Chaz Bono, Renee Richards and transsexual rights

When I first learned that Chaz Bono was one of the celebrities competing on this season’s “Dancing with the Stars” I was disappointed. Where is a Renee Richards when you need her?

Renee Richards, is, I learned from Wikipedia, still alive and well. The 6-foot-2 left-handed former professional tennis player is now 77. She retired from playing tennis in 1981. Her highest ranking was number 20 in February 1979.

Richards was born Richard Raskind in New York City and as Richard, he played tennis, making the top 10 Eastern and the National juniors. He was captain of the Horace Mann School tennis team during high school and when he was 15, he won the Eastern Private Schools interscholastic  singles. From there, he went on to Yale where he competed on the singles tennis team and, in 1954, he was captain.

Richards attended medical school and served in the U.S. Navy as an officer (lieutenant commander) and became an opthamologist. He did marry and have a son, but in 1975, he transitioned with the help of surgery, into a new life as Renee Richards, a woman.

Richards sued the U.S. Tennis Associatin after being barred from playing as a woman at the U.S. Open in 1976 and won the right to play in 1977. She coached Martina Navratilova. Richards wrote two autobiographies, the 1986 “Second Serve” (in the 1986 TV movie Vanessa Redgrave played Richards) and the 2007 “No Way Renee: The Second Half of My Notorious Life.” Like Chaz Bono, Richards has a documentary about her life, simply called “Renée” that premiered in April.

Chaz Bono was born Chastity Sun Bono to Sonny Bono and Cher. Bono legally completed his transition to male in May of last year to be renamed Chaz Salvatore Bono and his documentary “Becoming Chaz” premiered at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. Oprah Winfrey’s Network owns the rights to the Emmy-nominated documentary which aired this year in May. Bono’s latest book “Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man” also came out in May.

Bono is 42 and not in particularly good shape. Having written two books, the 1998 “Family Outing: A Guide to the Coming Out Process for Gays, Lesbians and their Families” and the 2003 “The End of Innocence,” Bono is a prominent member of the LGBT community,and has served as the Entertainment Media Director for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, but much of his fame or Q score is reflected glory from his parents.

Since DWTS decided to go international (think Gilles Marini or Heather Mills or this season’s Elisabetta Canalis), why not Dana International (Sharon Cohen), an Israeli pop singer who won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1998 with the song “Diva”? She’s one of Israel’s most successful musical acts and represented Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2011. At 39, International has a successful career and looks to be in better shape than Chaz Bono.

And what about Nong Tum, a male-to-female transgendered person, who is also a former Thai boxing champion, model and actor. In 2003, Nong Tum’s story was made into a movie “Beautiful Boxer.” Her story was included in the book, “Ladyboys: The Secret of Thailand’s Third Gender” and the 2003 National Geographic documentary “Hidden Genders.”  She was in the 2006 “Mercury Man.”

DWTS had Mark Dacascos on during season 9 (paired with Lacey Schwimmer). The current trend in street dancing includes a heavy martial arts influence and Dacascos brought a lot of martial arts flair and fun to his dancing.

As the first amputee, Heather Mills (McCartney) was physically fit although because of her dubious personal life Mills was not a fan favorite. Her claim to celebrity was officially charity campaigner and not Paul McCartney’s soon-to-be ex or reviled gold digger.

Sure Elisabetta Canalis is good-looking, but as an actress and model, the 32-year-old has the 2005 “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo” as her biggest U.S. audience credit. She’s also a recurring character in the TNT drama series “Leverage” but perhaps her relationship with George Clooney which officially ended in June of this year is what gives her a Q-score.

For the first transgender/transsexual DWTS contestant, I have preferred Nong Tum or Dana International to Chaz Bono because I think they are famous in their own right and because they would have been physically better contenders for the mirrorball. At 77,  Renée Richards might be considered a little old to take to the dance floor although during season 7, Cloris Leachman was 82 (paired with Corky Ballas).  A 77-year-old Richards would have been a phenomenal choice given her athletic ability and career and athletic achievements.

The American Family Association has initiated a boycott against DWTS. GMA took an exclusive interview, but the interviewer was under-prepared. (Really, he asked what Chaz Bono’s best dance was at this stage?!). They note that the skimpy costumes and provocative dance routines had already turned away viewers, but not the inclusion of former Playboy Playmates and Hugh Hefner and even his former girlfriends?

They found the inclusion of Carson Kressley and Chaz Bono as “completely unacceptable and Christians should not watch the show, no excuses!”

Chaz Bono might be an excuse for the whole cast to break out into Rocky Horror-esque routines because fellow cast member David Arquette has experience playing Dr. Frank-n-Furter for the on-stage musical “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”  Wouldn’t that be a Halloween scream?

This season, I think Carson Kressley will add entertainment value and I’m looking forward to seeing how he does. But I don’t consider Chaz Bono the best choice for the show’s first transsexual celebrity contestant because I’d rather have a person who looked like he or she had more dancing potential, but perhaps Bono will surprise us all.

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About Jana J. Monji

I've written for the Rafu Shimpo, LA Weekly, LA Times, Examiner.com and, more recently, the Pasadena Weekly and RogerEbert.com. I formerly worked for a dot-com more interested in yodeling than its customers.

Posted on September 6, 2011, in Dancing with the Stars: Season 13, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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