‘Be­com­ing Us’ TV show cap­tures a fam­ily’s trans­gen­der jour­ney

The China Post - - ARTS & LEISURE - BY FRA­ZIER MOORE

“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 Caitlin 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.

No 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.”

Ben’s use of the term “child” is cu­ri­ous. He is no child, but in­stead ev­ery bit a typ­i­cal teenager — bright, wry-wit­ted, hot-and­cold 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.

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).

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

AP

In this June 8 photo, Sut­ton Craw­ford, from left, Carly Le­hwald, Ben Le­hwald and Suzy Craw­ford from the ABC Fam­ily docu-se­ries “Be­com­ing Us” pose for a por­trait in New York. The se­ries airs Mon­day at 9 p.m. EDT on ABC Fam­ily.

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