Some shows get all the (much-deserved) credit for breaking down barriers in television, like Orange Is The New Black and Transparent. But, another series has been quietly and consistently revolutionary week-in, week-out for years. That show is The Fosters. This season alone of the Freeform drama has tackled everything from child sex trafficking to transgender rights and immigration anxiety — all without making a single instalment feel like a Very Special Episode. That’s because these experiences and issues aren’t life lessons, they’re real things that happen to real people.
The Fosters took that mission statement a step further with Tuesday night’s "Chasing Waterfalls," featuring a sex scene between main character Callie Foster (Maia Mitchell) and her boyfriend, young trans man Aaron Baker (transgender actor Elliot Fletcher). While seeing a love scene between a trans man and a cisgender young woman on a teen-focused network is already boundary-pushing, what makes "Chasing Waterfalls" feel so groundbreaking is that it doesn’t treat a Big TV Moment like a Big TV Moment.
The lead up to Callie and Aaron’s first time together purposefully feels like a romantic day between two average young people, because, again, that’s exactly what it is. The couple head out on a gorgeous hike, profess their admiration for each other amid scenic views, and throw themselves into a stunning waterfall basin while wearing minimal clothing. It’s all very much out of a Nicholas Sparks novel. Before Aaron jumps into that aforementioned waterfall, he gets a bit shy, contrasting Callie’s underwear-clad spontaneous plunge into the deep, cold water. "Oh," he says, taking a deep breath while stripping down to his boxers.
Aaron’s portrayer Elliot Fletcher chatted with us before the episode aired, explaining why his character had that moment of apprehension, and it’s deeply relatable. “From what we’ve seen, I don’t think Callie and Aaron have been next to naked in front of each other,” the actor explained. "That’s probably the first time that that’s happened and I think he’s a little cautious and a little insecure." The actual water in the scene also happened to be “freezing,” so that played a big part in Aaron’s anxiety. "So, maybe that’s a little bit of me [too]," Fletcher joked.
After the pair’s quick dip, they move to a nearby rock to talk about their greatest fears and anxieties, deepening their relationship in a way that makes sense with intimacy on the horizon. Callie, who’s usually worried about 12,378 problems at a time — chief among them how her future will turn out — finally realises none of those anxieties matter. "All I need to know today is who I am and what I want right now. What I want right now is this," she says, sharing an intense kiss with Aaron.
Following an emotional bare encounter like this, it’s obvious Callie and Aaron are about to take their relationship to the next level the second they arrive at his place. When things get steamy, Aaron pauses the hookup to set the mood with candles and sexy music. It’s a decidedly romantic and intentional move, especially since Callie wasn’t complaining about the vibe. Clearly, Elliot is going out of his way to make this experience special for his girlfriend, since it's the first time they'll be having sex. It's the kind of small moment that reminds viewers trans characters' inner lives are just as vast as their cis counterparts. Fletcher explained Aaron's thinking in the moment, telling R29 of the trans man, "[He] has his own stuff going on with sex and all that stuff and being intimate. I think things have to be comfortable for him, but in his mind it’s more ‘I have to make things comfortable for the other person. I wanna make sure that she feels okay and that she feels safe and if she feels okay, then I will feel safe and okay.’"
Interestingly, once Aaron returns for his candle-lighting station, The Fosters decides to give the couple a level of privacy. We see the duo get half-naked and kiss on Aaron’s bed, but the camera cuts away before anything gets explicit. Yes, this is a Freeform show, so that’s expected, but it also feels like Fosters wants keep this special moment away from prying eyes out of respect for how personal the scene is for both characters. "Maybe that does play into the way they feel and everything," Fletcher mused about the directorial choice. "It probably makes the two of them a lot more comfortable for it to just be a very intimate thing between the two of them."
Fletcher also noted how big the episode is in terms of cable television, which has to keep in mind the goal of keeping advertisers happy. After all, ABC canceled Ellen — which famously starred icon Ellen DeGeneres as out lesbian Ellen Morgan — less than 20 years ago, following homophobic protests and the decision to add a family "advisory" to "warn" parents of the comedy’s LGBTQ-friendly content. Now, the network’s sister channel Freeform is featuring sweet sex between a trans and cis people in the inclusive light it has long deserved.
"To show something like this involving a person who’s trans is really beautiful because it is show in a very, very positive and loving and caring light," Fletcher said. "You don’t see really people who are trans have sex on TV, and though you may not see Callie and Aaron have sex, it happens. It’s really tastefully done, and I think it’s very beautifully done. I hope that the huge audience that is watching The Fosters can see how normal and sweet it actually is."
The normalcy of Callie and Aaron’s sexual relationship should be the biggest takeaway from "Waterfalls," not the sex itself. No one pauses the hookup to figure "how" these two can have sex, or what it capital-M-Means. The word "trans" is never even said, because it doesn’t need to be. At its core, the episode is really about to two crazy in love kids doing what crazy in love kids have been doing since the dawn of time.
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