Ask many transgender advocates and allies and they'll tell you that ABC's new sitcom Work It just doesn't work. Next month, ABC plans to premiere the show, which features two men who dress as women in order to gain employment. And while the characters in the show are not presented as transgender but rather as "unrepentant guy's guys" in dresses who very much identify as men, audiences will nevertheless connect them with transgender women.
The so-called "comedy" of Work It is based on the premise that people who were born male but encounter challenges in presenting themselves as women is inherently funny. The problem is that some transgender women may find themselves in this situation, at least temporarily, during the early stages of their transition, due to the prohibitively high costs of transition-related medical care and widespread insurance inequities. Transgender Americans -- who can be legally fired in 34 states today just for being who they are -- face an inordinate amount of workplace discrimination that images like those on Work It perpetuate.
The premise of this show is repulsive, and ABC -- a network that routinely scores highly in GLAAD's annual TV reports and whose parent company, Disney, receives a perfect 100-percent score from HRC's Corporate Equality Index -- should know better than to air it. ABC is a network that has brought us groundbreaking shows featuring LGBT personalities, like Modern Family and Brothers & Sisters, and it is the network that most recently featured Chaz Bono on Dancing with the Stars. LGBT community members and youth have often looked to ABC's programming for positive images that build acceptance, not images that make jokes of our lives and the challenges that many in the community face. ABC's own "Stand Together" project, featured on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, aims to put an end to bullying nationwide. But all the goodwill in the world doesn't justify putting images like Work It in the living rooms of millions.
By encouraging the audience to laugh at the characters' attempts at womanhood, the show condones similar treatment of transgender women. Unfortunately, such behavior needs no encouragement: 97 percent of self-identified transgender people reported being mistreated at work, and 26 percent -- that's one in four -- reported losing their jobs because they are transgender.
Though characters who challenge traditional gender norms have the potential to expand how an audience thinks about itself, the clumsy, offensive portrayals and marketing of this series are clearly not accomplishing this. By trying to create humorous scenes of these characters putting on makeup and feminine clothing, for example, Work It makes similar implications about transgender women's identities and their ways of expressing them, while also reinforcing the erroneous notion that transgender women are not "real" women.
It's not just the LGBT community that will be insulted by the show, either. Besides spreading the dangerous misconception that it's easier for a woman to get a job, the show resorts to some of the most outdated and sexist stereotypes about women you're likely to find on television. Work It isn't above racism, either, as demonstrated when the main character's best friend Angel remarks, "I'm Puerto Rican. I would be great at selling drugs!"
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 to be laughed at, or are somehow less-than. This show would be a setback for transgender Americans, and for everyone who believes that all people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.
GLAAD and HRC today placed an ad in Variety to educate the media industry and general public about the discrimination faced by transgender Americans today. To learn more, visit glaad.org/workit.
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