Pretty Little Transgenders

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[SPOILERS AHEAD!]

Back when Basic Instinct premiered in 1992, it was met with massive outcry by many in the GLBT community who alleged that it portrayed lesbians as violence-prone killers and deviates. Rita Addessa, executive director of the Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Task Force, argued that commercial films are “grounded in men’s hatred and fear of women.”

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“At great risk of increasing interest in movies like Basic Instinct, I felt morally compelled to organize a public response. The public interest is served when we create public discourse about any subject. People should talk about films, not simply watch them. I am convinced that even if our efforts push more people to see Basic Instinct than might otherwise have seen it, those who do attend the film will go to the theaters with open minds. They’ll be more critical, more analytical. In that sense, we have improved the audience through our protests.”

While I’m not sure that Basic Instinct convinced significant percentages of the viewing public that lesbians run around with ice picks, I do agree with the encouragement of critical thinking and discourse. Cinema characters often portray women in demeaning lights, so full steam ahead for discerning viewing strategies.

However, the mid-season finale of Pretty Little Liars (season 6, episode 10, “Game Over, Charles”) quietly aired on August 11, 2015 with nary a peep from the transgender community. In my opinion, this episode is far guiltier of drawing the connection between transgender and violence than Basic Instinct ever was. After all, the episode does a fairly clear job of connecting the dots:

Charles wears dresses. Charles is deemed disgusting by his father. Charles tries to drown his sister. Charles is institutionalized. Charles becomes Charlotte. Charlotte goes mental. Charlotte starts killing people and becomes a sociopath.

While the show does not imply that all transgenders are homicidal sociopaths, it does imply that misguided transgender youths could VERY EASILY become homicidal sociopaths. Kids in dresses yield kids with body counts.

Let’s also mention how oddly directed and written the episode was, with reveal after reveal after reveal, in a dizzying blur that leaves me with only a few impressions: Charles is CeCe (get it? C+C), CeCe is A, and boys in dresses are nasty business.

The episode had way too much information to convey, and with all that exposition crammed into one hour, maybe there was no other to do it but to have CeCe explain her backstory to Alison as the rest of the girls look on, maybe there was no other way to zip through plot points with zero nuance and depth. But still, was this really the grand solution the writers have had in store all this time?

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By turning the episode into a monologue of Cece’s tragic exploits (complete with flashbacks to her as a little boy in little dresses), the writers drop one bomb after the other, giving the audience (and the girls) no chance to react or digest the information. Cece races through twenty years worth of information for Alison’s benefit while we try to ascertain what on earth is happening and the girls watch via a hologram screen (yes, really).

There are so many ludicrous moments in this episode: Cece dating Jason to be closer to her family. CeCe harassing all the liars to keep herself close to Alison. Mrs. DiLaurentis’s curiously subdued reaction to Alison’s supposed death. The girls’ compassion for the girl who had made their lives hell for so many years, trapping them in bunkers, torturing them, and implanting them with microchips. But the most shocking moment is the revelation of A as a girl who was a boy.

Certain critics have written that the episode humanized Cece, explaining “why she’s been so obsessed with Alison and the DiLaurentis family,” but I completely disagree. I feel like it did the complete opposite.

I really do like Pretty Little Liars. I’ve watched every episode. And even though its target audience is twenty years younger than me, I find it not only enjoyable but engrossing. Despite being utterly unrealistic, the show really does manage to create compelling characters who have grown and evolved over the years. As the show has grown, the characters have matured, as well, and I find it to be very well done television.

Until this latest episode. I don’t know where it came from, but I’m offended by the faulty writing and direction of this episode, as well as the haphazard and simplistic portrayal of transsexuality, all the more offensive by a show that manages to have consistent and “no big deal” portrayals of lesbianism. One of the things I like about this show is that Emily is a lesbian and it’s a non-issue. It’s not a political talking point. No one seems to notice or care, and that’s great. Her relationships are treated the same way as everyone else’s.

But for the same show to do this clumsy portrayal of transsexuality, and to casually link it to sociopathy, is offensive at best and dangerous at worst. There are not enough portrayals of transsexuals on the air for us to be able to afford such shoddy jobs.

Here’s hoping Pretty Little Liars pulls it together when it returns in January.

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