Evanston the site of TV’s new transgender story on ‘Becoming Us’

SHARE Evanston the site of TV’s new transgender story on ‘Becoming Us’

While the national press has been packed with stories about Bruce Jenner’s transition to becoming a woman known as Caitlyn, another example of the transgender experience that is about to go nationalcomesright from the home of an Evanston family.

“Becoming Us” (debuting on ABC Family at 8 p.m. Monday) focuses on the journey teenager Ben Lehwald has encountered over the past few years, as his dad Charlie has transitioned to a womanknown as Carly.

On the show, the audience will be introduced to all aspects of the Lehwalds’ life and experiences, including the relatively amicable divorce of the former Charlie and his wife, Suzy — plus Ben’s romance with his girlfriend, Danielle, introduced to him by mutual friends for a very good reason. Amazingly, Danielle’s own dad also has become a transgender woman. That, Ben told me in a recent phone call, was extremely helpful to his own processing of his father’s sexual transition.“It definitely made things more fluid for me, if that’s the way to put it,.Having her there was great, because she could share her own experiences with her dad. It was like having an extra support system. It was helpful, even about how to deal with the pronoun thing,” said Ben with a laugh. ” ‘She’ and ‘he’ and ‘him’ and ‘her’ can get pretty confusing in the beginning.”

Ben Lehwald (center) with parents Suzy and Carly on “Becoming Us.” | ABC Family

Ben Lehwald (center) with parents Suzy and Carly on “Becoming Us.” | ABC Family

The concept for “Becoming Me” actually started with young Lehwald and his mom, Suzy. “My mother and I had an idea. We wanted to figure out how to be of service to kids who might be facing a similar situation as mine — someone in their family who was becoming transgender.

“We needed to find a platform to do that, but we waited a little while. Then, we contacted some family friends who are in the business and have their own production company. We pitched the idea to them. They liked it and created a sizzle reel [short film focusing on the topic]. They then sent that off to Ryan Seacrest Productions and they liked it and made another sizzle reel that was then sent out to the networks.”The end result, of course, was that ABC Family bought the idea and greenlighted the production of “Becoming Us.”Ben said that the entire process has brought his family — Carly, mom Suzy and even his half-sister Sutton (who appears in the show) — much closer. “The whole filming process made us talk about it,” said Ben. “It made all of us come to terms with how we feel about it.”ForCarly Lehwald,filming the show brought up a lot of emotions that she had gone through several years earlier. “The most difficult part was reliving some of the experiences that Ben and I had had before the show existed — working through issues he had with my transition. We had to sort of relive that in order to get the audience up to speed. In a sense, it was like, ‘Welcome to your therapy world!’ — in front of the entire outside world. That was a huge deal and difficult for me at first to deal with, but as it went on I became very comfortable with it all and didn’t even notice the cameras at all.”Both Ben and Carly also agreed that living in a community like Evanston was helpful given their situation.“If we were living in the Deep South, it would have been a lot rougher, if not impossible,” said Ben. Carly added, “Evanston is a diverse, multi-cultural and very accepting community. I have a huge support group of people both trans and otherwise. It has been very supportive all the way around.”While Carly is delighted by the attention to the transgender community Caitlyn Jenner’s story of transitioning has brought, she is quick to note that “there is still a great deal of work to do.”Stressing that she intends to use the show to be a platform for expanding her role as an advocate for transgender people, Carly said, “There are so many people in our community who are completely marginalized, discriminated against and can’t get help with housing or medical care. They are often threatened and even killed. Things are especially difficult among African-Americans in the transgender community. We need to use this platform — this attention — to not only educate people but enact legislation to make this world a fairer place for everyone.”Since she was sounding a bit like a potential candidate, it seemed fair to ask Carly if she would consider running for office to work on those issues directly.“You’ll have to wait and see,” she said with a throaty laugh. “Stay tuned. But I don’t know. Living in Chicago? Going into politics in Chicago? I don’t know if I’d want to get into that!”

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