“Pretty Little Liars” Episode 611 Recap: Angels With Dirty Faces

The worst advice I ever got was to not write that Ezra Fitz is a monster. “You’ll piss off the people who work on Pretty Little Liars and read and tweet your stuff,” was the reason, and it was a terrible reason, and so I wrote (continuously) that Ezra Fitz is a monster. It did the opposite of alienating me from (most of) the people who work on Pretty Little Liars. And to the great credit of their creative team, the harshest criticism I ever leveled at the show — in my recap of last summer’s finale — only opened up their world to me even more. Between season 6A and 6B, I talked with dozens of people who make PLL a reality: writers, producers, directors, publicists, crew members, even the wife of someone who drives a golf cart on the Warner Brothers backlot. They reached out to me over and over with one message: Thank you for loving this show as much as we love making it, and for forcing us to acknowledge its place in the larger cultural conversation.

Well, no. That wasn’t the only message. Not by a mile, really. It was the main message. But also I got to sit across tables and talk on the phone and email and message with these folks about how gosh dang much they love making stories, and how important it is for them to get it right, and how it pains them to get it wrong. They want to do good and I know they want to do good because they have shown up again and again for me, both personally and professionally, to offer support and encouragement and candid explanations for how their particular sausage gets made. I watch them, day after day, advocate for politics and policies that move forward a progressive worldview, that make queer lives better.

I’ve been writing this recap for five months. I’ve been writing it since the moment I found out PLL had chosen to kill off Charlotte, grappling incessantly with the knowledge of the goodness of the folks who made that decision and the reality that is was a deeply, irrevocably damaging one that was going to contribute to a culture of pain and fear for my transgender sisters. 12 trans women had been murdered in the U.S. in 2015 when I started writing the Pretty Little Liars 610 recap; 13 trans women had been murdered in the U.S. by the time I finished writing the Pretty Little Liars 610 recap, just ten hours after I started. In total, 23 trans women were murdered last year, most of them black women, which means — as Mey and I pointed out in our end-of-year piece Violence and Visibility: Transgender Women On TV in 2015 — that we wrote more obituaries for trans women in 2015 than recaps for any single show we covered.

Here’s another thing true thing we wrote in that article: “Not all visibility is good visibility. The three main tropes used when writing about trans women are: 1) That trans women are deceivers, liars, and mentally unstable. 2) That trans women are acceptable targets of violence. And 3) That it’s tolerable to misname and misgender trans women (which, of course, dehumanizes them and provides justification for violence against them).”

Those things, those tropes, PLL has done them all now, every untrue stereotype about trans women, every untrue cliche, and they murdered Charlotte too. “He, she, it!” Hanna called her. “He, she, it!” Pretty Little Liars official Twitter declared just days after the summer finale. No, Hanna didn’t know Charlotte was trans at the time, but the writer who penned that dialogue sure did. “He, she, it” was already part of the show’s cultural DNA. “He, she, it” is why trans women are murdered in real life.

There was a time when Pretty Little Liars helped create the most fun and most safe place for queer women to participate in TV culture. The #BooRadleyVanCullen community that sprang up around watching the show together is unlike anything I have ever been a part of. Not only did I meet some of my dearest and most important real life friends because of it, but also it became very obvious that the queer women who participated in that conversation were speaking to a show that was listening to them, and the show was talking back, both on-screen and in real life. We’ve never had anything like that. Ever, ever, ever. Never, truly never, have we ever had something like that in our lives. I see now that it wasn’t sustainable, but when we were in the throes of it, I couldn’t have predicted the way the culture was going to shift so dramatically under our feet.

If you pulled out my memories of the last six years, since this show began, and swirled them around and poked them apart in Dumbledore’s Pensieve, what you would see on one side is a collective feminist voice uniting around speaking up against sexual predators, pushing back against the entitlement of straight white male privilege, demanding accountability for police officers who exploit women, crying out against the devaluation of black bodies, and a growing awareness of the horrific violence committed against trans women in this country. And you would see Pretty Little Liars stepping in those holes just as real life events and circumstances caused our voices to coalesce around those causes.

And on the other side of the Pensieve you would see pieces coming off the chess board in Rosewood as the creative team and the network and the studio hear the crowds of young girls sending up their rallying cries for Ezra and Aria, Caleb and Hanna, Toby and Spencer, and as those decision makers watch the Teen Choice Awards and People’s Choice Awards roll in. You would see the feints at allowing the men on PLL to face consequences or be bad guys or play a part in the larger real-stakes narrative of the show — but instead you would watch a black bisexual women be killed to advance Emily’s plot, a black queer woman be killed to advance Aria’s plot, only one original love interest written off the show (the lesbian one), a queer character introduced as a love interest for Emily for the sole purpose of serving as the answer to nearly every evil question, a trans women revealed as the ultimate bad guy, and now a trans woman murdered to advance the plot of everyone else.

On a show anchored by the narratives of five women, the men were rendered off-limits; the only place for real narrative consequences was the place that was queer.

At the PLL New York Comic Con panel and at the PLL Paley Center event this year, I watched thousands of young women cry for Ezria like the Beatles, and I just wanted to grab them all up in a hug like I did when I was forcing my feral kittens to learn to like human touch and yell, “I hate Ezra because I love you I hate Ezra because I love you I hate Ezra because I love you” over and over and over until they understood the real world rape culture ramifications of his continued existence. I wanted to pull in everyone who was outraged about the plot holes after the #SummerOfAnswers and squeeze them until all my love and knowledge transferred itself into their bodies and their outrage centered on the fact that trans women were being killed at a rate of once every other week and the Charlotte reveal was going to continue to perpetuate stereotypes that lead to trans women being feared and maligned and murdered in real life.

It was a mind-blowing experience being at those events. I have never felt more like an alien, hurled down to earth to participate in a society that looks like me but is not me. (And I’ve felt like an alien a lot in my life.)

You know what else I wanted to do while I was there, though? I wanted to introduce them to our Trans Editor, Mey Rude, who is one of my very best friends and one of the warmest and most generous women I have ever met in my entire life. I’ve known Charlotte was going to die since almost the moment the summer finale was over, and I couldn’t bring myself to tell Mey about it until two days ago. When was the right time? After she finished writing another obituary for a murdered trans woman? When she had finished writing about Houston’s Prop. 1 taking away the rights of trans women to use women’s restrooms? When she had finished writing about the horrific trans-themed episode of Law & Order last year, or the way Ryan Murphy wrote another incredibly harmful trans woman, this time on American Horror Story?

I chased the FedEx truck down the road a couple of weeks ago to get my driver to give me the box of homemade tamales Mey baked and overnighted to me, and as soon as I got back inside in front of my laptop, the new Pretty Little Liars promo poster was here: four sexy women sashaying around town with a dead trans girl in a coffin. Was I supposed to tell Mey about it then, eating the food she cooked for me with love in her very own kitchen? I wanted to introduce Mey to those Pretty Little Liars fans and to everyone who works on the show and I wanted to say, “I love this woman, I love her, she means so much to me, and you are making her life scarier and sadder and more dangerous, do you know? I’m afraid of losing this woman I love if you keep up this thing with Charlotte.”

(What are Ezria fans afraid of, I wonder.)

The main thing Mey Rude and I have in common is we would rather be wrapped in the warm blanket of stories we love than feel outraged and heartbroken about stories that hurt us, any day of the week.

And so here we are: Good people have made some harmful decisions on a show that has meant more to me than … well, you know how much it has meant to me, and if you don’t, I’ve written about half a million words about it on the internet, and you can see it for yourself. “It’s just a story” is a lazy lie and no writer really believes that. Oh, they’ll say it to try to sidestep responsibility, but writers become writers because they have been deeply affected by the power of story, because they have known the magic and they want to wield it. I’ve looked into the tear-streaked faces of some of the people who tell this show’s stories, fallible and full of love, and they mean something to me too. I have touched their hands with my hands and thrown my arms around them because they did change my world. Oh, they changed my world for the better! I know you because of Pretty Little Liars and that’s how you know me; what a gift!

Humans needs stories as much as they need air and water, and minorities most of all. We need to see happy endings to know happy endings are possible. We need to see someone form constellations out of the unrelated points of light in our life so we can make sense of who we are. And for a very long time, Pretty Little Liars has been that to me, to so many of us. It’s not the only show on the block anymore. (All the queer shows on TV can’t be contained to a single block anymore.) I don’t know if the two sides of reality in my Pensieve can even be reconciled. This show isn’t written for me; I was too old to be a Becomer when even when the pilot aired a thousand years ago (I don’t even know what DryBar is), but I think maybe what this world needs is less of queer critics boycotting things and more of queer critics continuing the conversation about things that trouble them.

Maybe. Maybe that’s naive. Maybe it’s wise. Maybe that’s what I’ll do for now. I don’t care about scoring points, that’s not who I am. I don’t care about Calling Things Out. I believe, truly I believe, that most storytellers aren’t out to get us. I think many of them live in a bubble in Los Angeles and are doing the best they can with the information they’ve exposed themselves to, trapped between what’s good and right, and what sells shampoo. I want stories to work their magic inside of me and to work their magic on the world beyond my reach. I want to love my stories with a wide open heart. I want my stories to love me back. I want to talk to Pretty Little Liars like I always have done, and I want them to talk back. I want us to understand each other. We already have this magical translating parrot here; maybe she can lead the way.

Five Years Later

Alison DiLaurentis

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Where I hoped she’d be after the time jump: Settled comfortably into her queer identity and waiting patiently for Emily to return to Rosewood to show her a thing or two she learned in college. Occasionally pulling a heist with Mona for old time’s sake, wearing masks of each other’s faces and sometimes masks of their own faces, once in a while, that mask of Emily’s face. Running a chartered plane courier service up and down the eastern seaboard in her very own twin prop. Co-pilot: Pepe the Gravedigger.

Where she actually is after the time jump: Teaching at Rosewood High, drifting off into memories of her former gayness while reading Shakespeare to her class. Visiting with Charlotte whenever she can and failing to notice that Charlotte’s doctor is another authority figure doubling as a fucking creep in her life. Advocating for Charlotte to be released from the hospital and loving her sister, loving her sister, loving her sister. Mourning her too, while her friends get drunk on Hanna’s dime at the new Radley Sanatarium bar and fail to notice she’s been murdered.

Spencer Hastings

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Where I hoped she’d be after the time jump: Gay. Gay and wearing suits and doing a Slytherin job while pretending it’s a Ravenclaw job. Supporting the independent political aspirations of both of her parents in the hopes of parlaying their future influence and name recognition into her own career on The Hill. Plans to be President of the United States of America by the time she’s 37.

Where she actually is after the time jump: All of those things except the gay parts (supposedly).

Emily Fields

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Where I hoped she’d be after the time jump: Planning her wedding to Paige McCullers and working on her memoir (Glass In My Hair: An Autobiography of Acting Normal Bitch) while Paige trains with the U.S. Olympic swim team. Tapas on the regular with Missy Franklin, and sometimes whole pizzas too. Late night texts and inside jokes with Hanna, a perfected empanada recipe, a plan to teach and coach swimming when she finishes her MFA.

Where she actually is after the time jump: Working in a hotel bar, serving Mai Tais to tourists. Addicted to the pills Pam’s not counting. One dead dad.

Aria Montgomery

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Where I hoped she’d be after the time jump: Living in a loft in Dumbo, doing her Art, riding a unicycle around Brooklyn to buy artisanal toothpicks and toilet paper from men sporting handlebar mustaches and slim-fit, knee-length pantaloons. Thinking about how she should have kissed Spencer once, twice, three times at least, back in high school, and wondering how long it would take her to pedal her little one-wheeled wonder on down to Washington D.C. The country is ready for a bisexual president, right? Oh, the mural she would paint in the Lincoln bedroom! Oh, the photos of decapitated dolls she would hang on the walls in the Queens’ quarters!

Where she actually is after the time jump: Publishing books and unafraid to say she’s still super traumatized by being stalked and preyed upon for many years of her teenage existence. No, no, not the stalking and preying her teacher did to her. That guy’s fine. All he did was seduce her when she was a child, and follow her around and record her every move with hidden cameras in every nook of every cranny she ever frequented. No, it’s Charlotte’s torture that still gets to her (quite rightly) on the red line when she’s riding home from work to her miserable lonely apartment. (Not Ezra’s torture, though; let’s be clear about that. He loved her!)

Hanna Marin

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Where I hoped she’d be after the time jump: Starring in The Devil Wears Prada in real life.

Where she actually is after the time jump: Starring in The Devil Wears Prada in real life. Plus, substituting gin for milk when she douses her bowl of Cheerios every morning.

Mona Vanderwaal

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Where I hoped she’d be after the time jump: Working for the CIA, doing black ops missions around the world, singlehandedly destroying terrorism and keeping the global markets in check. Dozens of passports at her disposal, billions of dollars, shimmying up walls in Prague and sliding down ropes into trap doors in Bangladesh. Sending back a thousand-dollar bottle of wine because it’s not good enough and listening to Hamilton on her iPod while practicing kickboxing and thinking fondly of the time she stabbed Kung Fu Jake in his feet.

Where she actually is after the time jump: Dogging Spencer’s steps in D.C., but owning the Slytherin nature of her career, hoping at once to best Spencer and get into Spencer’s power suit pants. Planning for the inevitability of being Spencer’s White House Chief of Staff.

Ezra Fitz

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Where I hoped he’d be after the time jump: In jail.

Where he actually is after the time jump: Wallowing around in his manpain like a pig in mud, completely befuddled by the fact that bad things happen to women in this world, despite having surveilled the Liars for years and witnessing them being stuffed into boxes and run under by cars and locked in clown houses and doll houses and fun houses and house houses and murdered with regularity. His girlfriend Nicole was kidnapped when he was doing the Lord’s work down in South America, just building houses for the impoverished like the Great White Hero he always has been, just being a Good Guy, not deserving anything bad, and she was kidnapped. So if you understand that, ARIA, why don’t you go ahead and explain it. Some people have real problems.

Toby Cavanaugh and Caleb Rivers

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Where I hoped they’d be after the time jump: Married.

Where they actually are after the time jump: Engaged.

Charlotte DiLaurentus

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Where I hoped she’d be after the time jump: Treated with dignity, afforded the same opportunities for redemption as the rich, handsome, straight white men on this show.

Where she actually is after the time jump: Dead.

Season 6B (and beyond?) is a whodunit, as in: Who killed Charlotte DiLaurentis? The Liars had planned to bounce after her trial, but Lorenzo ambushes them outside the funeral and tells them they’ll need to stay for questioning. Where are they now? Where they’ve always been, but with disposable income and different hair.  Maybe they’ve learned to turn on lights when they enter a room. Maybe they know how to work window blinds now. Is it 2016 or is it 2021? Because by 2021, I firmly believe every woman will be gay. I also firmly believe Sara Harvey will be revealed as nothing more than a figment of our collective imagination by then. Hope breeds eternal misery, but I do it anyway.


Thank you to Nicole (@PLLBigA) for the screencaps and for always helping me stay grounded. 

If you want to buy a #BooRadleyVanCullen t-shirt, with 100% of the profit going directly to the Sylvia Rivera Law Project to help trans folks, you can do that here


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Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.

Heather has written 588 articles for us.

117 Comments

  1. I disagree with pll being a “queer show”. I was mad at the summer finale but it’s because I expected too much of the show. The truth of the show is this: Emily has always been the under written liar. Emily’s love interests have always been in significantly less episodes. Paige (to me) was not well written in a single episode ourside of shadow play. Her force kissing emily in the car was the first thing I saw on the show (my little sister was watching) and It was what kept me from watching until season 5. The show isn’t queer. They like to make you wonder who is on whose side (why shana/jenna was A Thing) and make you wonder who is who (charles/charolette/cece) but those weren’t things added to be queer. Queer was just a way to achieve the goals. And when I accepted that I was able to enjoy the show again.

    • “…those weren’t things added to be queer. Queer was just a way to achieve the goals.”

      Yeah, exactly this. I wish that they would just once be like “Yeah ok maybe it was a mistake to make Charlotte a trans character, we possibly didn’t think about the larger meaning of that decision” instead of just maddeningly trying to stand by it like its some piece of great storytelling and not because they just wanted to make the reveal more shocking.

      PLL reminds me a bit of Glee, where so many queer people fell in love with the POTENTIAL of the thing and what it could have stood for and instead realize that those things we expected from it weren’t things they ever planned to give us.

      • And I think its unfair to be mad at a show for not being what you want it to be. Glee was 80% music 20% storytelling so as long as the voices were good I couldnt get mad at the terrible story telling. Pll isnt this queer feminist amaze show. Its a show about 4 very real female characters under tremendous stress.

        • The comparison between glee and PLL is that they both showed hints of being a place of inclusive and postive queer/feminist storytelling but ultimately falling short in upsetting ways (glee much more so imo), not anything about the plot of the shows.

          • Yeah…i’ve seen glee. I just meant people got angry at glee for (a different type of) bad storytelling because many viewers wanted it to be something it wasn’t. We can only judge shows for what they are not what we want them to be.

    • Glee might not have been a “Queer” show but Ryan Murphy(moreso than Marlene King with PLL)definitely did a whole lot of after-school special-ly storylines centered around his gay characters where he lectured the audience about certain things. I think he definitely though his show was the most progressive thing on television compared everything else on at the time when it came to how his portrayals of these characters. I know because he talked about it a lot interviews. It wasn’t just a song and dance show for him.

    • PLL official instagram just posted a picture of Hannah and Caleb, Spencer and Toby, and Aria and Ezra with the caption “Which ship do you love?”
      Emily wasn’t even featured, not with Paige, not with Alison, not even with Sarah Harvey. I guess you’re right, Sc. PLL is not a queer show, despite how much I really wanted it to be.

  2. I am clinging to the hope that nobody really stays dead on this show, especially DiLaurentises. Maybe Maya and Shana can come back from the dead, too. Maybe the finale of this show is that Charlotte faked her own death so she could compile every last bit of evidence to send one Ezra Fitzgerald to rot in prison for the rest of his life and once he’s locked up for good she can come back to Rosewood and spend the rest of her life being fabulous and maybe turning Radley into some sort of queer X Men type school where all the trans ladies and queer ladies and also Mona can go to be safe when their worlds become unsafe.

  3. “They want to do good and I know they want to do good because they have shown up again and again for me, both personally and professionally, to offer support and encouragement and candid explanations for how their particular sausage gets made.”

    I’ve been thinking about this concept a lot. This is really the most difficult part of all of this, isn’t it? Because when dealing with misogeny and racism and homophobia and transphobia and all the other isms and phobias, we’re not always up against things like the KKK and Westboro Baptist, things that are so obviously evil and bad that everyone understands that they’re evil and bad. It’s combating the men, usually white men, who say that women and people of color just need to work a *little* bit harder to get where white men are, and is it really bad to ask someone to work hard? And these people are friends and family members and coworkers, so you can’t really hate them, because they have good intentions. It’s watching how we’re portrayed on TV, and having to listen to people say that women/people of color/queer people are like this in real life, so why wouldn’t they act like that on television? And again, this is coming from friends and coworkers and family. It’s the fact that not all evil looks like Voldemort, noseless and awful; sometimes evil looks like Killgrave and Ezra Fitz, who do bad things but oh they’re so pretty, so we can forgive them.

    I think it’s great that you’d rather be wrapped in a blanket of warm stories, I really do, but I’m one of those people who is letting myself be angry. Because I’m sick of having to deal with this bullshit in real life, and having everything perpetuated on television. I’m sick of being told to sit down and be quiet instead of being allowed to be vocal about it, because women aren’t supposed to be loud, or angry, or opinionated. I hate that there are little trans girls out there who are watching this and thinking that their own, personal stories are worth nothing, that they’re just a throwaway plotline, because that’s how I feel as a person of color, and it sucks. I agree that instead of boycotting these stories, we should be having conversations about them, but I fully believe in Calling Things Out. (Though, by writing things like this, that provide facts and insight into why these tropes are problematic, aren’t you in fact Calling Things Out?)

    • Oh, I’m angry too! And very sad. I think everyone should feel very free to process stories and feel exactly how they want and need to feel about them. This is just where I am, personally, after wrestling with every piece of this for six months or so. Who knows how that will evolve.

      I believe fully in honest criticism, which is what I hope I have done here. What I meant by Calling Things Out is being a part of call out culture, in general, which seems to exist to move from outrage to outrage, a thing I find both exhausting and ineffective at creating actual change, at least in my own experience. I’m never going to stop speaking the truth to our culture, never ever, but I’m also working very hard to not allow myself to be swallowed into the vortex of perpetual, unyielding rage.

      • I consider labeling fighting back at repressive media as “call out culture” right up there with smearing anything as “political correctness” in using terms which are inherently reactionary in nature. It’s nice you’re able to categorize some people’s concerns as a “vortex of perpetual, unyielding rage” which is basically pathologizing oppression. I’m happy for you that you have a trans friend who makes you tamales, Heather, and that you’re worried about our delicate trans feelings being hurt, but as long as you label what many of us feel about media portrayals like this with that language, you ain’t talking for me.

        • Right, see, so here’s the problem with call out culture as I have experienced it: I spent six months wrestling with a thing and worrying nonstop about my ability to say the whole truth about this show in a way that made my voice worth listening to by people who need to be represented and by people who need to learn. I have done that to the absolute best of my ability; truly, I pushed my brain and heart to the absolute max to get here. And you have zeroed in on semantics and are misrepresenting the soul of what I have written. That’s what callout culture is to me. Outrage to outrage without pause for empathy.

          • That’s right, this is all about you Heather. It’s about your painful struggle to continue liking (and being personally connected to) a show which has pulled one of the bigger transphobic dumps in last year’s media landscape… we should all care about that before anything else. I have profound empathy for the persons who are directly impacted by these tropes… that’s my concern, not for the persons who perpetuate this garbage nor for the persons who excuse it. Your mention of Mey in this piece is a page right out of the “I have black/gay/Jewish/Native friends” notebook. That’s not empathy, that’s exploitation to maintain progressive props while continuing to support something that is so wrong.

        • @ginapdx you say that heather isn’t talking for you, so please don’t presume you can talk for me. Heather was absolutely not exploiting me or propping me up as an excuse for her to do anything. She asked me if she could talk about me in this piece, and showed it to me and asked me what i thought and for feedback before it went up.

          Both as her friend and, more importantly, as the trans editor for this website, i gave what she wrote my seal of approval, because she says some extremely important things and speaks aloud many of my own personal thoughts about seeing a show i love hurt me and my community so much. Heather might not be talking for you, but as a trans woman and a fan of pretty little liars, she was speaking for me, and I’m very thankful that she did.

          I think it’s being extremely presumptuous and extremely rude to suggest that Heather was prioritizing her comfort, or the comfort of cis fans of the show over the lives, safety and happiness of trans women. If you want to criticize anyone for this article, criticize me for giving it my approval.

  4. Well this was wonderfully done and written and thought out, from all the important stuff in the beginning to the hilarity of the recap in the end. I really enjoy reading about this world from somebody who knows it so deeply. I want to tumble the fuck out of so much of this.

    I hope PLL redeems itself, but last night’s new-and-older characters were so cardboard, and we’ve all lost so much faith since the Big A reveal that I find myself wishing (as I eventually did with Glee) for, at the very best, less damage being done. It’s wild to think I’ve been watching this for six years, and that six years ago I was writing for this site about how simply extraordinary it was that Emily remained gay for an entire season.

  5. The conversations that creative team of PLL are having with you, that has given you faith in their goodness and intentions, are conversations and dialogue they need to have IN PUBLIC with the queer audience. We need to hear them say the things that they are saying to you personally because otherwise their intention doesn’t matter. They’re still writing these awful and hurtful storylines over and over and over.

    • Honestly, intention doesn’t matter a great deal anyway. “Good people” can mess way up and we still must take them to task for it (which, by and large, Heather does, over and over and over again, even as she vouches for their good intentions).

      Heather has always had more faith in this show than I did. In the beginning, it was her writing that pointed out to me the feminist layer underneath the eyelashes and feather earrings. Before I came to her recaps, I was watching the show as a guilty pleasure. After I found her recaps, I was watching for all of the amazing themes she has rooted out for us over the years. Those themes, that magic, did exist — she wasn’t making it up — and for that I am grateful to the writers and showrunners. But that gratitude is not a blank check. They don’t get to mess up this badly, over and over again, and not get called out for it.

      I have no idea what my point is. I’m going to keep watching for awhile at least, and hope my anger doesn’t get too much in the way, but I think it’s going to be more of a guilty pleasure again. Bummer.

    • I cannot up vote this comment enough!

      Heather, I’m taking you on faith that the writers intentions are as good as you say. I know you probably can’t answer this, but I really would love to hear about some of the conversations they had in the writers room when charting this whole storyline.

      My question for you, Heather, is…at what point do we say enough is enough? First they made a teacher a legitimate love interest for a 16 year old. They killed Emily’s girlfriend. They made A trans. When do their good intentions stop mattering in the face of the actual harm they are doing?

      Sometimes I come here, and I almost get mad at YOU for going to easy on them. Again and again, you always remind me to reach for compassion. (It’s one of the reasons I love you.) I don’t want you to go down a spiral of rage either, I know that’s not healthy (or fun!) but…I just want them to hear it, you know?! I want them to be accountable. There is so much problematic media out there that sometimes you start to feel like you must be watching a different show when they are heaped with awards and critical acclaim. It makes me angry that these creators live in an echo chamber where they don’t have to hear why what they wrote was hurtful or offensive. You have taught me to expect more from PLL. Let’s tell them together. If their intentions are as good as you say, shouldn’t they want to listen? Shouldn’t they want to do better?

      They just killed CeCe, and Ezra Fitz is still here. That says to me that either they don’t want to listen, or they don’t care when they do. How do I reconcile that with their good intentions?

      • Also Heather: after posting this and then scrolling down and seeing the negative comments, I want to make it absolutely clear that I don’t want to pile on! This isn’t a rhetorical question, I’m genuinely asking you BECAUSE you are a person of such extreme compassion. I have loved this show so much that I am heartbroken that it has made such terrible decisions. I feel like I’m holding my heart in my hands when I ask them for better.

  6. “Where are they now? Where they’ve always been, but with disposable income and different hair. Maybe they’ve learned to turn on lights when they enter a room. Maybe they know how to work window blinds now. Is it 2016 or is it 2021? Because by 2021, I firmly believe every woman will be gay.”

    Heather Hogan, you are just wonderful. You are a shining beacon of light to PLL fans, tiny kittens, and queer humans everywhere. Thank you for your thoughtful writing on a topic that is so much more than vapid fluff, even if we have to watch it on a tv channel called “freeform.”

  7. As I read your intro, I sort of hoped that you were leading up to saying you weren’t going to recap PLL anymore, because I understand that as much as you love this show, it also causes you deep pain. You are such a sensitive heart, my friend. But I knew that you probably would choose to press on, understanding that while naming gives power, it is also the only way to take that power away. As irritated as I was that the PLL social media folks retweeted way too many Three Word Exclamations! last night, I also saw, again, how many fans still think Ezria is a great romance and Charlotte’s death is something to celebrate. TV shows may be “just” shows, but media shapes minds, and those who shape media need to be reminded of that. Carry on.

  8. Why would the liars be afraid FOR Charlotte? They were afraid for themselves. It wasn’t ever on them. I. Marlene King is a lazy writer but I sadly think she really thought death was insta redemption rather than a punishment. They pulled the same thing with Mona, Ali, Ezra getting shot. In her mind that’s all she needs to do. They never should have made her motive something outside of the liars. They don’t owe it to Charlotte to forgive. Women do not have to forgive and I feel like the show is saying they do by all these so-called redemptions. Mona kidnapped, Ezra gets shot….

    • Yeah, I completely agree with this assessment! No woman should be forced to forgive her abuser. The problem, of course, as you say, is that Ezra Fitz is always there, lurking around in the background, in a state of forever being redeemed, which makes the playing field so unleveled and forces us to juxtapose the fate of other abusers with him. Oh, why couldn’t he have just died when he got shot on that rooftop!

  9. Wow. I’m still processing, but I’m so thankful to have read these words.

    I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to forgive PLL for what they did with CeCe. But, I wanted to let you know that you were right when you said writers write because they want to wield magic. The magic of your writing has seen me through so many ups and downs over the last 6 years. I’m sitting here reflecting on that and I wanted to take a moment to say thank you.

    I’ll be buying a #BooRadleyVanCullen shirt. Even though I’m not sure where I will end up with PLL. So much love for the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (folks, they do such important and amazing work! check them out), so much love to my trans sisters.

  10. I am always confused at PLL being considered a progressive show. It really isn’t. They have one of the most chaste, barely queer character’s on television and yet still think they deserve ally cookies for it. And the trans character they wrote is up there with one of the worst characterizations of a trans woman I have ever seen. And don’t even get me started on Ezra and his relationship with Aria. An extremely problematic relationship Marlene and the rest of the writing staff have pandered to and excused for the entire series. I’m not privy to Heather’s conversations with TPTB over there but from how they have behaved on Twitter about this storyline I don’t believe that they think they have done anything offensive here. Especially Marlene King. I wouldn’t continue giving this show the time of day but you do you I guess.

  11. “Well ya they depicted a trans woman as a deviant dangerous psychopath and than murdered her, but it’s such a cool queer show so we at Autostraddle are gonna keep recapping it and gushing over how awesome it is.”

    *sigh*

    Why did I ever think this wouldn’t be the case? Experience in queer/feminist spaces has shown time and time again that optimism about this sort of thing is naive. They’ll go on and on about what allies they are and about how much they feel for the trans women who suffer and about how we’re welcome as equals, and maybe they actually believe it when they say that, but it’s still not true. The truth is that we’re only welcome so long as we know our place, beneath them. Cis women always come first, trans women are an afterthought. A lesser species of women who will be ignored and tossed aside the moment they become an inconvenience to the ‘real’ women. So long as someone celebrates cis women they are allowed to demonize trans women with impunity. When one of their cis heroes turns out to be a transphobe they’ll give lip service to opposing her transphobia, they’ll talk about how it’s ‘problematic’ and they totally don’t agree with her, but they’ll still defend her and make excuses for her. They’ll go on about all the good she’s done for cis women and how much they like her and how that’s so much more important than the tiny little insignificant fact that she promotes ideas which enable bigotry, discrimination, and violence against women like me. I’ve seen it before, I’m seeing it now, and I’m sure I’ll be seeing it plenty of times in the future.

    Well that’s my somewhat incoherent rant. And my goodbye. I’ll continue looking for a place where I’m truly accepted as an equal, where my concerns are treated with just as much validity as a cis woman’s concerns. I doubt I’ll ever find such a place, but I’m not gonna settle for something less than that.

    • I’m sorry that you’ve had such horrible experiences in queer women’s spaces, and I’ve had many similarly terrible ones myself, but what you’re describing here does not describe autostraddle in the least.

      Trans women, and especially trans women of color, are respected here and are prioritized here. Heather wasn’t excusing the show’s transmisogyny or saying that her feelings about the show are more important than the damage the show does, she was talking about how the show is horrible for treating trans women the way it does, and she’s going to continue to fight against that, but she’s also not going to do that by ignoring the show. Which is the exact same thing I’m going to do as a trans woman and a fan of the show.

    • And this is what’s breaking my heart – that we as a community are prioritizing maintaining a complicated relationship with a TV show (a relationship that does not excuse its missteps, but also clearly has little power to change the overall arc and narrative and communicative power of this media) over the voices of trans women who did not have an emotional investment in the TV show prior to the “Big A reveal”.

      I think it would be one thing entirely if this relationship (between the TV show and Heather/Autostraddle) consisted of acknowledging the importance it’s had for so many people and the hope so many carried into it and through several seasons of it, but at the end of the recognizing that those in positions of power to make decisions about the show have not made any effort to address the transphobia they are perpetuating, or even acknowledge that they have opened that door. And we can acknowledge that the first does not excuse or make up for the second and that the decisions to bring it in this direction have irrevocably damaged the relationship between the show and the queer/trans community.

      Writing and communication is open to multiple interpretations; if what I just wrote what this piece is trying to say, then I apologize. Because it’s not what I hear, when so many of the words are devoted to statements such as this “I want to talk to Pretty Little Liars like I always have done, and I want them to talk back. I want us to understand each other.” and this “Good people have made some harmful decisions on a show that has meant more to me than … well, you know how much it has meant to me, and if you don’t, I’ve written about half a million words about it on the internet, and you can see it for yourself.”

      I think what some people are hearing, what I am hearing, in statements such as that is an unwillingness to acknowledge that to this point and for the foreseeable future (unless there is secret information that we don’t know about), the writers, producers, creators, and cast of PLL are making no effort to address the harm they are causing and are continuing to actively perpetuate that harm through killing off (even temporarily) Charlotte. That is not PLL having a conversation with you based on what you have written. That is PLL actively ignoring what you have to say, despite the personal and professional relationships you have with those people. That is their continued investment in storylines and narratives that are actively harmful, from the active promotion of Aria and Ezra to the violent deaths of Black queer women to hitting every single trope on the “How Not to Write about Trans Women” bingo card.

      I am struggling with this, to word this carefully and to give this far more time than I probably should. It is because I truly believe that this is not about an individual but about our community as a whole and the ways in which many of us, including myself, are prone to abandoning trans women in particular contexts. I think Autostraddle is one of the spaces that is most cognizant and works hardest to combat that tendency. It is because I value Heather’s writing, insights, and analysis deeply. It is because I am seeing accusatory comments of being “rude” or using “vitriol” directed towards trans women here when they are not being rude, but strongly disagree with this decision and don’t feel the need to couch it in careful, conciliatory language so that they’re not accused of beating up on an almost universally beloved writer.

      I think one of the accusations around “cis feelings” is that there are lots of people who either directly know and care about Autostraddle editors and staff and who don’t personally them but feel that they know them because their writing gives such insight into our souls. When the conversation on here starts turning to comments of oh I don’t want to pile on with negative comments or I know it’s a real struggle for you but categorizes the voices of trans women who disagree with this decision as rude or as totally wrong about their conception of Autostraddle and shows very little concern as to the justifiable frustration, anger, and in some cases fear that may be part of their opposition – that is worrisome to me.

      • Oh, but Jessica, truly, that is not what we are prioritizing. Here’s the thing:

        1) Every single show I have ever covered — and I have covered almost all of them; I have been doing this since 2008 — has had its detractors who have insisted that my continued coverage of the show was hurting them. Lesbians, bisexual women, trans women, people of color, nonbinary people, femmes, masculine of center women, older queer people, teenage queer people, gay men, people who are in the closet, people who are not American, people who are American. If we stopped covering every show because we received pushback about it, we would literally never write about TV again. And please knows this, because it is true and so vital to this conversation: If we did not continue having conversations with problematic TV shows, TV would never have changed.

        2) We are not abandoning trans women. It is the opposite. I am desperate for you to understand that if I did not write what I have written here in this recap and what I wrote in my summer finale recap, no one who makes decisions at PLL would have a single clue that what they did was offensive. No would know and no one would care because no one else writing about the show is talking about it. Is absolutely essential to explain why trans women matter to people who make TV and don’t know trans women. They don’t care, Jessica. They don’t care they don’t care they don’t care. They don’t care and they never have to care and they will get exactly zero flack for it. Continuing to talk with them forces them to at least acknowledge a different perspective. Abandoning the conversation changes nothing.

        3) Behind the scenes, we have been talking of little else than the frustration, anger, and fear of the trans women who commented that they do not want us to continue to cover the show. (You’ll notice also, here and on lots of social media platforms, that many trans women DO want us to continue to cover the show.) And, look, you can talk to any of our senior staff or even my girlfriend and they will all tell you that I have been consumed by Charlotte’s death for six months. I have been wrestling about it for half a year. I care so much about representing trans women properly that I don’t sleep sometimes. That’s why, at the end of the day, Mey, our Trans Editor, and a trans woman of color, gets to decide on these things.

        • I am deeply grateful that you took the time and energy to respond to my comment. That is one of the reasons why Autostraddle is the only piece of media that I actually contribute money towards.

          I am absolutely in agreement that if we don’t have these conversations and if we don’t make these demands, then things will never change. You taught me that more than anyone, with the way in which you framed the significance of the “lesbian internet fandom” for Glee (I was secretly a little disappointed when you didn’t hate Glee as much anymore, because it was so fun to see you snarky!).

          I promise you that I am well aware that if you did not say what you did to the showrunners et al, if you had not put so much of your heart and soul into the analysis and story-telling magic that permeates your writing about this show and TV in general that they were forced to pay attention to your magic, they would have no idea that what they did was fucked up. It is why I am glad that you name it and have named it since this narrative first broke.

          I honestly do not want you to think that I have no consideration for your feelings or those of other writers and editors. The thread I’ve seen throughout this entire comment section as I re-read it over and over is one in which we as a group are very respectful of the feelings of writers and editors (which is necessary and important) but far less respectful to the trans women who disagree and take the classic steps of accusing them of turning on their allies or being too angry.

          I don’t think the answer is to abandon a conversation. I think the answer is often to continue to push for education and awareness, especially as cis allies. But you said it right there: they don’t care they don’t care they don’t care. And that is what for me is the hard part about reading this piece and the ways in which we are having a conversation about this here on Autostraddle. None of us have any examples of how they suddenly actually will care or will improve. If they aren’t showing any desire to do so, even when a person who loves the story-telling they have created so much that she is literally sick with worry and anxiety over these decisions they have made is being clear and honest and direct with them about how and why it is not OK, then that is a problem. That indicates a one-way conversation in which what is being said is going in one ear and out of the other.

          I am absolutely in agreement that all or almost all (I hate being universal) TV shows have fucked up profoundly at one point or another; it’s one of the reasons why I’m not deeply emotionally invested in the stories most tell. What I find different and significant about PLL is that (as you wrote) this storyline is coming smack in the middle of 2 years of unprecedented violence against trans women, particularly trans women of color and in a time when it is no longer excusable for TV producers/writers/showrunners to have no conception of how to educate themselves about trans people – they have the resources, they have the access, and they have the public figures in their acting/producing/directing community. They have your words. At one point do we stop giving them the benefit of doubt as “good people making harmful decisions”? At what point do we name that they have a total lack of interest in actually being responsible about this?

          I don’t necessarily think the answer is never to write about PLL again or engage with at all. I think the ways in which it’s being framed and the responses are hitting certain key points for me that raise questions. As a cis woman, I am absolutely not a member of the community most affected or misrepresented here, so maybe it’s time for me to step back. I recognize that there are folks who agree and disagree with the decision. I’m not even sure how I feel about the decision.

          What I do feel is cautious when I feel I’ve identified some of the trends above (the way people are responding to trans women who don’t agree with the decision, the continued focus on our own anxiety/stress/worry, when there’s hope for a conversation vs. talking to a wall). What I do have are questions – when are we crossing the line back and forth between educating/engaging in conversation and actively enabling people who refuse to take responsibility? At what point are we continuing to support a product by giving it webspace and energy and time despite our work to name its flaws?

          Thanks again for your time.

          • You have beautifully articulated the struggle and with such empathy I can feel it radiating out from my laptop screen, and I thank you, Jessica, I truly do. I think every question you have asked here is important and relevant to this conversation, and I have been pulling at the threads of all of them for a long time. Not even just with Pretty Little Liars — especially them, though, of late — but with Glee too. With Skins. When I worked for AfterEllen and didn’t have an editor to talk to about these things, I would just lie in bed and cry about whether or not it was ethical to keep recapping Glee. I want you to know I hear you, we all hear you. I was with Riese in real life last week, and while we were out and about in the world doing not-Autostraddle things, we still talked about this constantly. All these questions you’re asking. On the way to Home Depot, on the way to dinner, while we were waiting for paint to dry. Riese works every second she is not sleeping. It dominates our lives, these questions, and I promise you we are always listening and trying to find the right balance that will change the world the most and the best for our entire queer community. You over-care and I get it because that’s my whole life too. Thank you again for your comment.

  12. I’m really glad that your honesty hasn’t soured your relationship with the PLL creative team. I feel like it could be very easy for a showrunner/producer to just cease communication with critics and journalists who are too open about their criticism of the show, but they didn’t, so that’s… not much, but still something. Of course, it would be even better if they could actually work on fixing the issues you and other people have pointed out.

  13. This is so well written Heather and really captures many of my feelings and confusion with what to do in regards to this show. I’m upset and bothered by so many things that have happened but I guess I’m still not ready to let it go. Maybe it’s childish clinging to the community and friendship I used to have with this show when it’s not likely to come back. 🙁 I agree with the comment above that it’s good that you still can have a dialog with some of the people who make the show.

    Personally I’m very glad that there will still be recaps from you here. Being able to process with you and everyone else here is so incredibly important to me. And I think that goes even more so with the current problems. We need to be able to talk about this because no other site has recaps as thoughtful and feminist as these.

  14. Wonderful thoughts Heather.

    I am so conflicted with the writers myself.

    I don’t know how they can be so right in so many ways..and then just so off.

    I understand network constraints. The writers have repeatedly told us they think Ezra is gross too in many different ways. Between Hanna telling an officer that he shouldn’t be sleeping with a teenager, to Caleb punching an older man for hitting on a teenager…to the letter that Aria wrote…where Ezra seemed to understand a little bit of what he did to Aria. The writers know. They’ve hinted at it with a sledgehammer.

    And maybe that’s the point. Maybe straight white men don’t face consequences on this show because straight white men don’t face consequences for what they do to women. This show has a record of forcing us to see uncomfortable truths about the patriarchy. And as much as we want justice, that hasn’t been the reality. This show seems to point out reality more than it gives justice.

    I also disagree with the premise that Emily has been underwritten, that her love story isn’t important. In my opinion, Emily’s love story is..and has been since the beginning..one of the major focuses of the show. If you believe her major romantic relationship is Ali. And she moves on at times, like other girls do from their partners, but always returns. Emily always goes back to Ali. My theory has always been that this one has been the most drawn out..because this one is the most important.

    And I don’t think queer characters have taken a hit, per se in terms of deaths. Ian, Garrett, Mrs. D, Mr. Fields, Wilden, Lyndon, Cousin Nate etc..have all died. They don’t die because they are queer, they die because they are secondary characters and this show isn’t daring enough to kill a primary character. And it’s always to move forward with a plot.

    And I even understand some of the trans issues. Charlotte wasn’t murdered because she’s trans. She didn’t deceive men by being trans (but by being related..). She wasn’t mentally ill because she was trans. (But because she was a victim of the patriarchy..like every other female character on this show.)

    But yet, they still used all of those tropes. People don’t pick up on the details. And there was certainly a better way to write that story. I mean, if it was in the works for years..It should have been better thought out.

    And something that wasn’t mentioned in this post..but their take on mental illness disturbs me. Mental illness has been used as an excuse and a catch all to torture teenage girls. It’s been used as a way to create sympathy. And it’s been used as a joke. None of it is accurate. It’s a lazy motive. And a lazy way to get “redemption” for characters.

    At the end of the day, I’ve been a fan of this show for years. I love this story primarily for the love story between the four/five main characters. I love it for it’s commentary on the patriarchy. I love it for Emily’s coming out story. But they’ve made some horrible errors of late. Maybe some are correctable or forgivable. I’ll probably keep watching to find out.

  15. I haven’t seen the episode yet, so I basically held my breath through the whole first part of this because I hoped hoped hoped that the conclusion would be that the creative team had swung around to trying to fix what they did. So that’s a bummer.

    But you, Heather, are a treasure and I am so glad you are around to do all this writing for us.

  16. I’m so glad there will still be recaps! This one made me tear up in the beginning and laugh at the end. It’s so difficult because we all love the liars and want to see their lives play out but there are just so many bad, offensive storylines in the way now. I’d definitely watch a show about Aria, Spencer, Hanna and Emily (and Mona) living their normal lives without all the rosewood over the top drama.

  17. I respect and admire much of Heather’s writing and what it communicates to me about her as a person.

    But continuing to stick with a show, and making this about cis people’s feelings about what is at the end of the day a TV show (and one whose only depth has ever come from the writing Heather created about it) is MASSIVELY FUCKED UP (that is not intended to be yelling, but I want it to be emphasized).

    Intentions are nice and sometimes of significance but they do not excuse or condone anything. And I can’t even say whether or not the “intentions” of those who created this narrative were good. I don’t know them. I can’t take as gospel or evidence the word of one person who has so much emotional investment in the product they create.

    What I can say is that what they created is actively harmful. It could only even begin to be addressed through active, explicit, and comprehensive outreach – and that still wouldn’t excuse or make up for the fact it happened. None of the people involved in the show have done or attempted to do that outreach.

    This is not like with our families or loved ones who hold bigoted beliefs, where we have personal long-standing relationships that we can use to try to eliminate those beliefs (to change hearts and minds, to educate, which should not be left to those experiencing the direct impacts of cissexism and transphobia).

    This. is. a television show. A piece of media that is consumed, a product created. It has extensive communicative power.

    Making it about all of our cis feelings is not acceptable from any of us.
    Those of us who are white and cis make trade-offs constantly on the backs of people of color and trans and gender non-conforming people for our seats the table of representation in story-telling. It’s reprehensible and all of us need to do better.

    We can call each other in – acknowledge that we see the humanity and also the inhumanity of how cissexism and racism has screwed each of us up profoundly, how it shapes us. Calling in rather than out requires a willingness to change, to be open to admitting mistakes, to combating defensiveness. I think most of the folks here have that willingness; I don’t think most of the folks associated with PLL do. And I see that calling in happening already in some of these threads.

    • I really don’t think heather was making this about cis feelings. And like I said in other comments, she consulted with me about what she wrote and I gave it my strong approval. As a trans woman and a fan of the show I desperately want Heather to keep on engaging with pll and writing about it and i feel like that will do universes more good than anything else she could do with it, and I know i’m not alone in feeling this way.

      • Hi Mey,

        I think not just Heather, but many of the rest of us have made it about our cis feelings – about how hard it is for us to see people discriminate against trans people, especially those we love, about how much it hurts our world to have to face that people intentionally and unintentionally create oppressive art, policies, words, etc., and how our personal relationships to a TV show hold as much significance to us as the fact that they are enabling and perpetuating oppression of others.

        I don’t have any comments on what she wrote in regards to you or the relationship between the two of you because I am obviously not a part of that relationship.

        What I see are thoughtful, though angry comments critiquing the decision by a significant voice in queer female media to continue giving publicity to a show engaged in perpetuating transphobia. I’m glad that Heather is pushing PLL and Freeform/ABC Family to take actions such as removing that horrific tweet.

        Other folks have noted that Autostraddle has long covered shows that they don’t enjoy – but the relationship here, as Heather takes time to discuss in her piece, is not one of Riese to Faking It or Glee or The Real L Word. Heather is deeply emotionally invested and has devoted so much time and energy and to be honest, I think the show wouldn’t be where it is among queer women without her voice because she has created beautiful analysis for this show. I treasure her analysis and work.

        There is not an easy or perfect decision here. People are going to be unhappy either way. But calling that unhappiness “vitriol” when people have thoughtfully and carefully laid out their feelings of marginalization, anger, frustration, or critiquing people for not “going after” other writers who cover PLL. The reason we bring our concerns here is because of the environment Autostraddle editors and writers have created, and because we know there is a willingness to engage in that dialogue.

  18. – Ali’s husband just also happens to be Charlotte’s doctor? *cough*ConflictOfInterest*cough*
    – Or maybe Alison planned it that way. *cough*ManipulativeBitch*cough*
    – It’s amazing that Aria, who was tortured far less than the other Liars, is the one with PTSD.
    – Darn it, Hannah. Go chase your woman down. She needs you.
    – So…Not only does Ezra just walk into Charlotte’s hearing, he also didn’t give any testimony (or whatever). Why was he there? Just to look shifty AF?
    – What did they do to Sara?
    – Please don’t let Caleb and Spencer be a thing.

  19. I can’t believe no one mentioned that Byron Montgomery is still on this show, defending and empathising with Ezra Fitz!! Isn’t that our answer to everything, right there?! Apologise to my mistress, Aria, feel sorry for your abuser, Aria, take your rightful place as submissive and defenceless, Aria! Ugh.

    PLL is going to need to pull out some of it’s former magic to redeem itself for me. If they had simply never made CeCe transgender, they may have had a better chance.

    But Heather, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart, for giving me PLL in the first place. As someone else in this comment thread has mentioned, the depth that PLL has had is in what you have brought to it (for me, anyway). You have taught me so much about narratives, about how to look at a story differently, about agency and autonomy and looking at the world with different eyes. I know some people want you to take the high road and ditch PLL altogether, but I’m glad you’re not. You’re right. We need to keep having this conversation. We need people to know.

    Keep fighting the good fight, sister. We may not always win, but we can do our damndest to change the conversation.

  20. I’m curious why this vitriol is being leveled at Heather — who has been more outspoken about the trans misogyny in PLL than any other PLL writer on the entire internet — and not at every other PLL writer on the entire internet. I’m not asking anybody to lionize Heather, she doesn’t want that, but you can read other queer and/or feminist sites do things like post essays by white trans men on TDOR, or recap PLL’s reveal as if there was nothing fucked up about it, and nobody even comments on that being wrong, let alone declares themselves done with the site as a whole.

    Let me be clear: you absolutely don’t have to agree with me that there is anything good or noble or worthwhile about Heather recapping this show. If you don’t want to witness these recaps, then okay! That’s fine! But I do think, absolutely, that it’s not fair to declare it categorically wrong for her to do so, especially when there is no part of this recap that endorses its present direction. Also, it is still a show with a lesbian of color lead who has been a lesbian from the very beginning and still is, and yes we do want to continue to talk about that character and what happens with her. It’s an important story to keep up with, for better or for worse. We recap shows all the time that malign and mistreat cis women, too, and we talk about that mistreatment. I know the stakes are usually lower, but we do that too.

    I’m sure you can find a category of defensiveness or derailing to fit this comment into, but if anything, our recaps are more likely to drive people to STOP watching than to watch more, if the comments are any indication (from the many many people who would read recaps of problematic shows like glee, the real l word, faking it and comment about how they still read but never watch the show).

    The world is not a cool place where emotional honesty — and I think wanting her to abandon the show is an emotionally honest thing to want, if not a practical one — matters one bit.

    We don’t do this for cookies, because we do not get any! We get a lot of hate from both sides of the issue whenever we approach it. We do this because we genuinely care about this issue. You don’t have to believe me but we do. We genuinely truly honestly want television to be better about trans representation and in our experience, keeping that dialogue open is the best way to improve it, as uncomfortable as it often can be. We don’t gain anything, site-wise or personally, by recapping it — there are plenty of other ways to get traffic, it takes up a ton of Heather’s time that she could be spending talking to me about how we would cast a film adaptation of Rubyfruit Jungle or helping me patch drywall, and the ensuing discussion is often very stressful.

    Let me be frank: the people who write these shows have literally zero stakes in trans stuff. They can actively choose not to care, and if they spend time anywhere besides autostraddle or tumblr, this choice will be heartily affirmed. They could even read a New Yorker article about the creator of Transparent and have their ideas affirmed!! Once upon a time it was straight people who had to advocate for gays to get on TV. I believe that trans tv representation will not change if cis people don’t try to figure out a way to convince show creators that it matters. Heather got PLL to take down the He.She.It tweet. She talked to them about why the A reveal was fucked up. What would be served by her abandoning her recaps altogether? What would be said by nothing being said at all?

    I feel like we can stand here in our tiny bubble and yell with all the other people in our bubble so loud that we feel like we could storm the castle and take it over, but really, there’s five of us in there and we’re up against the most powerful army in the world, you know? Somebody has to send an ambassador, right? That may be a shitty reality that goes against all our ideals and desires and thoughts and wishes and dreams and everything we know about allyship and every social justice cause we believe in, but isn’t it also… the world we live in?

    • “And so here we are: Good people have made some harmful decisions on a show that has meant more to me than … well, you know how much it has meant to me”

      This is why I find your coverage of this show so offensive. Because it seemingly has other characters and story lines you like, you (AS and Heather) continue to give the show considerable column space and even when you have supposedly deep discussions about transphobia, you’re… still… promoting (yes)… what has proven itself… a… transphobic show.

      You could have just said… “we liked this show in past, but what they’ve done here is unacceptable. We’re not going to cover it, we’re not going to give people who want to ignore its blatant transphobia a place where they can go and gush about so and so characters kissing cute while ignoring the cr*p PLL is pushing… and pushing to its young viewing public. ” But you didn’t and you haven’t, and that says far more than all the words you claim to have said on the trans communities’ behalf (what, are we supposed to bow down to you and be thankful for that?)

      Here’s the reality, this show is not only bad for trans people or Mey or any other trans friendees you happen to have who make you tamales. It’s bad for all of us because it perpetrates phobic BS and especially does so for a young viewing public. You want to make excuses for the show and the show’s staff because they’re good people… well sometimes there are no excuses. Nor do I for one second believe your PLL recaps are meant to stop people from watching a transphobic show. They read far more like justifications and yet again explaining “we’re all learning here” (the ultimate cop out). There is a big difference between a show which somewhat awkwardly depicts trans people and one which takes a big poop on us and then the staff turns around and yet again, curtly accuses us of being too sensitive, defensive, ungrateful for representation… blah, blah. And btw, there were LOTS of people on many sites (including many trans people) who wrote about the transphobia inherent in PLL and did so without giving the show continued promotion, so kindly get off your high horse.

      • I actually said specifically that no, I do not expect you to bow down and thank us. I think I said that at least four different ways in my comment. Heather did not say that these people are good people and therefore she excuses what they wrote. You’re intentionally twisting our words to strengthen your case and yeah, the things you say make sense, except the things you’re saying are not about what we actually said or did.

        • Riese, nor do I think you’re responding to anything I said—not one whit, not one iota. And yes, Heather absolutely said they are good people… it’s a direct quote. Just because she further elaborates upon that doesn’t mean she didn’t say it. To be a “broken record”… you are giving space for people to wax lovely over the series (which they’ve done in this thread and they did in the thread about the Season 5 finale) and to ignore its transphobia (which many bur not all do). That is a kind of promotion. I honestly don’t care about what Mey says or likes, I don’t care about how Heather is torn up inside about it and I don’t care about what we’re all supposedly learning, I’m sorry a show AS put so much effort into discussing and loving suddenly turned sour and nasty. That doesn’t justify your continued involvement with the show as a key feature at this site.

          • “I don’t care about what Mey says or likes, I don’t care about how Heather is torn up inside and I don’t care about what we’re all supposedly learning.” Well oh my gosh, what else is there? If this isn’t a space for the writers to share their thoughts and for us all to learn about each other and process the pop culture we’ve been handed, what the heck are we here for? This is a lifestyle blog! We’re here precisely to read about what Mey and Heather and Reise and all of the other writers and glorious commenters think and learn more about their experiences of our world and culture and figure out how those experiences inform our own!

          • Queer girl: “This is a lifestyle blog!”

            Which is one of the problems about trans women’s lives being discussed on a blog which is also largely about sexy shows on tv, the Comment Awards, lingerie, recipes and comic books. Those are lifestyle issues… trans women’s lives are not lifestyle issues. TV show plot lines like that on PLL impact trans women’s lives by perpetuating tropes which serve to oppress us. And I don’t wish to hear our lives discussed in the same thread which also discusses how hawt one character was, what so and so did to so and so or how two women embraced and it was to die for or.

            I understand there are aspects to the show which many readers continue to love and find meaningful. But I can’t imagine a similar show which included major racism/homophobia as a key plot point would continued to be tiptoed around in a similar way. I’m open to people criticizing the show… what I’m not open to is people continuing to summarize the parts they like, pretend nothing bad happened and basically keeping an ongoing “this show is so queer positive” vibe after its shameful Season 5 finale.

          • It really feels to me that you are determined to pull apart everything everyone says and argue any little bit of it that you can. Yes, I said this was a lifestyle blog. What I meant by that was made clear in the next sentence: “We’re here precisely to read about what Mey and Heather and Reise and all of the other writers and glorious commenters think and learn more about their experiences of our world and culture and figure out how those experiences inform our own.”

            This site includes lingerie and comic books, yes — lingerie and comic books and websites and books and youtubers and musicians that speak to or intersect somehow with Autostraddle’s values as a site for lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, and otherwise queer women (cis and trans). The site also covers stuff that affects us in more serious or fundamental ways, like our lawmakers and laws, the continuing safety crisis for trans women, conception and pregnancy within queer relationships, the experiences of queer women of color, and other perspectives, issues, etc.

            Ugh I am getting so bogged down but for me it boils down to this. We are here to process our experiences, right? How can we process our experiences of pop culture if we only cover the good stuff? Why can’t we continue to have a conversation about Pretty Little Liars on this site, even after (especially after) it takes a terribly problematic turn for the worse? Where else are we supposed to talk about it? What other place is there with the level of respect that (normally) exists in the comment section? What other comment section is so policed for transmisogyny, with inappropriate comments deleted, so vigilantly? And how does shutting down the conversation benefit anybody in this circumstance?

            There is room on this site for vapid fluff and for stuff that affects the very nature of our being. Pretty Little Liars has been both for some of us, I think, at different times. I think there is space here to process its ridiculous and inexcusable failures, and also its victories (if there ever are any more).

      • again, please stop presuming that you can speak for me. You don’t. And please stop putting words in the mouths of Heather and Riese, two people who have done more for queer trans women than 99% of cis people on the internet.

        As a lesbian of color, i want this show to be covered, because it’s one of the few places on tv where i can see a character like me be the focus of a show. as a fan of the show and a trans woman, i want to see heather continue to talk about it because the show is important to me and i want to be able to engage with it in the best way possible.

        • I’m not speaking for you… I have zero wish to. You clearly have your opinion about the show, what you think AS’s connection with the show should be and I have mine. What I don’t appreciate is your name and position as the Trans Editor of AS (we know, alright already) repeatedly being used to support this site’s dubious position towards the show. You want to write something about the show… then you do it. But having Heather reference you, yes, does smell of a white person saying “my black friends say I can write about race so don’t you dare criticize me.”

          • honestly, having you repeatedly call me Heather’s “trans friend who makes you tamales” and using me to bolster your arguments makes me feel a billion times more tokenized than anything heather, or anyone on autostraddle, has ever done.

            and here’s the thing, I don’t want to write something about the show. I want Heather to write about it with my input.

    • I think (and this is in no way excusing how rude some people have been today; I think you’re right to be defensive) that maybe queer people find this to be a safer space to express feelings about the show, as opposed to writing a comment on somewhere like EW, where minorities tend to get harassed even more? This show brings up a lot for people, and unfortunately, the person who writes the article ends up getting the brunt of the anger. I’ve seen some horrible comments on recaps on places like EW or HuffPost or even Buzzfeed, or on the official PLL FB page, and it’s hard to create a dialogue in a space where a lot of other people are already saying things like “trans people are monsters” or the like. Whereas this is a queer space and people feel like their voices will be heard more. Maybe people are expressing anger at Heather and at the site in general because they really can’t do it anywhere else because they won’t be taken seriously and don’t know where else (or how else) to express their opinions.

      • Exactly! This is another round of the popular game of Kick the Ally, enjoyed by all genders and ages. Can’t afford to stand up to your boss? Kick the ally and lash out on your lover/kids/pets etc.
        I’ve seen it happen on this site many times over. It always reminds me to be mindful not to vent my anger in safe spaces on the people who don’t really deserve it.

  21. It makes me cringe whenever people blame Aria for not being angrier with Fitz. She was in an abusive relationship, and it often takes people a long time to realize their relationships are unhealthy, and to get out of them. She has every right to still be upset with Charlotte and she has every right to still be upset with Ezra, but I don’t think we as an audience should be angry or blame her for her feelings either way. This is especially true as we’ve seen him purposefully manipulate her time and time again into thinking his behavior was justified.

    (Also I’m not at all convinced of Charlotte’s death)

  22. The thing I don’t get about this ire directed toward AS is that recapping a show is not by definition endorsing it. When Reise recaps Faking It it’s pretty clear that she doesn’t like it, and from what I read it’s pretty clear that I don’t need to watch it anymore.

    When Heather, with guidance and in partnership with Mey, recaps PLL now, it creates the space to talk about everything that is problematic. When the big A reveal happened, Heather’s column (which included lots of words from Mey) gave us a space to for us to coalesce around our disappointment. Is that not useful? It feels useful.

  23. I have been reading this site long enough to know that you guys don’t always enjoy every show you recap. More often that not, you don’t. Remember The Real L Word? That was a fun time wasn’t it? I’m not gonna give you shit if you wanna keep recapping this particular show. Like Faking It, I read the recaps because watching it live will only raise my blood pressure. Same with Once Upon a Time. That said, I get why in this case that might piss off Trans readers and they have more of a right to their feelings about this than I do.

  24. I watched the episode late, and I’ve only just finished reading all these comments, but I just want to say thank you, Heather, for once again putting yourself through hell to write a recap for us. I also will probably keep watching the show, at least for a little while, and there is nowhere else I would rather process all my feelings. As queer girl just said above, having a space to continue to do that is useful.

  25. Thank you so much Heather for this thoughtful recap. Your writing always make me think about the importance and power of stories. The way they can make you feel seen in your deepest soul or the harmful way they can perpetuate the very messed up things we turn to stories to escape.

    Whatever the intentions of the creative team they have used multiple harmful troupes relating to trans women and I think choosing to disengage from the show is a completely understandable and valid decision for some people. However I also think Heather has explained quite eloquently the complicated relationship some of us have with PLL. Despite the flaws in her storyline Emily Feilds, a lesbian woman of color, was a groundbreaking character that continues to mean a lot to a lot of people. This doesn’t excuse the transphobic way Charlotte’s character has been handled and I don’t think anyone here is defending those choices. Some people are choosing to boycott the show (which again is totally valid) and others are choosing to use this space to process our thoughts and feelings about this story and the direction it’s taken. Which is also valid.

  26. I know everyone is focused on the way bigger and more important things going on but:
    “Where I hoped she’d be after the time jump: Gay. Gay and wearing suits and doing a Slytherin job while pretending it’s a Ravenclaw job”
    is one of the best things I’ve ever read.

  27. Dear AS staff: I want to thank you for handling this discussion with such grace. This was a difficult conversation topic, and I feel that Heather, Mey, and Riese have treated everyone with respect.

    I’m gonna throw in my two cents (with the disclaimer that I’m not trans myself). I’m honestly too uncomfortable with the direction PLL has taken to be able to enjoy it. Unless Charlotte turns out to have faked her death, the show is all but dead to me. While I don’t condone GinaPDX’s rudeness, I can empathize with how she feels.

    That said, I don’t expect everyone to share my position about the show. It’s too unacceptable for *me* personally to stomach at this point, but I can recognize and respect that the show has meaning for others. I personally cannot comprehend how Heather can continue to like this show, *but* I don’t look down on her for having a different opinion than I do. By that same token, I’m certainly not going to cis-plain to Mey why she should feel as offended by the show as I do! She is also entitled to her own opinion.

    I can recognize that people can enjoy problematic things without endorsing them. Heck, that’s pretty much how I feel about David Bowie – I’m personally too disgusted by his actions to be able to enjoy his work, but I’m not going to judge anyone who still finds his work meaningful.

    The world is not black and white, Gina, and neither are people. I don’t know about you, but if I were to cut out every person in my life who believed or enjoyed things I find harmful, I’d have no friends or family left. I’d have to cut my mother off because she is in favor of deporting undocumented immigrants (a position I personally find morally reprehensible). I’d have to stop speaking to my gun-obsessed right wing cousin.

  28. i’m curious to know if pll’s numbers are high. i stopped watching pll two seasons ago and after reading heather’s recap on A’s big reveal i’m glad that i had. After reading everybody’s comments today i thought that i might actually start watching how to get away with murder and person of interest. The two shows off the top of my head that are actually written to keep their queer audiences relatively sane while being entertained. i want to support the shows that do us justice you know? i grew up watching law and order so i loved that i could watch an episode individually and not miss much. how to get away with murder and person of interest are like soaps lol. I kept watching pll cause….shay mitchell reasons. Anyway, my point is, we are clearly very invested in these shows and i think we should reward shows that don’t beat us up psychologically and emotionally.
    The recaps that are done when they get things so wrong are bad press but thats still a reward right? How long have we bemoaned the fact that emily’s love life isn’t treated the same? Since day one, and yet things haven’t changed because people are still watching………..these writers have made me watch stop watching shay mitchell kiss women.

  29. I totally get why some people are pissed. I have lost count how many times I have had to, in feminist and queer spaces mind you, denounce Caitlyn Jenner for her homophobic and classist shit as if I Caitlyn Jenner herself. I’m sure every trans woman here has had to do the same. So when we come here and we basically see what boils down to: hey the transphobia is bad but the rest of the show is great so let’s keep watching. It’s going to ruffle some feathers. I mean it hurts. It’s great that Heather calls out the trans tropes and I’m sure she really means it but it makes it seem less sincere when she praises the rest of the show.

    I’m done with the show. The writers and creators too. I won’t watch anything they are apart of no matter how queer or feminist it’s hyped up to be because if they are shitting on one group of women then they are shitting on all women and aren’t as feminist as they think they are.

    • Yes. I believe in engaging with and trying to educate people and make media better. And I think at a certain point, when you’ve had that conversation 5000 times, we have to ask – are they more interested in people knowing they’ve had the conversation (perception) or are they interested in actually learning, growing, changing?

      If PLL creators, producers, writers, cast, etc. were interested in addressing the harm done by their narrative, we’d see a very different ballgame. We wouldn’t see Charlotte murdered probably. We’d see them actively doing PSAs, featuring trans women in other roles, etc.

      Do I believe we need to continue saying “This is not OK, this is not OK, and here is why”? Yes. But doing so over and over with a media product that benefits from increased coverage when there is absolutely no effort to make changes or even admit wrong-doing – that is the issue. I want the people who create PLL to look at what Heather’s writing has done for their show and read her recent words and say “We fucked up. Here is what we will do to address the harm we have encouraged, as much as we possibly can.”

      When showrunners/creators are not doing that over and over again, it makes me tired and suspicious of folks who want to continue engaging with the show and those who make it happen. Because it reads less like those folks actually think there will be change and more like they are unwilling to call it quits with something they have a deep emotional investment in.

      The posts this year have made the point over and over again that we don’t have to settle as much anymore. There are choices. There are options.

  30. I tried not to get too down on the finale when Charlotte’s story was revealed because I felt the back story was detailed and emotional enough to help viewers understand Charlotte’s emotional state under which her actions were committed. I was hoping people would see that Charlotte is just like them, a person. People make mistakes. Her parents made a lot of them, her parents helped to make her and for that matter Ailly and Jason into the unstable and/or manipulative lying people they became. Charlotte never really had a chance to be anything else but not because she was Trans but rather because of others reactions to her as a Trans woman.

    I’d hope people would see that we all have a hand in what happens to each other. We can’t dehumanize people and expect them not to be dehumanized. I saw it more as a lesson to society to learn to accept each other as we are and to forgive those that make mistakes.

    I should’ve known the core audience of teenagers wouldnt understand this lesson. Wouldn’t grasp the bigger picture. Should’ve known they’d only see a “he, she, it” trying to harm their favorite characters and nothing more. And that’s what makes the story line so dangerous. I really don’t feel it was their intentions to add to transphobia. It feels to me to be more of an unfortunate result of trying to teach children a lesson they’re not ready to learn.

    Killing Charlotte was immediately disappointing to me. Not only did I feel like a lazy way to move the story along, but it seemed a lot of nothing from the finale. But I’m holding out hope that this entire storyline in the end will be a redemption story for Charlotte. That whoever killed her will get justice, that will see a murderer of a trans person pay for there crimes. That would at least be a positive first on television that will hopefully mirror itself in real life.

    Maybe I’m giving the show too much credit but I’m hoping not.

    • “I should’ve known the core audience of teenagers wouldnt understand this lesson. Wouldn’t grasp the bigger picture. Should’ve known they’d only see a “he, she, it” trying to harm their favorite characters and nothing more.”

      This is ultimately why this storyline pissed me off. Because the general fanbase of this audience really didn’t seem to learn this lesson or whatever lesson the writers thought they were trying to teach. All they saw was this dumbass plot-twist that was done merely to shock people and had so many seeing Charlotte as nothing more than a dangerous Trans stereotype who was out to destroy their faves. Don’t believe me just go visit anywhere else on the internet where this storyline is being discussed. I have ready so many transphobic comments about Charlotte to last me a lifetime. The fact Marlene and co act like they don’t see it and that what they have done wasn’t the least bit offensive sends me right over the edge and that’s why I don’t watch the show anymore.

  31. I just finished watching this on Hulu and this show just breaks my heart. I was sort of clinging to some hopes for a wonderful redemption arc for Charlotte and that she could be a member of the main cast this season, but nope. And I really just don’t know if I have it in me to keep watching this show anymore.

    But excellent article as always, Heather. Thank you.

    • Yeah, same here. Unless I hear that Charlotte faked her own death, I won’t be coming back to the show. It’s still a slim possibility, considering that a) this is already a theme with one DiLaurentis sister and b) Charlotte managed to pull of seemingly impossible feats like turning a freaking bunker into a functioning chamber with Internet and plumbing and replicated bedrooms.

      Even without the transphobic implication, I was kind pissed that they killed off one of the most complex characters on the show. I was actually looking forward to seeing Charlotte apply her genius skills to help the Liars for a change. I mean, who better to solve the mystery of Mrs. D’s death than a genius, formerly villanous mastermind? And can you imagine what a team she and Mona could have made? It just seems like a wasted opportunity.

    • I watched it last night on Hulu too, and yeah, it sucked. It really sucked. It was a big time horrible bummer seeing Charlotte in that coffin. And it was super weird watching the Liars talk about the horrible things she did to them and how much they didn’t forgive her throughout the beginning of the episode when we knew that was about to happen.

      There were plenty of directions they could’ve gone in besides killing her. This was dumb and sad and lazy storytelling. Heather’s recap was amazing, though, and I’ll look forward to continuing to read them whether or not I can bring myself to watch the show!

      • Yeah, even outside of how much I hate this for the harm it does to trans women, I also just hate it from a storytelling perspective. Like, they went from big dramatic villain reveal in the finale straight to that villain’s off screen death in the very next episode. That’s pretty weak.

  32. OK so I don’t know any trans people or at least I don’t think I know any trans people I could be very wrong. I live in a some what small town and to be honest I have never really given much thought to the trans community. Trans gender or cis gender doesn’t matter to me, if you’re a good person then we’re cool. It’s always been one of those things that didn’t really apply to me so I didn’t think much about it. That sounds bad but I think many of us do the same thing.

    I never saw the harm in Charlotte’s storyline. In fact I always wondered if the audience of the show even realized she was trans gendered. Charlotte was always presented as a woman, up until “the big reveal” and I thought that’s how the young audience probably saw her. Her dad was an ass, she was pulled away from her family, surely the audience will see that’s why she was doing what she was doing. I didn’t see what the problem was.

    Just now as I was reading the beginning of the recap I was struck by how completely wrong I was. It was a big punch in the feels. What you wrote, for me anyway, read as a very calm and real telling of your fears and feelings. Not as me being screamed at for not feeling a certain way and being a shit person because of it.

    I’m glad you are continuing to recap this show, not only because of the reasons stated in your article, but also because maybe other people will have a moment like I did. For whatever reason I connected with this article very strongly in a way a never have before. Thank you for that.

  33. Heather I think this was the best piece of writing I’ve ever seen from you (and for those who disagree PLEASE SHARE I’d love to see this being bested).
    Also when you say Toby and Caleb were married I thought for one microsecond you meant to each other

  34. The way most places are dealing with PLL is:
    A – Ignore the transmisogyny. Talk about how cool the show is. Talk about poor Ezra. Either ignore Charlotte or exalt over her death.
    B – Say it’s awful. Renounce it. Neve speak of it again.

    Obviously I very much disagree with choice A.

    I understand choice B. I respect choice B. I can see that for some trans-identified folk who are constantly marginalised and persecuted, that this show no longer feels safe to them. I get that trans allies might want to support the trans community by no longer watching the show or participating in dialogue about the show. I can definitely get on board with that.

    I also understand the route that AS has chosen to take. I respect that choice. I agree that ignoring the show and not participating in the dialogue doesn’t create great change. Content creators need to hear constructive feedback. They need to hear how their show perpetuates awful and damaging tropes. They need to hear that they are grossly miseducating young adults. Many of the cis viewers only “learn” about queer and particularly trans issues from the media and PLL has taught them so many terrible things.

    I think AS is a great place where we can critique, dissect and talk about what is happening in popular culture. I love that about AS, because I sure as hell don’t see it anywhere else. I love that the writers create thought provoking content from something that is seemingly shallow, and it’s a diving board for AS readers to learn. The comments section is often just as interesting (and sometimes more) as the article itself. AS commenters help each other, learn from each other.

    Heather isn’t putting her thoughts and opinions out there and expecting us to be on board with them. She loves to discuss and analyse and it’s great to have a hearty, robust, but ultimately respectful debate. I can’t think of any other publications that are writing about PLL with consultation from someone who is trans identified. I’m not saying yay claps for AS for doing something that is damn freaking obvious, but I think it’s worth recognising that this is not the norm. Obviously Mey can’t, and doesn’t speak for all trans women. But she is a trans women and I like hearing her opinion, knowing that she’s signed off on this content, knowing that some who actually knows about being trans is contributing to AS’ discussion of PLL.

    I can see why people might not like that AS is continuing their PLL coverage. But I think we as a community need to put our faith in the leadership of this site. They have proven time and time again that they are receptive to feedback and that they listen to their readership. There didn’t even used to be trans content, let alone a trans editor. This site has come far, and of course it can always continue to improve, and I think that it does.

    Massive props to Heather, Riese and Mey for handling this all so respectfully.

    • Yes to all of this! Please give Zoe a comment award. While I’ve chosen to drop the show myself, I’m glad that it will still be critiqued and discussed on AS. I think Heather and Mey are doing important work here. We can’t expect things to improve if we completely avoid discussing topics that make us uncomfortable. And part of what makes AS such a great community is that the Staff makes room for different viewpoints.

  35. I don’t know if Dr. Rollins is genuinely into Ali and genuinely cared about Cece, or if he’s, like you’re saying, abusing his authority position. But I’m gonna refrain from saying that he’s taking advantage of Ali until I know more about him. It’s not very common on this show, but not all males are bad people…

  36. Thank you Heather for continuing the discussion. I found you and your writing through Brittana and Glee and started watching PLL at your suggestion. In the beginning, watching another hot lesbian couple, Emily and Maya, was fun, but as we came to understand the real relationship is the friendship between the girls. The saw is constant in my mind between the suspension of disbelief, which is necessary for submersion and enjoyment of a plot and our group experience that representation matters. Mey’s input is invaluable here, but the weird thing for me is that I don’t see CeCe as transgendered no matter what the story says. It’s as if this story just went off the rails. I’ll continue to watch because of the girls, #BooRadleyVanCullen, and you, but the actual story quit making any sense awhile ago.

  37. It took me 2 days to read this glorious and gorgeously written article, and then to sift through the comments. And in case you are still checking the comments, I just want to say thank you to Heather and to all the staff that has taken the time and emotional energy to comment and explain themselves. Heather, you are a angel sent from heaven and you are so appreciated by many. Thank you for pouring yourself into this episode’s article. I seriously hope that you are taking care of yourself (not reading these comments is one way to do that…so I hope you aren’t reading this). Sleep, take a bubble bath, read some comics, play with the Bobbi’s! Thank you thank you.

  38. Although I don’t agree with Heather’s & AS’s characterization of 6×10-6×11 (I see CeCe as more of a positive character like Mona and her death as a martyrdom and a reflection of the horribleness of anti-trans hate crimes), it’s such an important perspective to explore. I had been looking all over the internet for a good explanation of why the LGBT community is angry about the Reveal. Pretty much every T.V. recap website mentioned that it painted a problematic and negative portrait of a trans person, but I didn’t understand what they meant because they didn’t talk about how life imitates art. Reading Heather’s articles and the comments has taught me a lot about trans tropes and how not to step on toes should I ever [knowingly] meet a trans person. Also, as a cis bisexual POC (married to a cis hetero male POC who crossdresses on occasion), PLL is so important to me because it’s the only show where bisexuality is completely normalized and even non-bi characters have some bi-curiousness that they’re not afraid to explore in a respectful way (respectful as in not the straight/bi girls making out at the club to impress straight guys trope). Emily kissing Nate, Shana flirting with Noel and Lucas in the bonus scenes for 3×13, Mona kissing Ali on the cheek and holding Hanna’s hand. I want to thank Heather and everyone at AS for the PLL recaps, especially since recapping it of late has been very difficult for you guys. I hope you can accept my gratitude despite my dissenting opinion about CeCe.

  39. So…autostraddle’s decision to maintain an engagement with PLL (albeit a critical one) is one thing. Seems in large part to be a question of strategy: e.g., what would be the most effective intervention/response to the egregious level of transphobia in the show?

    I don’t think there are straightforward or immediately obvious answers. People-including trans people-are going to have different opinions about how it should go.

    What concerns me is climate reflected in many of the comments as this discussion is had. How can we respectfully hold the feelings of trans women who are reacting in anger at the choice to stay engaged with the show? That reaction is legitimate and valid and should be met with respect and support. That doesn’t mean everyone needs to feel the same way about it. But it does mean there should not be a pack of cis people defensively jumping in to silence the angry reaction by calling the trans woman rude, tone policing, cis-splaining about how she just doesn’t “get it”, etc.

    Fellow cis people, we need to get out of our feelings here. This is a discussion about transphobia. Yet, I think most of the energy is flowing towards comforting the cis writer (no offense) about her effort and perceived distress at receiving criticism. That dynamic is transphobia at work in our community here.

    The way forward towards justice with regards to addressing PLL is unclear (as is often the case), tactically speaking. Autostraddle obviously has made a decision, as it had to, to put at least one foot in front of the other in *some* direction. But I’m calling on the fellow cis people here to just skip the offended feelings, please.

    And autostraddle, how about responding to the pushback like “We see your point. We hear your experience in being hurt by our choice. We are sorry. We decided to do this recap knowing there was no way forward that would hurt no one. But we see your pain, and you matter to us…and we will think about you next time we have to make a choice.”

    This oppressive shit is complicated and painful as a general situation. Well meaning cis folks inevitably hurt trans folks and that damn well should be uncomfortable for the cis folks if we can muster up the empathy we owe our siblings. Trying to get out of that (comparatively minor) pain and discomfort by defensively justifying our hurtful choices–even if the only choices available are all hurtful to someone–is nothing more than flexing our privilege.

    Standing in the sadness it takes to recognize someone we hurt is not going to kill us. But bombarding those people when they are brave enough to speak up only makes an abominable transphobic situation worse.

    • !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      This, so much Brooke. After spending several hours commenting again and again on this piece, I had a conversation with a person who is not emotionally invested in Autostraddle and it re-awakened every frustrated feeling I was left with at the end of my last exchange on this piece.

      It is one thing to say “We have devoted a great deal of time and energy to thinking about how to address this. This is the decision we have made, with input from multiple editors and readers/members. We recognize that not everyone will agree with it and want to acknowledge that and are open to conversation about how and why we made this choice and what it means.”

      That is NOT how editors or readers responded to this. Trans women who disagreed were told that their reading of Autostraddle is incorrect (a majority-cis publication is not always going to be a place that prioritizes and centers trans women, especially trans women of color because we all fuck up all the time even when we are trying hard not to) or that they were being rude/responding with vitriol which is such fucked-up tone policing.

      We literally have folks in here who are more concerned about the feelings of a cis writer receiving valid pushback on her writing than about trans women who named this as another example for them of being excluded/unvalued in a space. THAT IS NOT OK.

      I have thought about writing my own post on this because there is just so much here that is screaming about all the patterns of thoughtless transphobia those of us who are cis people perpetuate every day. And that is as much (or more) about the response of our community members to this piece as it is to the original piece itself.

      • I’m really glad both of you made these comments, because the conversation I saw happening under this article up until this point was really concerning me. I think it is so important to acknowledge and make space for anger in the face of violence, whether that violence is committed physically or through media representation, etc. And it is important to recognize that all trans women do not speak with one voice or have the same view of a certain TV show or any particular action Autostraddle takes. I think you’re both right that the comment section of this article, including comments made by editors/writers/staff, did not validate the feelings (including anger) of disappointed readers, most importantly trans women, or make space for dissent. Instead AS became defensive.

        I totally get that Heather is really personally invested in this show and in writing about it and has a complex relationship with the show creators at this point. As people have pointed out, AS is a place where staff often grapple with their personal feelings about complex issues including pop culture and readers find meaning in that writing. This is not a debate about an individual’s character, be it Heather’s or Riese’s or Mey’s or anyone else’s, nor is it a debate of whether writing about PLL is categorically right or wrong. I think some people believe that’s the conversation going on here, but I think that is a misperception, which is why I really appreciate what you both are saying about stepping out of our own feelings of defensiveness/discomfort to allow for other people’s honest reactions. There should be space on this website for trans women in the AS community to disagree with Mey and Heather.

        I do think it’s important for people who make mistakes to be given space to change and for cis people to be able to take on some of the work that is often thrown on trans women’s shoulders of “how do we do better, why is this wrong, help us help you.” AS and specifically Heather has decided to do that work with the creators of PLL in this case. Unfortunately it seems like many of the staff and readers feel that decision means that no one should voice any pain or dissent. That because Heather and other staff here are deeply upset that Cece was killed on the show, or because Mey wants to see it written about, it’s not okay to still feel upset. That being upset and commenting about it is vitriolic/a personal attack.

        I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth, and I especially want to acknowledge that Riese said we don’t have to agree with this decision or read the recaps. At the same time, I see why the reaction of the AS community to those who are upset at the continued recaps/are choosing not to read them anymore would lead people to believe this is not an environment that is safe to honestly and respectfully talk about our complex reactions to transphobia or try to hold ourselves and our community accountable. Especially staff repeatedly saying that no one else could possibly write about these issues or do as much for queer and trans women seems dismissive if not condescending, although I’m sure that was not the intention and I see where those reactions would come from.

        I haven’t been spending as much time on Autostraddle lately for a variety of reasons, but I am a long time reader/commenter/supporter as well as a PLL viewer. One thing I always loved about AS was that the conversations in AS articles as well as the comments were intelligent, incisive, and centered on socially just ideals. There were definitely controversial stories from time to time, and I’ve certainly seen members of the community strongly disagreeing, but I before I felt that staff and most readers responded well to being ‘called out’ when it happened and made efforts to continue progressing in terms of representation, inclusivity, and constant open-mindedness and learning. But from the way the comments have been looking more recently, I’m afraid that the harshness of the internet has made AS a place where nuanced conversation about social issues is becoming less possible on a grand-scale. That’s really sad for me personally, and I hope I’m wrong about that.

        Ultimately, I defer to trans women about what they feel is appropriate concerning the show and acknowledge the many differing viewpoints about what is right, so I don’t have a problem with AS recapping it or Mey choosing not to write about it herself. Even if I did have a problem with it, obviously AS would not have to do anything about it or place any value in it. I just hope this is still a place where the most marginalized of our queer community can feel safe voicing dissent.That members of the community maybe come back to this article/read y’all’s comments and come to a slightly different conclusion about the most productive ways to validate reader’s feelings and continues to raise trans women’s voices/listen when trans women speak.

        • There is something that’s very rarely (if ever) discussed in activist circles, and it’s the abuse of the respectful, inclusive climate which most social justice groups actively seek to establish. Sometimes members of oppressed and marginalized groups exploit the safe space thus created to go on an anger binge during which all of their legitimate, lifelong anger will get *misdirected* onto an ally/safe person in the absence of a more constructive outlet. This lashing out is inexcusable, and yet it often gets tolerated out of the (relatively more) privileged person’s sense of guilt at occupying the position of (relative) privilege, their compassion exploited and misused in the process.

          Such insatiable rage poured onto someone actively seeking to become a better ally to you and yours is anything but constructive, and the above attacks on Heather have been both personal and vitriolic (the fact that this is not recognized actually worries me most of all; don’t ever let anyone speak to you that way, regardless of the excuse they come up with for doing so!) I can relate to the frustration of being unable to affect the world at large, but this frustration shouldn’t be used as a weapon against those who are actively seeking to be your allies.

          • Yep, as I expected you are the same person who made the “Kick the Ally” comment above.

            I have re-read through this comment section more times than I can count at this point, because I am concerned. No one is using what could actually be called vitriol. There are three or four people who direct frustration at this particular piece and Autostraddle in general for this decision and the way it is approached <—- that last part is particularly significant.

            All of them name specific issues with the piece (things that I noted as well) and the decision. None of them personally insult the editors or the author. All of them address framing/structural issues with the piece (the fact that most of it is about the writer specifically grappling with her feelings about a TV show because she loves and honors trans people and illustrating that through the anecdote of a person she loves who is a trans woman) and criticize the decision to continue covering the show. None of them use ad hominem attacks or hateful language.

            We expect more of our allies because they have named themselves as allies – as ready to listen, acknowledge, think through what we have to say and approach it without defensiveness. In this case, in which defensiveness is the first thing turned to and the very legitimate feelings of frustration are overlooked in the rush to comfort the writer, none of that happened.

            There are literally three people on this thread who have spoken up about our own discomfort regarding the ways in which trans women who disagree with this decision have been spoken over, ignored, and tone-policed. We're not tolerating any shit out of guilt – I'm naming that as a cis woman I am massively fucking uncomfortable with the way we've responded to those women in this thread. I'm naming that every criticism they had of Heather's piece, I also felt, even before I decided to spend hours of my life reading and re-reading this thread.

            I'm naming that "trying" doesn't mean we always get it right and it means we still deserve to be called out or in when we fuck it up – whether it's the decision or how the decision is communicated or how we've responded to it as a community. I don't get to decide I'm someone's ally just because I say I am.

            I keep trying to picture this conversation if we were talking/writing about an early TV show, that in the wake of numerous murders of queer women, was one of the only easily accessible, directed towards young people depictions of a queer woman that they would see.

  40. Okay, enough. This conversation lacks perspective to such a degree that it is laughable. Since Riese and Heather are either too polite or too busy to give it to you, allow me. You are not looking at the sum of Autostraddle’s work for trans women. You are not looking at the collectivity of Heather’s TV writing about trans women. You are not looking at the whole of Heather’s PLL coverage, or even the totality of what Riese, Heather, and Mey have written in these comments. (Not to mention the totality of the way many of these commenters have engaged with Autostraddle’s writers in the past.) While your heart seems to be in the right place, what you are doing is myopically applying Tumblr buzz words to a very tiny piece of an enormous, evolving conversation you refuse to acknowledge or do not know exists. Where were you when AS was posting Trans Awareness Week coverage, every day, from trans women of color? Where were you when a new article went up announcing the death of another black trans woman? Hell, where were you even when Mey and Heather posted their epic analysis of trans women on TV in 2015? Were you there encouraging those trans writers, or asking how you can be a better ally to them? Were you expressing outrage on behalf of those dead women? Did you weep for them? Have you grown a company that makes it a priority to curate content from trans women and actually PAY them for it? Are you in a single comment thread on any other website, where literally not one single writer has expressed outrage over Charlotte’s death?

    What is gained for trans women by this farcical pantomime attacking Riese and Heather? What do you think you have accomplished in the world for trans women by continuing this anguish about a problem that doesn’t even exist?

    Do you really want to DO SOMETHING to help trans women or do you want to just FEEL GOOD about how much more enlightened and honorable you are than the other women who put in the work every day?

    All of these concepts you believe in are honorable, but why don’t you do the hard work of joining us here in the real world where things are not black and white or cut and dry and try to apply what you’ve learned in your 101 classes. You are fighting shadows on the wall of your own imagination when there are real monsters in the world that we could use your help defeating.

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