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Chaz Bono drops by 'Degrassi' to boost ground-breaking transgender storyline

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TORONTO - A ground-breaking storyline on "Degrassi" gets a celebrity boost Friday when Chaz Bono drops by to offer some words of advice to a troubled transgender teen.

Bono says he leapt at the chance to appear on the series when he learned of its Emmy-nominated plot surrounding Adam, a female-to-male transgender student.

The celebrity advocate says he wishes there were such TV representations of transgender life when he was growing up, noting that he spent "years and years in pain and confusion."

"It permeated every aspect of my life, even more than I was aware," Bono said of a prolonged identity struggle that saw him live as a lesbian for much of his adult life.

"It's not the kind of thing that you want to have to go through in your life, not understanding about yourself like I had to."

Bono, who was born Chastity Bono to celebrity parents Cher and Sonny Bono, pops up when Adam's rock group WhisperHug competes in a battle of the bands contest.

Turns out that Bono is one of the judges, and Adam approaches him for tips on how to cope with a painful struggle for acceptance.

Plus there are girl troubles.

Adam, played by actress Jordan Todosey, is reeling from the fact his Christian girlfriend Becky says she can't date him because of her strict parents.

"Does it ever get easier with girls?" Adam asks Bono.

"Not really. Love is messy and there's obstacles in any relationship," Bono replies.

"Degrassi" airs on MuchMusic in Canada and on TeenNick in the United States.

Bono says he learned of the show when he ran into "Degrassi" producers at last year's Emmy Awards.

The drama was nominated for outstanding children's program for an episode that delved into Adam's struggles to live as a boy, even though he was born female.

"Degrassi" writer Michael Grassi says they couldn't resist wooing Bono for a guest spot, which was filmed last summer in Toronto.

"The opportunity to have Chaz on the show is incredible, he's such a great role model and for him to be on 'Degrassi' is beyond exciting," said Grassi, who penned Bono's episode, the second part of a two-part series airing Friday.

"It's a nerve-wracking thing when you send something over to someone like Chaz who does so many great things," he notes. "And he ended up loving it, which is great."

Grassi says much more is in store for Adam — the teen will eventually undergo hormone therapy and possibly surgery to complete his gender transition.

"He's always doing little things to make himself more and more masculine," Grassi notes of Adam's gradual transformation so far.

"In terms of testosterone, that's a story that we're really excited to tackle. We just want to find the perfect time for Adam to tackle testosterone and when it's really right for his character."

Grassi acknowledges that such a step would be another milestone for "Degrassi," which has previously tackled difficult subjects including teen pregnancy, substance abuse, bullying and homosexuality.

"We've never steered away from controversy before and we tackle the issue like we've tackled many other issues on 'Degrassi' — through character and seeing how Adam deals with it emotionally."

Co-star and producer Stefan Brogren says he's pleased to see Adam develop into a mature and increasingly confident character. And positive feedback from "Degrassi" fans has encouraged writers to push his story even further.

"If it had been five years ago, I think we would have been a little nervous," Brogren admits.

"But I think because of people like Chaz, making it so aware, it's given a lot of empowerment to a whole new generation.... Now's the time for people to start talking about it and be aware of it."

Back-to-back episodes of "Degrassi" air Friday on MuchMusic.

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