You can put fame to all sorts of uses. In Family Outing, Chastity Bono, daughter of actress and singer Cher and the late politician Sonny Bono, puts it to one of the best: encouraging social change. Family Outing is Bono's coming out story and much more. It's also the story of how Cher came to terms with her daughter's homosexuality. While Cher's and her daughter's notoriety will undoubtedly attract readers, possibly even readers not directly confronting homosexuality, notoriety has a drawback: many people curious about the personal lives of movie actors and academy award recipients can't identify with them. Bono and her co-author, Billie Fitzpatrick, anticipated this problem and solved it by interviewing other gay men and lesbians and their parents and including the coming out stories of these less notorious but more accessible people in the book. With the wealth of perspectives Family Outing provides, any gay or lesbian person struggling to come out, and any parent coping with the reality of a gay child, will find a story with which to identify.
Bono expands the definition of coming out to mean a series of adjustments that parents of lesbians and gays, as well as lesbians and gays themselves, have to go through. The organization of Family Outing reflects this expansion. The book is divided into two sections called Coming out Ourselves and Parents Come out Too. Both sections are organized around themes, such as unearthing homophobia and learning to accept, that describe what Bono and Fitzpatrick call the universal stages of coming out. While the organization makes it difficult to trace any one family's coming out process from beginning to end, it does allow readers to quickly locate experiences directly relevant to their own.
One of the most interesting and valuable stories in the book is Bono's description of how, in response to her unauthorized outing by the tabloid The Star in 1990, she let her own homophobia drive her back into the closet. I was afraid, she explains that I would hurt my budding music career if I were honest. Another revealing story is Cher's explanation of why, even though she had many homosexual friends, when she first suspected Chastity was a lesbian, she couldn't get past the negative stereotypes. It's a different thing that happens with your child, Cher says, it's not the same. Chastity Bono and Cher are scheduled to appear together on Oprah, Dateline NBC, and Good Morning America. While their appearances will undoubtedly promote book sales, the true value of the publicity lies elsewhere. By telling their stories, the two women are demystifying the coming-out process and providing a role model for families who want to focus on the positive qualities of a gay child rather than on the stereotypical misconceptions that associate homosexuality with failure and defeat.
Connie Miller lives and writes in Seattle.