''Family Outing'' and ''The First Time'' hit bookstores with different accounts of the same family

Family Outing

Growing up in the shadow of Cher, her famously flamboyant mother, Chastity Bono wisely never tried to compete with her. If anything, she spent her childhood and adolescence as the anti-Cher, as plain and unobtrusive as her mother was spangled and gaudy. So it’s no surprise that Chastity’s memoir, Family Outing, in no way competes with her mother’s new book, The First Time.

Outing, in fact, purports to be a serious examination of coming out of the closet in America. It’s intermittently fascinating, especially when Bono talks about what it was like to be Cher’s secretly butch daughter. She and Cher clashed from the time she was little and wanted to wear gym shorts, a T-shirt, and beat-up Nikes to school. While Cher wanted her daughter adorned in frills and lace, dad Sonny Bono encouraged her tomboy ways, playing football with her in the backyard and taking her to the racetrack in a mini Pierre Cardin suit that matched his own. Such anecdotes are few, though. What really catches your attention is this: For the awkward, shy, conflicted, in- the-closet daughter of two of America’s more colorful celebrities, Chastity Bono got a lot of action. The book is peppered with one hot affair after another. There’s the time Chastity and Julie, her hesitant high school girlfriend, made out in a New York theater during a dance performance and got so excited they raced back to Julie’s house to make feverish love. There’s the affair with an older woman she first lusted after as a teenager. And so on.

Unfortunately, the breadth and depth of Chastity’s life experience simply can’t sustain a whole book — after all, she’s only 29 — so Family Outing is padded with stories of other gay people who struggled with coming out and how their parents dealt with it. Sandwiched in between chapters about the randy exploits of the late Bono, we hear from Judy, Ben, Melissa, Sydney, Nina, and more, their stories rendered in the flat, earnest manner of women’s magazines. ”Judy had to wrestle with a lot of conflict when it began to dawn on her that she was probably a lesbian,” reads a typical passage. ”She was married, had made a commitment to her husband; she was also the mother of two young children. But once she fell in love with Lenore, there was no denying the reality of who she was.”

Cher’s book, of course, is all about Cher. Like Chastity’s, it doesn’t qualify as a real autobiography. It’s simply a series of one- or two-page reminiscences: Cher’s ”first bad boy,” ”first public performance,” ”first tattoo,” ”first reunion with Sonny,” ”first time as a director.” Some of her ”first times” are Cher lore — her first meeting with Sonny Bono, her discovery that she was dyslexic, her appearances on David Letterman’s show. The book is flecked with dishy details. Meryl Streep, for example, with whom Cher costarred in Silkwood, told her there were two secrets to acting: One, ”always work harder in the other person’s close-up than you do in your own,” and two, more intriguingly, never work with someone she identifies only as ”R.” At other times, though, Cher isn’t reticent about naming names; for example, she lashes out at Peter Bogdanovich, who directed her in Mask, calling him ”Captain Queeg” and likening the filming to ”being in a blender with an alligator.”

Both Bono and her mother detail Chastity’s difficult coming out. They differ, however, on one crucial detail. In her book, Cher says she found out from Chastity herself. But Bono says her father was the one who ultimately informed Cher. ”I was embarrassed that everyone knew it but me, and I was furious that I had to find it out from Sonny,” Cher says in Chastity’s book. ”I hated your father at this time. He was a complete and utter a—— .” Sonny, of course, dominates both books; they are each dedicated to him. Chastity’s lament for her father is especially heartrending; though she was estranged from him when he died, he had clearly always been a loving, supportive dad. Cher’s paeans to Sonny in My First Time, not to mention at a recent Sonny and Cher TV retrospective she hosted, aren’t as convincing. But they also make you wonder if Cher, despite her denials, still depends an awful lot on Sonny. Family Outing: B- The First Time: C+

Family Outing
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