Chaz Bono on horror films and horrifying anti-trans politics: ‘I’ve never felt anything like this’
“What’s worse than somebody killing you and eating you?,” asks Chaz Bono. He’s reflecting on the horror genre’s obsession with cannibalism, and concludes that its popularity is simple – there’s nothing more abhorrent that can happen to someone.
Bono, 54, knows a thing or two about a good horror story. As an actor, he’s appeared in two seasons of FX’s American Horror Story, as well as the murderous 2019 romp 3 from Hell.
Most recently, he has starred in and produced Bury the Bride, a startlingly bloody “rollercoaster” of a film about a remote bachelorette trip that ends, unsurprisingly, with few survivors. The film won Best Feature at horror festival Panic Fest last week (24 April), and is already a hit with horror fans.
It’s official: Chaz Bono, trans pioneer, writer, musician and son of Sonny and Cher, is also a certified scream king.
“I started liking horror as a kid,” Bono tells PinkNews. “The first horror-adjacent, horror comedy that I saw as a kid that I fell in love with was Young Frankenstein. That was kind of my gateway as a young person.”
In the last year, he’s binged as much new horror as possible: Mia Goth’s Pearl and X, and Sosie Bacon’s Smile – “What a phenomenal performance that was,” he says of the latter.
As a genre, horror has always been something of a familiar space for queer people. The 19th century brought us queer-coded, misunderstood classic horror figures like Nosferatu, Frankenstein and Dracula. The modern day has produced camp antagonists from Sceam’s Ghostface to killer robot doll M3GAN, who have been welcomed with open arms by the queer community.
For Chaz Bono, there is a clear reason why. “Horror has always been slightly marginalised as a genre. I think it’s that outsider status of the horror movie, the horror fan – it’s very similar. LGBTQI people just gravitate to horror,” he says.
Considering the genre’s tendency to be shunned rather than celebrated, it’s no wonder that the LGBTQ+ community has found a home in horror, and why so many queer actors move into the field.
Trans actors in particular seem to be flocking to deathly and demonic roles, on both the big and small screen. Bono notes how “cool” it is to see actress Jamie Clayton star as legendary villain Pinhead in the 2022 Hellraiser reboot, while Evil Dead Rise, which Bono watched recently, features trans actor Morgan Davies as agent of chaos, Danny.
Laverne Cox, Elliot Page, Dominique Jackson, Nicole Maines – so many of the great trans actors of the moment are taking on leading roles in the worlds of the scary and supernatural.
It’s a positive, considering that the genre has a tricky history with trans representation, despite having a core LGBTQ+ fanbase.
Multi-award-winning films like Hitchcock’s Psycho, Jodie Foster’s Silence of the Lambs and the acclaimed Dressed to Kill have all faced questions about the way trans people are presented as perpetrators of violence. Watching trans actors reclaim the space feels right.
“I can only speak for myself, but I do think that the storytelling opportunities, the opportunities to play the different types of characters, the intensity of it – I think it’s just something that we can relate to in a different way,” Chaz Bono says of why trans people may be drawn to roles in the genre.
“I really enjoy playing off beat, slightly suspect or downright horrible characters. That’s really what’s fun for me as an actor.”
It’s a bonus seeing a growing number of trans actors cast in roles where their gender identity is immaterial. In Bury The Bride, Bono plays Puppy, one of the savage friends of bride-to-be June’s (Scout Taylor-Compton) fiancé. It’s a largely silent role, until an “intense” twist in the film’s second half.
Puppy is just Puppy, the role has nothing to do with gender whatsoever.
“I’m not somebody that generally loves to play trans characters, because I’m just a character actor,” Bono shares. Yet, he adds, there is one exception. “The attacks that are happening on trans people in America right now – you know, I think that there’s a way in horror to tell that story without [explicitly] telling that story.”
In 2023 alone, more than 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in states across the US, with the majority of the proposed laws targeting trans people. In Kentucky, gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth is outlawed. In Missouri, trans healthcare is set to be banned for trans adults, too. Texas, Florida, Tennessee and more are working to all but erase trans people from public life.
“It’s really scary,” Bono says. “It’s not just LGBTQI people. It’s Asians, it’s African Americans. There’s just this rise in hatred that I’ve never seen before, and I wouldn’t have expected.”
For a long time, Chaz Bono, who began physically transitioning in 2008 but always knew he was male, was the only out trans man that most of America knew.
In 2011, he appeared on Dancing with the Stars, becoming the first trans person to appear on network TV for something unrelated to being trans. He has been a part of the LGBTQ+ community and represented it for most of his life.
“I’m 54 now, so I lived through a lot of turmoil in the LGBTQ+ community in the 80s and 90s,” he says, referencing the AIDS crisis and the way it decimated hundreds of thousands of queer lives. “But I just don’t think I’ve ever felt anything like this. I know it will end eventually because all this kind of stuff always does. But in the meantime, it’s hard to go through.
“I personally just worry about the LGBTQ+ youth in particular. I hope as adults, we can weather the storm … [but you think of] the kids and the suicide rate being so much higher with LGBTQ+ kids, and it’s disheartening.”
Things are bleak, to the point where Bono suggests that some places in the US simply aren’t safe for queer people now. But as a lifelong LGBTQ+ advocate, he wants to spread hope.
“I don’t think we’ve taken fully a step backwards,” he affirms, noting how far the worlds of film, TV and music have come when it comes to celebrating LGBTQ+ people as one example of progress.
“I would just encourage especially young [LGBTQ+] people to know that this is not going to last forever. Just ride this out however you can.”
Bury The Bride is streaming now for free on Tubi.