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It was 1972 when Chaz came into view under the public microscope.
He was four-years-old.
The occasion? An appearance on his parents' weekly variety show, The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, watched by 30 million Americans.
"Having them put me on TV at a really young age has allowed me to do a lot of really great things. It's been difficult at times; I won't say that it hasn't."
Chaz appeared on nearly three dozen episodes, all before his ninth birthday.
"I think as people, and certainly as kids, a lot of times we want what we don't have. Growing up, I really admired my friends who had a much more, quote-unquote normal life, and parents that were around. It gave me a very clear view of celebrity and fame in our society and what's real and what isn't real and what's truly important in life."
His early work includes a foray into music, releasing one studio album in 1993. His focus, however, quickly shifted to activism.
Chaz became the Human Rights Campaign's 1996 National Coming Out Day spokesperson, later taking part in their viral video to honour the 2016 Pulse nightclub victims.
He has used his voice persistently over the past two decades becoming a hero among the LGBTQ+ community.
"I think that sometimes what we deem as a culture or society, acceptable behaviour or normal behaviour, can often prevent people from being themselves because they are afraid of being judged for whatever it may be."
Through a statement released in 2009, Chaz became - and remains today - one of the most visible transgender men in the world. He was the subject of the 2011 documentary Becoming Chaz. That same year, he broke ground as the first trans contestant on Dancing with the Stars.
"It was really a matter of - do I let other people tell my story, write about it and come up with their own conclusions, or do I try to own this myself, tell my story my way and hopefully help other people in the process - so that's the route I decided to take."
At the time of my conversation with Chaz, in 2012, I asked him about his childhood ambitions.
"My dream was to become an actor, but that didn't really work out."
Well, since then, he's received praise for his portrayal of Gary K. Longstreet on the smash hit series American Horror Story: Cult, and Joey Funkhouser on Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Roughly 1.4 million Americans identify as transgender. They encounter heightened rates of assault and barriers to employment, housing and adequate health care. For those who take the first steps to challenge conventionally held beliefs, it can be painful, but Chaz continues to do it with the utmost empathy and grace.
"I do think there's an authentic self, but I think it takes time to kind of uncover that. For me, it took a long time in different incarnations throughout my life to really discover who I was, and I think there are certain things that can complicate discovering that. In my case, it was being transgender, which was just something, growing up in the time that I did, there was no information about, and no role models of any kind. It took me really long to figure that out, and once I figured it out, then it took me a long time to get the courage to allow myself to be my authentic self."
Interview Recorded: 2012. | Updated: 2022
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