This post contains spoilers for the mid-season 6 finale of Pretty Little Liars, in which viewers were promised the “Big A Reveal”.
Last night, Pretty Little Liars fans were finally rewarded for their patience: We now know exactly who A is and we sort of know A’s motives. Unfortunately, too many of those motives rest on the “twist” that A is trans.
ABC Family is, surprisingly, known for creating some relatively progressive shows. The Fosters has received both critical and viewer acclaim for its portrayal of a lesbian couple and inclusion of a trans character played by a trans actor. One of the five main characters in Pretty Little Liars is a lesbian, and has been shown in healthy relationships with multiple young women. PLL also doesn’t treat teenage sex in a shameful way, although they could stand to drop some birth control knowledge. All in all, we were cruisin’ along comfortably, with the most cringe-worthy moments coming from the show’s soap-style writing.
Unfortunately, the show’s progressive values came to a screeching halt last night during the Big A Reveal.
For those who aren’t viewers, let’s recap very quickly so you can understand what I’m about to break down. A is the name of a seemingly all-seeing, highly technologically skilled stalker character. The five main characters (all cis women) are being stalked and antagonized by A. At the beginning of season 6, we learn that A might be Charles DiLaurentis, a secret brother of Ali, one of the 5 main characters.
Now, a good mystery (in my opinion) necessitates that a reader or viewer could potentially tease out the outcome before it’s revealed. A good mystery never ends with a new character coming out of left field. And I absolutely love a good twist.
But trans identities are not yours to use for dramatic twists.
CeCe Drake was introduced to us early in the series, but remained shrouded in mystery. The fact that she is A is not entirely surprising given how her character was portrayed throughout the series. I guess showrunner I. Marlene King just didn’t feel CeCe was surprising enough without giving her a misguided tragic backstory.
We learn that CeCe was punished and rejected by her father, while her mother was more willing to accept CeCe’s trans identity. After a few potentially violent incidents (it’s unclear), CeCe’s father believed her to be dangerous, and had her locked up in Radley Sanitarium when Ali was just a baby.
From there, CeCe’s behavior in stalking the girls, acting violent, and deceiving those around her is traced back to her identity as a trans woman. She has behaved the way she has in part because her family rejected her, and in part because she has always had an obsession with little girls and dolls. This is an incredibly problematic, hurtful trope.
Painting a trans person as dangerous is a problem. It’s an even bigger problem if a dangerous trans character is the only trans character.
By far, trans people are more likely to be victims of violent crime than they are to be perpetrators, and this is particularly true of trans women. Trans women of color are even more likely to be the victims of a violent crime than their white counterparts.
Portraying fictional trans people as dangerous has real-world consequences. I find their treatment of CeCe to be particularly troubling because the show is aimed at teenagers. One’s teenage years are so important for molding a healthy outlook. Maybe I’m not giving teens enough credit, but I think it’s dangerous to present marginalized groups as dangerous to people who are still forming their worldview.
Moreover, how many Pretty Little Liars fans and viewers are trans? Why would you risk hurting a portion of your fan base with outdated, violent ideas about trans women? Do the writers think trans people are so rare that, surely, none of them are watching? I’ve got news for you, showrunners: Trans people are far more common than you think.
The portrayal of CeCe/A might be a far cry from The Silence of the Lambs, but it’s just not far enough. The fact is, using a character’s trans identity as a twist furthers the myth that trans people are “tricking” cis people. This is particularly true and dangerous for trans women. Using a trans woman as your surprise twist ending isn’t clever – it’s lazy, and it’s violent.
You might think that I’m overreacting. “CeCe isn’t dangerous because she’s trans! She’s dangerous and she happens to be trans,” you might say. Alright, but CeCe is still the only trans person being portrayed on this show, and she’s being portrayed as dangerous. Do we need more depictions of trans people as deceptive and dangerous? No, we absolutely do not.
Maybe the writers just wanted to capitalize on the current stream of trans media. Trans identities are a hot issue right now. Laverne Cox is a household name, and Caitlyn Jenner broke the internet harder than Kim. We’re also talking about gender nonconformity, genderfluidity, and nonbinary identities, like Miley Cyrus or Ruby Rose. But this is the time to move forward, not backward.
I haven’t decided if I’ll return for the rest of season 6. What do you think?