Is Sitcom Insulting to Trans People?
BY Jeremy Kinser
December 16 2011 9:08 PM ET
Work It, an upcoming ABC sitcom about men forced to dress as
women to get a job, has angered equality activists, who see
the premise as trivializing the obstacles transgender people face daily in the
The show follows two men who come to the realization that women are more in demand for jobs than men, and so they dress as women to escape unemployment. Ads for the show sparked the uproar among activists.
Although there are no transgender characters on the series, Drian Juarez, project manager for the Transgender Economic Empowerment Program at Los Angeles's Gay and Lesbian Center, finds the promo exploitive. In a statement released to the press, Juarez says, "What is clearly intended to be a humorous promotional ad for the show depicts the two lead characters, dressed as women, standing at a urinal. Sadly, it’s very common for people to promote fear of sharing the bathroom with transgender people as a means to further their prejudice. We’re frequently portrayed as sexual predators using the bathroom to make sexual advances."
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, also worries about the damage the series may cause.
"We've seen a lot of offensive things on TV over the years, but this really takes the cake," Solmonese wrote in an email to HRC supporters. "The so-called 'comedy' of Work It is based on the premise that male-bodied people who unsuccessfully attempt to present themselves as women are worthy of ridicule. The problem is that most transgender women find themselves in this situation, at least temporarily, during their transition process. And due to the prohibitively high costs of transition-related medical care and widespread insurance inequities, many may be visibly transgender for their entire lives."
"Transgender people and anyone who doesn't fit narrow gender stereotypes experience high rates of discrimination and bias in the workplace," says Masen Davis, executive director of Transgender Law Center."The humor shouldn't have to depend on negative portrayals of who folks who are already having a hard time on the job."
ABC, which is scheduled to premiere Work It next month, is also the network that airs Modern Family and Happy Endings, which have well-rounded gay characters, and earlier this year cast transgender activist Chaz Bono on its competition series Dancing With the Stars.
Solmonese continues, "By emphasizing the artificiality of the lead characters' femininity through depictions of them putting on makeup and feminine clothing, for example, Work It makes similar implications about the nature of transgender women's identities and their ways of expressing them, reinforcing the erroneous popular notion that transgender women are not 'real' women. By encouraging the audience to laugh at the characters' failed attempts at womanhood, the show condones similar treatment of visibly transgender women. Unfortunately, such prejudiced behavior needs no encouragement; 53% of self-identified transgender people reported having been the victim of verbal harassment or abuse in a public place. ABC should not air this show — plain and simple. At the very least, Work It is offensive and insulting. At worst, the show is downright dangerous and sends a message that transgender people are meant to be laughed at, or are somehow less-than. This show would be a tremendous setback for transgender Americans, and everyone who believes that all people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity."
Is the show's premise offensive? Watch the promo for the series below.
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