Annette Bening opens up about her transgender son Stephen: 'I'm very, very proud of him'

Annette Bening arriving for The Report premiere, as part of the BFI London Film Festival, at the Embankment Garden Cinema in London. (Photo by David Parry/PA Images via Getty Images)
Annette Bening arriving for The Report premiere in London. (Photo: David Parry/PA Images via Getty Images)

Annette Bening is a proud mother.

The American Beauty actress, 61, made rare public comments about her transgender son Stephen Ira’s transition, praising him for doing something “very challenging” with “great style” and “great intelligence.”

Bening spoke about her son with husband Warren Beatty in a new interview with AARP, telling a story about the now 27-year-old writer giving her a novel called Little Fish by Casey Plett. The book tells the story of a 30-year-old who finds evidence that her late grandfather, a devout Mennonite farmer, might have been transgender himself.

Of Stephen, who began his transition journey at 14, Bening said, “He's managed something that's very challenging with great style and great intelligence. He's an articulate, thoughtful person, and I'm very, very proud of him."

Bening, now an empty nester with her movie star husband of nearly 30 years (“We're both still adjusting to the quiet at home”), said she’s learning to let go a little bit when it comes to parenting adult children, also including Benjamin, 25, Isabel, 22, and Ella, 19.

“When I was younger, part of me thought I could save my children from having to suffer, which was, of course, ridiculous,” she said. “They have to go through their struggles.”

However, “They're very much their own people now."

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 09: Annette Bening and Warren Beatty  attend the 73rd Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 09, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)
Annette Bening and Warren Beatty at the 2019 Tony Awards. (Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

And they are still there for their mom — including giving her backstory when she landed her role, as Supreme Intelligence / Dr. Wendy Lawson, in Captain Marvel.

“My kids had to explain the character to me,” she said of the cyborg.

Stephen hasn’t had it easy transitioning in the spotlight. The tabloids singled him out as he did so, running photos of him and speculating about his gender.

Despite this, Stephen found his voice at an early age. In 2011, he spoke out publicly against Chaz Bono for the image of trans people he presented, taking issue with Bono saying transgenderism was "a birth defect, like a cleft palate" and "being male and having breasts is about the worst thing I could imagine." Stephen said, that he held no "ill will" against Bono, "I just don't want anyone thinking that he's qualified to offer Trans 101, you know?" Stephen also publicly criticized Sarah Lawrence College, where he attended college, for refusing to accept his chosen name, saying he "refuses to be treated as a logistical problem." The following year, Stephen spoke openly about transitioning in a video for a trans website and called his friends his greatest supporters.

But his parents have shown him support, too. In 2016, Beatty called Stephen “a revolutionary, a genius, and my hero.” The following year, Bening praised Stephen, saying, “I learned a lot and he taught me a lot” and applauded his trans activism, noting, “He’s more articulate than I am.”

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