How 'The Fosters' Is Paving the Road for Trans Storytelling (Guest Column)

Co-creator/exec producer Peter Paige explains his approach to telling an important story on the Freeform drama.
Courtesy of Freeform
'The Fosters'

[This story contains spoilers from Tuesday's episode of The Fosters.]

The Fosters took one big step forward during Tuesday's episode. This season, the veteran Freeform drama has revolved around the burgeoning relationship between Callie (Maia Mitchell) and her FTM boyfriend Aaron (Elliot Fletcher) as the couple have been navigating typical teen drama. Tuesday's episode saw the duo take things to the next level. Below, co-creator and executive producer Peter Paige writes for The Hollywood Reporter about why seeing Callie and Aaron share such an intimate moment is important, not just for the show but for society, too.

Television is this amazing thing. Everyone has one (or some version of one). Everyone watches it. Collectively, we've given this magic box an extraordinary amount of power — we look to it for companionship, for diversion, for reflection, and often, for arbitration of The Truth, capital T. The characters we watch every week, at home, in our underwear, become like friends or family to us.

I saw it first-hand as an actor on a series, about which I often say the viewers, "Came for the Queer, but stayed for the Folk." They came to see something new, something titillating, but they stayed because they related to the humanity of the characters, because they recognized the shared experiences. I don't think there's any doubt that television played a huge role in changing social consciousness about gay people. Without Showtime's Queer as Folk, Will & Grace, Ellen, Rosie, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy —  would we have marriage equality? I think probably not.

So when we decided that Callie's (Maia Mitchell) new love interest would be trans on Freeform's The Fosters, we knew we had an incredible opportunity to engage with our viewers. By having our teen heroine embark on a relationship with a trans man, we knew we'd have to demystify the most un-mysterious of things — a human being. We saved the revelation of Aaron's (Elliot Fletcher, Shameless, Faking It) journey for several episodes — got to know him as a person first, his likes and dislikes, his passions and points of view. And when we did reveal it, we made sure to do so not in the context of A-ha! but as a simple circumstance of his life. Simple, factual. And Callie, who has had the good fortune to count another young trans male among her friends, gets to have a very matter-of-fact response: "Oh."

They spent a full 10 episodes as friends, where the vast majority of their stories were about Aaron trying to keep Callie out of trouble (difficult, to be sure) and when Callie found herself single again, they decided to take things to the next level (perhaps a little too quickly, which is the foundation of their challenges — just like almost every teen relationship on TV). Their problems and victories have been pedestrian and banal. Even when they ventured in to the physical — a realm many of us find titillating to spy upon — their conflict was about Callie asking her other trans friend about sex, not coming to Aaron directly — a fight, I would like to mention, that my best girlfriend has had with several of her boyfriends ("Why are you talking to him about our sex life?").

The resolution of that fight was an agreement to communicate more — nothing salacious or thrilling. Human. Come to me with your questions about me. A simple, understandable, relatable request. As we started writing that episode, there was this sense in the room that this might be "tricky," mostly because we all just wanted to get it right. But as we got into it, once again we learned another enduring Truth — people are people, sex is sex.

And tonight, when Callie and Aaron finally felt ready to have sex, it was borne out of a beautiful day hiking in the woods together. It wasn't a story of should-I or shouldn't-I, or what will it be like; it was purely a question of whether these two people were ready for that kind of vulnerability. As Aaron helped Callie recognize her own worth in the face of some disappointment at school, she felt safe with him, and he with her. Safe and seen — those same things we're all looking for, at the end of the day.

The trans community is beautiful, diverse, fully human. They deserve to be with the same dignity and complexity we all do. They deserve stories that are about their trans-ness, and many more stories that are not. They deserve to be woven into the fabric of the worlds we create. According to GLAAD, a fairly small percentage of the population knows (or knows that they know) someone trans — and knowing someone trans is key to believing in their civil rights. So until trans people are seen and loved and recognized in every corner of this planet, we can make room for people to fall in love with them, through the magic box.

The Fosters airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Freeform.

comments powered by Disqus