Quick: Name the most LGBT-friendly TV network.
ABC, right? Easy question, easy answer. ABC has given us loving lesbian and gay families in Callie and Arizona on Grey’s Anatomy and Cam and Mitchell on Modern Family. It has given us hilarious, well-rounded gay men on Happy Endings and Desperate Housewives. It has given us complicated recurring lesbian characters on Private Practice. And it has been at the forefront of transgender inclusivity with Ugly Betty and Dancing With the Stars. In fact, 50 percent of ABC’s original programming includes positive representations of LGBT characters. Then why, oh why, are they planning to give a home to the wildly offensive sitcom Work It this January?
Unfamiliar with Work It? Lucky you! But allow me to enlighten you: When two straight male characters are fired from their jobs as car salesman, they decide to pose as women to land careers in the pharmaceutical industry. Is macho posturing going to drive the plot? Yep. Is misogynistic boy banter going to fill each episode? Uh huh. But the real problem with Work It — as evidenced by ABC’s first ad — is that it is going to make a giant joke out of stereotypes that continue to damage the transgender community.
One of the most harmful, degrading stereotypes transgender women face is the notion that they’re not “real” women. And you can bet that will be Work It‘s entire repertoire of gags: “Look at that culturally defined male wearing traditionally feminine clothing! LOL! Lady fail!”
For transgender women, female presentation is not a joke. Unlike cisgender women, most of whom never have to think about things like mythical cultural cues, transgender women have to learn to speak with female speech patterns while maintaining female pitch, to move effortlessly in traditionally feminine clothing while observing culturally mandated behavioral cues, to display a cisgender body type, and so much more. And they must learn to do it in a society that is ready to mock even the slightest indication that their presentation isn’t “authentic.” It’s not just a matter of celebrating repressed femininity; it’s a matter of constantly combating discrimination.
So it’s no surprise that GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign were quick to condemn Work It when ABC released the first ad for the sitcom. In addition to meetings with high level execs at ABC, they are also asking LGBT people and allies to join a letter writing campaign urging ABC not to air the show. Our friend Lesley Goldberg has the full story over at The Hollywood Reporter. She even spoke to GLAAD senior director of programs and communications Herndon Graddick, who told her:
We believe that the show will harm transgender Americans and because of that, GLAAD and the HRC are asking ABC not to air it … It detracts from the real challenge transgender people face.
I read a lot of online commentary about Work It over the weekend, and nearly all of it was disheartening. There was a lot of this: “As a gay man, I’d just like to say that the gay community is being too sensitive!” Or: “I’m a lesbian and I think GLAAD needs to lighten up!”
To which I say: I’m a lesbian. I know what it’s like to feel a sense of cultural otherness. I know what it’s like to be discriminated against. But I do not know what it to grow up with a body that isn’t congruent with my gender; or to daily face the stereotype that I am just a man dressing up as a woman, and isn’t that just the funniest thing?
ABC should pull Work It from it’s roster immediately. It’s going to tank anyway, and cancelling it before it airs is a perfect way to save face in several ways. Of course, the best way to save face would have been never to have greenlit this dreck in the first place.