Evanston teen Ben Lehwald lets television viewers into his world when he introduces us to his family on the ABC Family docuseries Becoming Us, premiering June 8.
This is not another family sitcom. Ben's parents divorced only a few years ago. The plot twist came later: when Ben's dad, transitioned from being Charlie Lehwald to Carly Lehwald. The series follows Ben, his family and friends as they live this not-so-traditional family life. This includes his girlfriend Danielle, who also has a transgender father, which the two did not realize upon initially meeting.
Ben said his first reaction to the news he got left him understandably dumbfounded and wondering if his parents were going to be okay.
"I tried running away from how I felt for a really long time," said Ben. "I got into a really bad phase. That's my number one thing now is being in touch with my emotions because it's not good to hold it in. I was just trying to run away for a really long time and I just got to a point where I couldn't do it anymore and I just had to deal with it."
Ben is usually the one taking photos and named himself "Abstractive" on instagram. He also enjoys video games and practices his artistic ( hereditary ) talents by playing guitar.
"At first, it was like meeting a stranger that I've known for a really long time because I still saw Charlie, but I saw all these Carly things now," said Ben about taking in his dad's transition. "She was free, basically. She didn't hold anything back."
Ben is close with both his parents; however, as Ben and his mom, Suzy Crawford, talked with Windy City Times, they were in sync and finished each other's sentences. When asked how they would describe Carly, Ben says, "butterfly."
"She's delicate as hell, she's just all over the place sometimes," said Ben. "She's just a delicate, little butterfly. Butterflies are compassionate, pretty and sweet … and they change; they transition."
"They hop from thing to thing," Crawford added lightheartedly.
Ben and Crawford said the whole decision has flung open the doors and opened their eyes to the LGBT community. As for how Ben understands his trans parent's big decision, he said, "For people to understand it better, I would say ask yourself if you wake up in the morning and you say I don't want to go to work because I hate my job. That's exactly the same as I'm going to wake up in the morning and I don't feel comfortable in my skin. It's all about genuine happiness and you just got to accept their life because it's not yours."
Carly, who lives in Chicago, said it has been something she struggled with since childhood. Not knowing the term "transgender," or the definition, she said there was a lack of understanding from her own perspective. At 40, she saw a friend go through the transition and the research began.
"I learned it was something I could do and realized that it was something I really wanted to do," Carly said. "After 40 years of being socialized one way, it really does take a lot to re-socialize as a female. It's not just dressing, it's not just looking the part, it's not just having the body parts, it's really learning to live as a woman. All the good and the not so good that come with it."
Carly said she has taken the transition slowly by the helpful advice of a psychologist. "The best transition is the longest transition," is something that resonated and helped navigate her transition.
"I wanted to go guns blazing and finish tomorrow," said Carly. "I had those words from her to really guide me because that kind of kept me grounded and helped me move slowly. The result of that was when I did that, I've had a great transition. All throughout the right people have been put in my life at the right time continuously."
Ben came up with the concept of the show. He explains it started as a joke he threw out to his mom while watching TV in the living room one night. After having a good laugh, they left the idea alone, but then followed up on it after everyone was on board. The series is executive produced by Ryan Seacrest.
The goal, Ben said, is to help as many people as he possibly can.
"I really want to appeal to the kids that are dealing with it because we looked on the Internet and there isn't really a platform for kids to go to to express how they feel about it," Ben said. "Really, I was just thinking of being able to help those kids that are dealing with it that really don't know where to go and having someone to look up to. Hopefully, that inspires them to do better in everyday life."
"Mostly, what our message in the show is that for people who might be in the middle of thinking about doing a transition, for people who are affected by people who might be transitioning, everybody's feelings are valid," Crawford said about the show's mission. "Everybody's feeling should be honored and everybody needs to find a way to support each other because there's so much sadness and pain connected in the community, so many suicides and it's just really not necessary."
Carly said she also wants to be able to be of service to her community, saying she hopes "the show can help normalize the transgender experience and empower trans men and women to live their authentic lives. And to get the people on board who aren't on board today."
"We're just normal people," Carly said of what viewers can expect to see. "We're loving, we're creative, we're energetic, we have families, we go to work, we are normal everyday people that deserve a chance at life."
For more on Becoming Us, visit: www.abcfamily.go.com .