ABC should have known that airing a cross-dressing comedy was going to draw controversy.
The upcoming series Work It — about two men who disguise themselves as women to land jobs — is taking fire from two organizations that say the show is offensive to the transgender community. “During a period in which the transgender community now routinely finds itself in the cultural crosshairs, the timing couldn’t be worse for a show based on the notion that men dressed as women is inherently funny,” writes Matt Kane, the associate director of entertainment media at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
GLAAD concedes that the show’s pilot doesn’t explicitly mock transgender people, yet maintains that a program whose goal is to find humor in men dressing up as women will encourage audiences to mock those with actual gender-identity issues.
“Transphobia is still all too prevalent in our society and this show will only contribute to it,” wrote GLAAD acting president Mike Thompson. “It will reinforce the mistaken belief that transgender women are simply ‘men pretending to be women,’ and that their efforts to live their lives authentically as women are a form of lying or deception.”
The organization in particular took issue with the show’s provocative print ad, first reported by EW.com, which shows stars Amaury Nolasco and Ben Koldyke wearing women’s clothing at a men’s bathroom urinal. GLAAD urged the network not to run the ad.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Campaign has set up a write-in protest campaign which urges supporters to send a message to ABC reading, “Hundreds of thousands of transgender Americans face very real challenges in the workplace … We have a shared responsibility to ensure the messages about gender identity we send to the public, and particularly youth, are positive ones. It is never appropriate to belittle or mock those who do not adhere to society’s gender norms or the struggles they face.”
ABC has been a ground-breaking network in terms of LGBT portrayals in the past (including having transgender character on Ugly Betty and casting transgender advocate Chaz Bono on Dancing With the Stars). The network’s entertainment president Paul Lee defended Work It in July at the network’s press tour presentation, comparing the show’s humor to a long tradition of cross-dressing British comedy.
“I’m a Brit, it is in my contract that I have to do one cross-dressing show a year,” Lee said. “I was brought up on Monty Python.”
Countered GLAAD: “Mr. Lee can recognize that there has been 40 years of progressive social change since Monty Python’s television heyday.” Of course, there’s also the classic TV comedy Bosom Buddies — the show that Work It most closely resembles — but one could counter that society has come a long way since the early 1980s, as well.
Work It premieres Jan. 3. ABC had no comment on the GLAAD and HRC statements.