Trans and gender non-conformative themed film and media are few in comparison to Gay & Lesbian centered films. Up until last year, the United States understood Trans through mainstream movies such as Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, Boys Don’t Cry, and most recent characters in sitcoms such as Ugly Betty or RuPaul’s Drag Race. However, on January 3rd 2012, ABC channel aired a new show that received criticism for inappropriately generalizing, stereotyping and mocking the lives and experiences of Trans and gender non-conformative folk. In the sitcom, “Work It”, creators Andrew Reich and Ted Cohen tell a story of two middle-aged men, Lee Standish (Caucasian) and Angel Ortiz (Puerto Rican), which are unemployed due to the rising number of women in the job market. In response to the economic recession, the two alpha male characters attempt to cross dress and pass as women in order to survive in the work force. After two episodes of “Work It” aired, viewer ratings dropped 1 million and ABC Channel discontinued the show.
Reich and Cohen’s show received news coverage by the “Por Que Si Magazine: An LGBT Latin@ Multimedia Publication” (XQSI) for a number of problematic images portrayed on screen in particular relating to Puerto Rican culture. In an open letter to ABC the XQSi addresses a particular line in which Puerto Rican character Angel Ortiz blames his ethnic culture for his own transphobia: “I don’t know man, you have to understand this kind of thing doesn’t really fly in my culture” (Olvera). Not only does this transphobic comment separate gender non-conformativity from ethnic identity, but also renders the lives of Puerto Rican trans and non-conformative people invisible. As discussed by Professor Ellie Hernandez, society will normalize heterosexuality and allow micro aggressions against gender, class, and racial minorities to go on without any protection (Hernandez). Similarly, Martin F Manalasan IV’s article: “Searching for Community: Filipino Gay Men from New York City" also questions the notion that “gay men regard identity as a static given and construct ethnic identity as a polar opposite of gay identity” (Manalasan). Manalasan breaks down this notion that a person of colors ethnic identity is inseparable from their sexual identity and highlights the Pilipino LGBT communities that emerge and thrive in New York City. Moreover, Manalasan argues that “immigrants constantly negotiate both dominant/hegemonic and subordinate (minority) cultural products and practices into meaningful arrangements that inform their lives” (Manalasa). In other words, the failed show “Work It” not only offended the lives of Trans and Gender non-conformative people but also showcased fallacies about gender and racial identity.
Media coverage like “Work It” sends false messages that teach homophobia and gender non-conformitivity as comedic subjects. Although the television show did not center an actual transgendered person, “Work It” intertwines with the systems of oppression in our lives that tell us that homophobia is almost non-existent. Barbara Smiths’s essay: “Homophobia: Why Bring it Up?” also discusses the “misconceptions and attitudes which I find particularly destructive because of the way they work to isolate the concerns of Lesbian and gay men” and in which media ignores the stories and experiences of Trans people like Gwen Araujo (Smith). Smith’s elaborates on the same form of homophobia seen in the creation of “Work It”, that is, people are generally threatened about issues of sexuality, and for some the mere existence of homosexuals calls their sexuality/heterosexuality into question” (Smith). This misguided show is a form in which institutional homophobia writes of systems of oppression and once again ignores the realities of people’s lives, namely Trans and gender non-conformitive folks.
Hernandez, Ellie. "Microaggressions." lecture. Fem 80. Girvetz, Santa Barbara.
Manalasan, Martin F. "Searching for Community: Filipino Gay Men from New York
City." GLQ: A journel of lesbian and gay studies.. (1993): n. page. Print.
Olvera, Danny. "Open Letter to ABC: Transphobia is not Puerto Rican." 01/13/2012. XQSi Magazine, Online Posting to XQSi Magazine. Web. 8 Feb. 2012. <http://xqsimagazine.com/2012/01/13/open-letter-to-abc-transphobia-is-not- puerto-rican/>.