Chaz Bono Gives Voice To An Often 'Invisible' Community

Activists: People often don't notice female-to-male transitions like Bono's.

ByABC News
June 12, 2009, 4:28 PM

June 13, 2009 — -- Transgender men fighting for legal protections say Thursday's announcement by Chastity Bono, child of Cher and the late Sonny Bono, that she will be transitioning from female to a male as Chaz Bono is a welcome break from an all too common "invisible" paradox.

For reasons that are part biology and part society, transgender men say in some ways they have an easier time being accepted and recognized as masculine than transgender women have being perceived as feminine.

Yet at the same time, there has been a virtual black hole in public awareness of female-to-male transgender people.

"Testosterone is a powerful chemical," said Justin Tanis, a female-to-male transgender man and the community education and outreach manager for National Center for Transgender Equality in Washington, D.C. "For people who are female-to-male, it really changes your body and it makes it easier for people to perceive you as male."

Doctors and transgender men say, unlike estrogen in a male body, testosterone can transform a female body -- even within a year -- to have facial hair, a deep voice, and other typical masculine features.

"Oftentimes, we see someone walking down the street with a beard and a deep voice," said Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center in California. "We assume they are male. Testosterone does that."

"As I come out to people, I'm used to getting very interesting looks," Davis said. "They do not look at me and think that I am transgender. Many of us fit in very seamlessly in the world and look like the guy next door."

In fact, Davis said many people he's met in public life had no idea that transgender men existed, yet, "they can cite many characters, or notable people, who were transgender women."

And while one of the main goals for those who wish to live in society as the opposite of their biological sex is to "pass," meaning to blend in and go unnoticed, activists must struggle to raise awareness of transgender people in order to earn legal protections and rights.