to announce their sexuality, perhaps out of concerns about alienating intolerant viewers. And Bristol Palin's "Dancing" casting two seasons ago seemed to have influenced voters with opinions on her mother's politics.
If Americans quickly vote Bono off the show -- or keep him on despite a middling performance, as they did with Palin -- it could reveal plenty about attitudes toward transgendered people.
An ABC spokesman said Bono, 42, was in rehearsals for the show and unavailable to comment. The network, meanwhile, had no comment Tuesday on the comments posted by "Dancing" fans on its message board.
Among the other comments:
"Chaz Bono How low can this show sink. Well you have certainly addressed the gay commuity. Guess this will not be a family show any longer!!!! Lost my family!"
"YOUR choice to bring Chaz Bono into the mix goes too far. I am not about to risk the potential for on screen dialogue about sex changes and gender confusion while my 7 and 9 year old are watching. If you want the 'anything goes' hippy culture, then soon that is all you will get. You've lost us. In case any of you are wondering ... no, we are NOT tolerant. We are not tolerant to allow any and all influences to come unfiltered into our home and especially to our children. This is truly a sad farewell."
Some of the objections were flat-out confusing -- one person seemed to suggest Bono had to be paired with a woman -- because he was still a woman: "Chaz will have to dance with one of the girls because she/he says she/he is a man but chromesomes [sic] say different no matter how many surgeries you have."
The show has historically paired men and women regardless of sexuality. The openly gay Lance Bass was paired with Bono's new partner, Schwimmer.
Transgendered people believe that their gender identity does not correspond to the one into which they were physically born. Many seek surgery or hormones to change their physical gender. In an interview with ABC News in May, Bono explained:
"It's actually pretty simple if you look at it. ... We all in the womb start out as female and then hormones come and we either stay female or we become male. I think of it as hormones that, you know, went in the brain but not in the body, and that's all being transgender is. It's just that the sex of your body and the gender of the brain don't match up."
Many criticisms of Bono on the "Dancing" message board have nothing to do with gender. Some complained that he is overweight and only famous because of his parents. Those two criticisms have faced many, many contestants before him.