Ben Lehwald of Evanston is the 17-year-old star of ABC Family’s “Becoming Us.”
The unscripted docu-series chronicles Lehwald’s life as his parents not only divorce, but his father,Charlie, transitions to a woman, Carly.
Lehwald and his mother, Suzy Crawford, came up with the idea for the show to open eyes and some doors for kids with transgender parents. “If this shows helps one teenager,” Lehwald says, “then hopefully he’ll help someone else.”
Though the show was filmed over the course of three month last fall, the family changes began unfolding four years ago, when Lehwald was in eighth grade. The news didn’t come as a total surprise to Lehwald, who says his dad had started painting his nails and shaving his legs in the months prior. While the news came at a difficult time—Lehwald had been dealing with bullying in school for reasons unrelated to Carly—he says his friends and peers have been accepting, which helps. He also learned to lean on art as an emotional outlet.
If Lehwald was feeling abandoned, he would photograph an abandoned lot. If he was mad, he would edit a photo to show his anger. His Instagram account, @abstractive—which features pictures taken around Evanston, Chicago and on his travels—boasts thousands of followers.
“I want kids to be OK with feeling how they feel,” Lehwald says. While he is accepting of Carly’s transition and is happy that she can be the person she wants to be, he stresses the importance of kids coming to terms with their emotions. “If you’re upset with something your parent is doing, tell them,” he says. “Just do it in a polite way. If you don’t talk about your problems the situation won’t improve.”
More than anything, Lehwald hopes to spread a message of love and acceptance: Do what you want to do. Be what you want to be. Feel what you want to feel. “We’re all just trying to figure out who we are.”
“Becoming Us” Premiers on ABC Family June 8 at 8 p.m. CT.