Was the \'Pretty Little Liars\' \
VANESSA RAY Charlotte
Credit: Eric McCandless/ABC Family    

Pretty Little Liars

Was the ‘Pretty Little Liars’ “A” Reveal Transphobic?

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Pretty Little Liars took a big risk making CeCe Drake (Vanessa Ray) "A" — and a trans woman at that. Setting aside the ways CeCe's story didn't line up with the show's timeline, the real issue with this twist is PLL has added yet another name to the depressingly long list of transgender villains in media. Was this story, as some are claiming, transphobic?

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The Problem

It's clear the Pretty Little Liars writers didn't mean to imply CeCe is an evil stalker because she is trans. In fact, the writers went out of their way to make her sympathetic, putting a lot of blame on Mr. DiLaurentis for cruelly locking her in a mental institution rather than accepting her for who she is.

However, while media is making big steps in the right direction when it comes to trans representation, there's a long history of trans villains in movies and TV who are driven by psychopathy connected to their gender identity confusion. These stories are often blatantly transphobic, and by echoing them, Pretty Little Liars inadvertently reinforces negative, baseless stereotypes.  

Charlotte on Pretty Little Liars
Credit: Eric McCandless/ABC Family    

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Divorced from this cultural context, CeCe's story might not seem problematic, but we can't just leave the larger culture aside. There were moments — especially when she was admiring herself in the mirror and talking about how she was almost like Ali's twin — where CeCe played right into these harmful tropes; the writers didn't mean to indicate that CeCe's harmful obsession with Ali was connected to her desire to be accepted as the woman she is, but it was easy to read that way, especially given how many times we've seen similar scenes with hateful undertones.

It's not just us — as you can see by these tweets, many fans were bothered by this twist.

The Defense

That said, we shouldn't just ignore what the writers were trying to do here. Pretty Little Liars has always been strong on LGBT stories — Emily's (Shay Mitchell) coming out arc remains one of the best in TV history — and the show is run by open minded, well-meaning creatives, many of whom are LGBT themselves; obviously no one involved here thinks being trans is a bad thing. They clearly put a lot of thought into this story, trying to create a sympathetic villain twisted into the stalker she became by abusive parents. In many ways, CeCe's trans identity was beside the point, other than it gave her father a reason to hate her.

Charlotte on Pretty Little Liars
Credit: Eric McCandless/ABC Family    

Show director Norman Buckley took to Twitter to defend the plot, explaining that it's really about how abuse begets more abuse, and arguing that part of progress is making complex characters with all sorts of identities, not just morally pure ones:

One thing we can all agree on is this: at least people are talking about these issues and taking them seriously, and that is a very good thing.