Going to jail is an unnerving experience for anyone, but Tuesday's episode of The Fosters demonstrated how terrifying it could be for anyone who doesn't fit in the traditional binary gender roles.
Aaron (Elliot Fletcher) stepped up to the plate to help Callie (Maia Mitchell) warn high school students about to be the targets of an ICE raid, but ended up standing in the wrong place at the wrong time and when a runaway student shoved him into an ICE agent, he was arrested for obstruction of justice. Even though it was an accident, Aaron was forced to sit in a county holding cell, terrified he'd be booked in a male detention center where he wouldn't be safe because he's transgender.
Stef (Teri Polo) showed up in the nick of time and told Aaron to declare himself. While that saved him from being abused in jail, he was still forced to sit in solitary confinement for hours until he could be released. That's a punishment meant for the worst offenders who can't be trusted in general population, but it also becomes the holding place for many trans people who go into the criminal justice system because our prison setup doesn't know how to keep them safe with the rest of the prisoners.
The experience gave Aaron a serious shake up and pushed him to be more open about being trans of hoping that his story could help save other people from his same terrible experience. TV Guide talked to Fletcher about filming the episode and what's next for Aaron — especially after his jail stint forced his feelings for Callie back to the surface.
What were your conversations with the writers and the producers like to make sure this storyline was executed with Aaron as a character rather than making him a PSA?
Elliot Fletcher: The writers and the producers and the creators are all very collaborative, so when it came to all the jail stuff they did do a lot of asking, "Is this okay? Are you cool with it? If you need something while we're filming this episode please let us know," because it could have been a very stress-inducing thing to film. They were super, super helpful and super collaborative. I got to give some feedback on some lines. They contacted GLAAD and their representative got to give feedback on lines. It was a good episode to work on together. It does have to do with Aaron being trans quite a bit, but it's something that we haven't seen on TV before. We've seen it on Orange Is the New Black but that isn't TV, that's Netflix... Even though it is a traumatizing experience it is nice to see that experience represented on mainstream television in the way that it is.
How is this experience going to affect Aaron? He's always told Callie to be cautious of being arrested, but this obviously has greater consequences for him.
Fletcher: At the end of the episode they have that whole conversation where he says, "I want you to put my scars in the portrait. I think if we don't put a face on this then no one is going to care and no one is going to do anything." ...This is not to say that every trans person should be out and proud with their transness, but for him it's every important for him to advocate for these certain situations and for these people. The experience for him overall is not a good one for him but he takes away something good from it.
He has a powerful monologue in this episode about how coming out as trans is very different from coming out as gay. Now that he's taking the steps to come out as trans, how is that going to change him going forward?
Fletcher: We see this whole thing happen in the episode and then Aaron doesn't have his own storyline of pursuing justice for trans or gender nonconforming or queer people in the justice system. We don't go super in-depth on it. Aaron doesn't come out to any of the family members or anything. It continues to just be sort of this, "Yeah, he's trans and that's only a part of him or whatever." I don't think we wanted to after this have him in every encounter he has going, "Hey by the way I'm trans." We didn't want to do that. It sort of goes back to the way it was. It seems like, "Okay, he's trans and now he's going to be out about it, but we don't have to see him be out and say a million times, 'Hey, I'm transgender. Okay, actually I'm transgender.'" We don't have to see him say that a million times because he says it in the conversation with Callie and that's all we need to see.
Speaking of him and Callie, this episode made their relationship even more complicated. What can you tell us about their next steps now that she says she's still not ready for them to get back together?
Fletcher: That's a difficult one because I do think that Callie and Aaron are very, very, very attracted to each other emotionally and physically. It's been quite difficult for them, especially Aaron. He's taking her out on picnic dates and saying they're not dates but really they are. It's hard for them to function on a friends level...Callie and Aaron in that episode kiss and they hook-up and he says, "I have to stop. I've been dating another person." We get to see that dynamic and how the other person Aaron is dating plays into Callie and Aaron as friends and the tension between them and everything like that. There's a lot going on between the two of them. It always seems to be a love triangle whether it's with AJ or it's with someone Aaron is seeing.
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So he is still going to be OK with them being friends? We see Callie say she's not ready but we haven't seen Aaron's reaction to them almost hooking up and her turning him down.
Fletcher: It's sort of weird. I think in the next few episodes you'll see Callie and Aaron interact and if you're really paying attention it's very clear that the attraction is still there. They are still kind of flirting. Aaron has started dating someone else and he doesn't want to be that guy. It's hard to navigate.
We only have a few more episodes left! How much hope should we have that they are going to be able to figure this out?
Fletcher: I don't know! It depends on the individual. You can get your hopes up or not, however you think it's going to end. I don't want to give anything away...I am a big Aaron and Callie [shipper]. I love them together and I would love for them to work it out.
The Fosters continues Tuesdays at 8/7c on Freeform.