NEW YORK — “This family would make a great TV show!”
That’s what Evanston, Illinois, teen Ben Lehwald told his mother a couple of years ago.
Clearly, Ben was on to something. “Becoming Us,” the show that resulted, follows him as a 16-year-old dealing with the usual challenges of high school and encroaching adulthood – plus the recent news that his father is becoming a woman.
The family went on camera between October and February after Ben’s idea reached Ryan Seacrest, who signed on as executive producer of the ABC Family unscripted series airing its second episode Monday at 9 p.m. EDT.
“We’re just regular people,” says Suzy Crawford, Ben’s mother.
The 58-year-old fitness instructor is divorced from Ben’s 49-year-old father, an information security analyst now named Carly Lehwald but who, as Charlie, began taking female hormones years before sharing the plan for transition with the family. Suzy continues to work through feelings of betrayal and bitterness even as she and Carly remain a team in parenting Ben.
Ben’s half-sister, Sutton Crawford, is now a New Yorker, but she’s back in Evanston as she and her mother plan her upcoming wedding, which comes laden with protocol issues. (Should Carly walk the bride down the aisle?)
Finally, Ben’s girlfriend, Danielle, also has a father who is transgender (and who, on the first episode, accepted bra-shopping counsel from Carly, with Danielle and Ben tagging along).
Unconventional, maybe, but on “Becoming Us” these folks reveal themselves as authentic and relatable, which makes the series an illuminating glimpse into the world we all occupy, a world Time magazine earlier this year declared was at “the transgender tipping point.”
The timing of “Becoming Us” seems perfect, therefore, having arrived just days after Caitlyn Jenner’s grand unveiling on the Vanity Fair cover and with her own series, “I Am Cait,” premiering next month, along with yet another reality show that will star Jazz Jennings, the 14-year-old transgender activist and YouTube star.
Article continues belowNo one could have anticipated any of this a decade ago, least of all Carly as she started the transition to become who she had always known she was, and, in the process, turned the family upside down.
Ben, in particular, was left reeling. It wasn’t the news as much as when his father delivered it that threw him for a loop: “Right before you’re about to start your freshman year of high school. You’re just lost. That was how I felt.”
So why would Ben choose to let TV viewers witness what most people would insist on keeping private?
“That’s why I did it: for people who do it privately,” Ben, now 17, replies. “I thought if they saw it from a child’s point of view and saw how the child is dealing with it, they’ll understand that it happens and they’re not alone.”