Pretty Little Liars hasn't just joined the transgender moment; it's been sitting on the sidelines waiting to jump in for three years.
In the ABC Family hit's midseason finale, the identity and backstory of A was finally revealed and it was as tragic as it was shocking. Pretty Little Liars showrunner Marlene King made the decision three years ago that Cece Drake (Vanessa Ray) would eventually be revealed to be A. Born Charles DiLaurentis, she was shunned by her father for liking to wear dresses and playing with dolls, and eventually, Charles secretly transitioned into Charlotte, before taking on the Cece Drake persona in order to get close to her estranged siblings.
With Transparent garnering critical acclaim, Laverne Cox's success on Orange Is the New Black and Caitlyn Jenners decision to share her experience with the world on her E! docu-series I Am Cait, King admitted to E! News, "We started to think like, ‘People are going to think we're just jumping on this bandwagon.' But it's not the case at all."
But that didn't deter her from moving forward with the storyline, telling us, "I just released it to the universe. I thought, it's meant to be for a reason. This conversation is meant to be had."
And it's one Ray is "honored" to be a part of.
"Even as much as a month, two months ago, when I found out, it was still very much a brand new part of the conversation," Ray said of learning Charlotte was transgender. "Not brand new, but new in the way that we talk about it. Even two months ago, what's happened with Caitlyn Jenner is so beautiful and it's exploded in such an intense way. I just feel really honored to get to be a part of this time in history when this is such a new part of the conversation we can have. Just to be a part of that conversation is really neat. I remember feeling really overwhelmed with how exciting that was when I first read the script, how important it was."
While Ray said there was some "concern" over having a transgender character being "the bad guy," the actress said it was important to show that Charlotte wan't "born evil."
"Just because she's transgendered doesn't make her evil. What made her evil was being taught to lie and to cheat and to neglect human beings," she said. "She was neglected as a child. She was not treated with the care and love and respect that any child deserves and because of it, she became someone who neglected humans and didn't see the value in other human beings. Therefore, she could toy with them and treat them like dolls and treat them like they're nothing."
Speaking as to why they wanted to tell the story of how Charles became Charlotte—and eventually A—on the show, King explained, "The doll obsession came first. It just felt organic...it really fit that this character would play with these girls like they were dolls and have this obsession with dolls. It was just part of really creating a layered big bad for these seasons. I think the best villains have a great humanity to them and as we saw last night A has a soul."
And Charlotte's journey is not over, as King confirmed "we will see her when we premiere Season 6B," with the DiLaurentis siblings making up for lost time.
"Ali is staying behind to take care of Charlotte. She wants to make her connection with her sister, the same with Jason," King previewed for the family after the show's five-year time-jump. "That really becomes a big part of [Ali's] story over the next five years, is being the family to Charlotte that Charlotte never had."
Learn more about what it means to be transgender from GLAAD.
If someone you love is transgender, contact PFLAG.
If you are a transgender youth in crisis, contact The Trevor Project.