For six seasons, the ABC Family tween-drama Pretty Little Liars has been leading up to a reveal of who the hiding-in-plain-sight-all-along arch-villain was. Wednesday, the show revealed the psychotic antagonist to be Charlotte “CeCe” DiLaurentis.
Born Charles DiLaurentis. Who is crazy, and transgender, and crazy because they’re transgender and spent time in an asylum because they’re crazy. Because transgender. While the show’s producers have done a hand wave saying that CeCe comes from a crazy family and that all this has nothing to do with her being transgender, this claim is simply not credible. The rest of the “crazy” family aren’t doing the things that make CeCe the “Big Bad” of the show.
First, this “twist” was already cliché when Ace Ventura did it in 1994 four years after Silence of the Lambs did it in 1991, 11 years after Dressed to Kill and 31 years after Norman Bates cross-dressed his way through Psycho. Using transgender people and their transitions as a twist, and a way to explain psychotic behavior, is just plain lazy writing and has been for 50 plus years. It’s the “big-bad unmasking” equivalent to revealing that all of the 9th season of Dallas was all just a dream.
If George Lucas had made Jar-Jar Binks a crack dealer, it still wouldn’t be as hackneyed and offensive as what Marlene King and her writers have created. Even the name they chose is insensitive: CeCe McDonald is a transgender woman of color who went to a men’s prison for 19 months defending herself against a drunken Neo-Nazi.
So let’s look at all the stereotypes they hit:
Transgender people are crazy. Check
Transgender people are deceivers. Check.
Transgender people’s identities aren’t real (because they’re crazy). Check.
Transgender people are dangerous. Check.
It’s impressive really. They managed to create a character that simultaneously exemplifies all the negative stereotypes that prevent transgender people from getting jobs, receiving health care, finding housing and being accepted as who they are by their families. It did manage to reaffirm the messages transgender people are probably dangerous, should be locked in asylums, are lying about who they are and are an acceptable target for violence.
The producers of the show managed to reinforce the talking points of every right wing, anti-LGBT hate group working against the basic human transgender people in the US.
Great job. Have a cookie.
What’s worse is that the producer should know better. From the 1870’s onwards, the concept of “female hysteria” was used to dismiss anything women thought, did or said, as well as their objections to being labeled as such. Donald Trump’s odious comments about Megyn Kelly echo those 19th century labels, and demonstrate that when you categorize an entire group of people as mentally incompetent, it sticks around for generations.
It’s also not as if the writers weren’t warned this was a really, really bad idea in feminist online media content months ago. It was noted that the show had already handled pronouns badly, and clearly had no idea how transgender people live, given the character they were speculating about.
And therein lies the problem. It isn’t as if there aren’t tons of transgender people to talk to. It’s not like transgender studies, journal articles, blogs, authors, actors, activists or reality TV shows are hard to find these days. The shows’ writers weren’t interested in telling a new or different story, they were telling the story that people want to hear; the story that they have heard over and over before.
There’s comfort in people who are different than you being uncomfortable and dangerous. Them versus us. It’s an easy narrative, and it’s one transgender people can’t fight back against. Everyone knows transgender people are mentally ill, right? Or are a threat to women and children. Of course crazy people deny being any of these things.
Is it any wonder we can’t find jobs when such stereotypes predominate and have been pushed out by lazy hacks for decades? Or can’t get housing? Or medical care? Or that our families forsake us? And when we’re broke, homeless and completely alone in the world when we choose to end our lives, you look at us and say, “Well that’s just what crazy people do.”
It’s this sort of crass logic that lets the privileged look at everyone else in America who is suffering from systemic violence, oppression and silencing and say, “they probably deserved it.”
Because looking at yourself in the mirror and saying “I’m part of the problem,” is much harder than labeling others whom you see as broken, inferior or deserving of what befalls them as a class.
And you, Marlene King, are a part of the problem.