Warning, this article will have SPOILERS. I will try to keep names out of it, but if you have not seen the Pretty Little Liars finale or if you ever intend on watching the show and do not want it ruined, you should probably exit the screen now.
Tuesday was the season six finale of Pretty Little Liars and as always, we are left with even more questions. Mostly though, after five long years, PLL fans finally found out who “A” is. If you are unfamiliar with the show, A is the mysterious villain that has been torturing and stalking the liars for all of high school. It is a ridiculous show with an enormous fanbase that takes over the internet every Tuesday. It has a subreddit, its own fan-spawned hashtags (#BooRadleyVanCullen and #VanderJesus) and a recap game dominated by Autostraddle’s own, Heather Hogan, which you should probably read immediately.
The show also has a very present LGBTQ following. One of the main characters came out early in the series and though they initially touched on her coming out, her relationships since have been treated like any of the other girls’ relationships. However, this episode, PLL ventured a little further into the LGBTQ spectrum and many fans have a lot of feelings about it. Let’s explore.
Tuesday, it was revealed that “A”, the villain, is transgender. All fan theories aside, many people were understandably upset by this. The show has never had a transgender character before and suddenly, the first time we see one, they are not only being played by a cisgender actress but they are the token evil person. Many people called the reveal transphobic and others just pointed out the obvious. Trish Bendix from AfterEllen tweeted, “In real life, trans women are being killed. In movies and television, they are the killers.” True.
However, I have many other feelings about it as well. Though I would also be frustrated and offended if one of the only representations I had on television ended up being the main villain, the reveal was more complex than that. It left my feelings all over the place, and strangely swinging toward the positive, though I am still going back and forth and may end up on the negative depending on the day and how the next season plays out.
For one, the character being transgender was the initial reason for her isolation. However, unlike the Buffalo Bills of our past, being transgender was not linked in with mental illness or the reason for her becoming A. She is actually not mentally ill at all, despite being kept in an insane asylum. She was a kind child that made a mistake and her father used that mistake and his own transphobia as an excuse to put her away.
She spent her entire life trying to be accepted and see her family while having person after person abandon and villianize her. There was even a moment when she was blamed for a crime that someone else committed because they knew they could pin it on her since she was seen as different. After a while, she finally just said, “Screw it. You want me to be the bad guy? I will be.” So even though it is not good that she is still portrayed as an outcast and the “other”, with the homicide and suicide rates in the community, she also seems to be someone who was smacked down by society so many times that she finally said, “I’m not going to take this anymore and I am going to fight back.”
Next, as much as her being transgender was part of the plot, it was not used as the tired, old plot twist. We did not see this character at the beginning with one gender expression and thus rule her out due to a gender expression that did not match. It was not an “Aha, you didn’t expect this because she’s actually a woman!” moment. The fans saw this character fully transitioned from pretty early on in the series. She was always presented as female and was always a suspect. It was not until very recently that we even heard her birth name for the first time and she was not immediately ruled out then either; fans just said, “Oh, she seems even more likely now because of similarities in looks and she is probably transgender.” After hearing her birth name, that was my initial thought too, though I will admit, it put a pit in my stomach as I sat hoping A would be one of the cisgender men and not a trans woman.
Lastly, and I am unsure how I feel about this, but the fact that she was transgender did the impossible. It was used to tell a back story and humanize this person who has previously been referred to as soulless and evil. Not only were the fans able to sympathize and understand A’s motives, which we never thought we would, but even the liars were able to understand why she tormented them. It also showed her as not just a kind person with originally good intentions, but as probably the most intelligent person in the town of Rosewood and a genius at the stock market.
Now, we are not sure what is going to happen with A and with the liars. She did not act alone and only took responsibility for one out of about 37 Rosewood deaths. On top of that, there are many inconsistencies with her story, like ages not matching up, and Tuesday’s cliffhanger suggests that she may not even be the main villain, but instead, someone that was manipulated by a higher power yet to be revealed.
The next season will hopefully have a lot more answers but until then, the LGBTQ community will be waiting and hoping that the use of a transgender character will end up being a positive in the end. If nothing else, I will be tuning in to see if the drunk moms finally get out of the basement. Here’s hoping.