Dancing with the Stars is a popular reality dance competition television series on ABC that consists of a celebrity paired with a professional dancer. In Season 13, Chaz Bono was featured on the show. Chaz is the son of American entertainers Sonny Bono and Cher, and came out as a transgender man on his own documentary film Becoming Chaz. In this season, Dancing with the Stars was trying to diversify their contestants and invited Chaz to be their first transgender dancer.
In episode 5, the theme of the episode is “The Most Memorable Year,” where contestants chose their own songs that reflected a memorable year in their lives. Chaz selected a song “Laugh at Me” that his father wrote, and to him it meant “to become a different man.” Although Chaz and his partner performed well, I thought that the way the show depicted it was a bit condescending. Chaz and his partner received a standing ovation after their dance, and featured an audience member getting emotional. The judges also gave comments that felt patronizing to me, where they seem to be emphasizing on the fact that he put himself out there rather than critiquing his skills, which is what the judges are supposed to do. One said “Every time you show up on the dance floor, I am so impressed because what you do, just by showing up here, takes incredible amounts of courage.” She continued to say that it’s “killing her” and “breaking her heart” to tell him that he didn’t do so well because she considers him to be “such an inspiration.” Whereas, for the other contestants, they would just straight up and tell them what exactly they need to do. Another comment he got was that “dancing doesn’t come so easy for you.” Even though Chaz did not perform as well as other others, the judges, as well as the audience, seemed to have showered him with positive reinforcement simply because he’s not your average, heteronormative, contestant. The show attempts to diversify, but is clear that they don’t treat all contestants equally. Perhaps they need to reevaluate their techniques of being inclusive, and just because there is a transgender dancer in the show, does not mean it is progressive and they are still not viewed equally.