Life

‘Becoming Us’ captures a family’s journey when father comes out as transgender

Carly Lehwald
Carly Lehwald AP

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Ben’s use of the term “child” is curious. He is no child, but instead every bit a typical teenager – bright, wry-witted, hot-and-cold in temperament, and, of course, prone to clashes with the ‘rents. With so much going on, he seemingly was prompted by some hope that admitting a camera crew as an intervening force would yield answers otherwise beyond his family’s reach. He needed, not wanted, a reality show.

“On the show, you HAD to deal with the problems,” he says.

“It was like going to family therapy on camera,” agrees Carly. “That aspect of it wasn’t easy.”

“But the producers were thoughtful and kind and listened,” Suzy says, explaining that the family never felt manipulated.

“Numerous times I said, ‘I’m not comfortable doing that,’ and it was off the table immediately,” recalls Sutton, 30, who as a rising actress found her biggest challenge wasn’t being on camera but being herself. “I said ‘no’ a lot, and they adapted to us so beautifully.”

Virtually everyone key in the family’s social circle was an eager participant (with the exception of Carly’s girlfriend, who declined to take part, and a few of Ben’s friends, whose parents refused permission).

“If you get offered a ride on a rocket ship, you don’t ask which seat, you just get on,” says Sutton, who became Charlie Lehwald’s stepdaughter when she was six but during the show discovered “Carly makes a lot more sense to me than Charlie did when I was growing up. I understand Carly. Before, Charlie was hiding her.”

On the premiere, Carly had a heart-to-heart with Ben to say she soon would be getting “the bottom surgery. The boy parts are going to be my girl parts.”

“The person that made me will not have the thing that made me,” Ben glumly responded. “That is weird.”

Weird, maybe, and surely an adjustment for all concerned, not the least of them Carly, who sports long blond hair and green fingernails and describes womanhood as “great,” but who acknowledges that “living your life for 40 years as a man, then starting to live as a woman, takes a lot of re-socializing. Those little dude parts of me still kick in every now and then.”

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In fact, when the interview was over, a little dude part kicked in: Carly reflexively held a door for another woman before exiting herself.

“My hope for the show,” she had said moments earlier, “is to help normalize being trans. Whether or not you understand what we do or why we do it doesn’t matter. We are human beings.

“And I’m not sure if you’ve heard or not,” she added with a mischievous smile. “You can’t catch trans. It’s not contagious!”

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