ABC Family network introduced a new reality television series this past June called 'Becoming Us.’ You can view it at http://www.abc.family.go.com or on demand if you have that feature with your service provider. The series focuses on Ben, a 16- year old high school student from Evanston, Illinois who has a passion for photography, exploring downtown Chicago, and hanging around with his girlfriend, Danielle, and a myriad of quirky friends. He is portrayed as an average Midwestern teenager with divorced parents, “until she came along,” as Ben states in the show’s opening dialog. She is “Carly”, Ben’s father, who is a transitioning mtf.
Ben’s support group on Carly’s emergence into her authentic self includes his girlfriend, Danielle, whose father is transitioning as well. One of Ben’s friends has a brother, Lathan, who is revealed to be a transgender man. The show profiles his life as an ftm and his own gender dysphoria issues and others stemming from childhood. Ben’s step sister, Sutton, is also part of the cast. She lives in New York with her fiancée and is planning their wedding in several of the episodes. She is torn between a loyalty to her mother, Suzy, and Carly, who helped raise her since she was a child. Assorted other friends and extended family appear on and off in the series in support of Ben, each other, and often throwing shade on Carly.
As a result of coping with his father’s transitioning, coupled with being a typical teenage boy, Ben is going through a difficult time and often shuts down. His grades are suffering, he is constantly running late, he’s unprepared for his tutoring sessions, spends too much time texting back and forth with his friends shirking his responsibilities, and avoids returning his father’s voice messages. He is growing more inconsiderate of one of his trusted allies—his girlfriend Danielle—and she is becoming more and more frustrated with his behavior.
Suzy still harbors a lot of resentment and animosity towards Carly, formally “Charlie”, due to the reported lies and secrets she endured while they were married. Charlie also disclosed abusing alcohol heavily during their marriage which contributed to their discord. Carly is portrayed as self-centered and narcissistic often on the show which could be residual personality traits of Charlie but doesn’t seem to have an awareness of this. Danielle’s father and mother seem to have a loving and supportive relationship and appear to be divorced, but still residing together. Danielle is a champion for her father and the moments they share on screen are loving and sweet. They seem to relate to each other as peers rather than father and daughter. The viewers get a glimpse of what it’s like for Daniele’s father to shop for clothes as a transgender woman (with the assistance of Ben, Danielle, and Carly) as well as the disappointing aftermath of an internet date.
The show professes to be a reality series, but often the taped scenes feel set up and loosely scripted. The cast appear awkward at times in front of the camera, as natural, free-flowing conversations aren’t there, and they have the responsibility to guide the episode’s story.
I do like the fact that the series reflects what Ben is going through and how he tries to process Carly’s emergence into her authentic self and what that means for her continuing role as his father. Also Ben, as a cisgender male, cannot relate to Carly’s desire to have gender confirmation surgery or “losing his junk”, as he states in one episode. Ben’s mother seems angry and indignant all the time-- her sister appears that way too in spite of both being raised by sweet bohemian parents. There is little mention of Sutton’s father, and when it is, it’s derogatory, so that may be contributing to Suzy’s outlook on life as well. I get that she felt betrayed throughout her marriage to Charlie and was understandably hurt, but it seems to leave her stuck in perpetual anger. As a therapist, I hope she is able to process these issues on her own or in therapy so she can be a happier person in her life as well as in co-parenting Ben with Carly. Lathan, Brook’s brother is a fascinating person with his dark, brooding nature and hope of finding love and happiness while navigating life as a transgender man. In the course of the series, Lathan meets someone that presents as gender fluid, seems to really get him, and their relationship blooms—a very positive development for an often discontented person. ‘Becoming Us’ concluded its first season, and there is no word whether it will be renewed. I hope it does, as it reflects so many issues transgender people experience becoming their authentic selves and how it affects their families and friends. Look for future reviews on television series and movies that portray transgender issues