Chastity Bono has had it either very easy or very hard in her much-publicized coming-out as a lesbian. It's been easy because Chastity has clearly had all kinds of love and support through the whole ordeal. It's been hard because Chastity's a celebrity -- worse, the daughter of celebrities -- and people have been mean about it, although Chastity doesn't like to say so. She really doesn't. A more tolerant, thoughtful and level-headed lesbian you will not meet this season. "Family Outing" is Chastity's account of how she -- and many other gays and lesbians of her acquaintance -- have got their stuff so well together.
Of course, everyone remembers "Chas," as she is called in her family. Some may even remember the days when Cher was pregnant with Chas, or, before that, when she and Sonny Bono declared on national television that they were trying to get pregnant. This is the kind of thing that floats around the life of a celebrity child. The toddler Chastity, who made regular appearances on her parents' TV show (and apparently still gets residuals from them), was the little blond buffer between the dark and smoldering Cher and the dark and dimwitted Sonny, one of the most humiliated men on television. Trouble is, Chastity didn't grow up on television. When her parents divorced, she remained a buffer, and was already worrying at the age of 13 how she could ever tell them the truth: that she was a lesbian. A real lesbian, it needs to be said, not a kid acting out or following a trend.
"As a child," Chastity writes, "I didn't have the words to explain why I preferred dressing in boys' clothes. I didn't understand why I felt different or why my mother seemed so upset by certain things about me." Chastity's love life with women began when she was still in her early teens, and she had just come out to her parents when she was outed by the tabloid newspapers -- a horrible experience, as she tells it, that sent her scurrying for privacy for a number of years. Slowly, she got her confidence back, and in April 1995 she came out publicly on the cover of the Advocate.
"My simple goal was to give back what had been given to me," Bono writes: "When I read or heard about gays and lesbians being vocal and standing up for who they are, I felt stronger about myself. Now I wanted to see if I could help people struggling to come out and show them the rich rewards outside the closet." And that's what "Family Outing" sets out to do. It's not an autobiography; it doesn't dish on Sonny and Cher. Chastity weaves her own story around conversations with other gay men and women in an effort to give a true picture of, and some helpful hints about, the perils of coming out. Most of the text consists of other people's stories and an inoffensive, deeply unthreatening commentary that veers toward but stops just short of psychobabble. "Family Outing" could have been ridiculous, but it isn't. It's just nice.
A black heart would be tempted to tell Bono that, when her mother looked askance at her clothes when she was growing up, she may have been horrified by something other than lesbianism. After all, Chastity, your mother is Cher.