'Becoming Us' Son Ben Lehwald Gets Real About Transgender Parent & Praises Caitlyn Jenner
By Leanne Aguilera
If you're not already watching Becoming Us, then you're missing out on one of TV's best new shows.
ABC Family's groundbreaking docuseries centers on 17-year-old Ben Lehwald as he adjusts to his new family dynamic while his transgender parent, formerly known as Charlie, adopts her female identity as Carly.
"My life in general is still the same," Lehwald told ETonline when asked about his post-premiere life. "I'm still a 17-year-old kid from Evanston, [Illinois], but there have been a lot more people waving to me on the street."
Like the rest of the world, Lehwald was captivated earlier this month when Caitlyn Jenner made her world debut on the now-iconic cover of Vanity Fair. "I was like, 'Wow! Go ahead, girl!'" he exclaimed genuinely. "She's totally doing her thing and she just looks really, really beautiful."
The soon-to-be high school senior is looking forward to all of the positive light that Jenner's "new normal" journey on her own doscuseries, I Am Cait, will shine onto the media and the public. "It's definitely a good help for the community," he said. "She's just such a big person overall, not just in the trans community, but even outside of it. So when you have that amount of numbers on you, you can really shift people's attitudes, and really change the mindset of people."
Lehwald has already done his fair share at bringing the trans community into the public eye. In fact, it was his idea to broadcast his personal life for all to see on the small screen. "Well, me and my mom [Suzy Crawford], we kind of joked around with the idea [of a TV show] for a really long time," he said.
"We started to go onto the Internet to try and find resources for kids that are dealing with the same situation that I'm in, like if their parents are transitioning, or if a brother or sister is transitioning, or if someone in the family is," Lehwald continued. "We couldn't really find any resources at the time, so I just thought, 'Why don’t we create a TV show so that kids could come to this platform and see our lives and hopefully be someone that they can look up to?'"
On last week's episode of Becoming Us, viewers watched as Lehwald struggled with a common issue in the transgender community when Carly told him that she would prefer to be called mom instead of dad. "I feel like I'm losing my dad and gaining this stranger," Lehwald said on the Ryan Seacrest-produced show.
In the time that has passed since filming that episode, Lehwald has come up with a compromise that he is more comfortable with. "I just call her Carly, and 'Ma,'" he said. "I don’t really want to call her mom just because I feel like it's really disrespectful to my mother."
Lehwald's parents divorced after 16 years of marriage when Carly, now 49, finally shared her plans to transition in 2012 with the rest of her family. "My mom is my mom," Lehwald explained. "So I just don’t feel really comfortable calling [Carly] that as much as she wants me to."
Despite the title adjustments, Lehwald believes that having a transgender parent has greatly and positively shaped his outlook on the world. "It kind of just puts life into perspective for me," he shared. "I think the whole ordeal just really helped me grow up, and it really helped me put myself into other people's shoes. It gave me a different look on society."
With six episodes left in Becoming Us' inaugural season, Lehwald hopes that his family's story will continue to resonate with teens all across the country. "A lot of people have been messaging me on Twitter, on Instagram and Facebook and it's really cool," he said of the fan outpouring. "A lot of kids that are trans are even coming to me and asking for help so it just feels so good to help people."
Becoming Us airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on ABC Family.
Want to get to know the family behind Becoming Us? Press play on our exclusive featurette below to watch executive producer Ryan Seacrest take you through Ben's family tree.