Published on December 7th, 2011 | by Wild Gender3
New ABC sitcom laughs at gender variance
ABC has it’s fingers crossed that a sitcom featuring fictionalized married, “manly” characters stumbling in heels, donning mascara, ripping hosiery, and otherwise fumbling through hyperbolized “femininity” still guarantees a laugh.
Executives at the network have given the green-light to a clumsy sitcom, harkening to the gender-variant satire of yore. “Work It,” is an obviously botched “Bosom Buddies” remake, modernized by recession overtones, and taking place in an office. The show is slated to premier on the network in early January.
“Looking for a job in today’s economy can be a real drag,” writes “Work It” on the show’s website. “Take Lee Standish (played by Ben Koldyke), one-time breadwinner and current unemployment statistic. After being laid off, Lee will do anything it takes to support his family – even if it means putting on a skirt and heels.”
The argument that there’s nothing offensive about “Work It”—besides poor writing and a bad laugh track—is circulating the internet, mostly with reference to the show’s “tame” comedy predecessors: i.e. “Mrs. Doubtfire.”
What’s the difference?
Well, when Tom Hanks, our fluffy haired protagonist from “Bosom Buddies” was hiking up a bustiere in the ‘80s, there were no summer camps for transgender kids. When Robin Williams was readjusting his wig for “Mrs. Doubtfire,” there was no media coverage at Transgender Day of Remembrance. There was no controversy about hormone blockers and young-adult trans people. There were no reality shows period, and zero reality television highlighting gender-variant people—nothing, none.
So, has the national spotlight on gender-variance gotten trans/genderqueer people anywhere? A quick look at the “Work It” trailer and Wild Gender doubts it.
The show’s most loyal enthusiasts are furiously defending “Work It” as gender-progressive. To those folks, the story of two cisgender men attempting (very poorly done) female impersonation is enlightening. The dudes learn that it’s not easy being ladies and gain some respect for the other side of the binary. Done.
So, what’s the inherent difference between a show like “Work It” and the wildly popular RuPaul’s “Drag Race”? Some episodes of which, feature virgin drag performers made over by a group of professional Drag Race hopefuls.
At one point in season three, contestants were challenged to help a group of “jocks” develop a drag persona—lip-sync, vogue, the whole bit. I distinctly remember when one of the “jocks” massaged their own calves and groaned in pain over high heels. Carmen Carrera, a drag queen on the show, quipped, “that’s just the manhood leaving your body.”
Why doesn’t “Drag Race” evoke the same frustration in LGBTQIA folk as “Work It” ? Personally, I see it as a level of consciousness. With episodes like the aforementioned, RuPaul’s “Drag Race” is actually trying to deconstruct normative views of the gender binary. “Work It” is an unconscious caricature of drag performance.
As for the trans/genderqueer community, our lives are hugely, distinctly different from drag performance. Living my chosen gender as a trans person is not a performance. Period.
Still, as a male-identified trans/genderqueer person, I am known to perform in drag. My gender identity is still on the “masculine” spectrum while I wear lipstick and vogue. I love it.
I don’t love “Work It.”
Neither does Kelli Busy, the author of a petition to bump “Work It” off the air that’s currently going viral on the internet.
“I first became aware of “Work It” during my 15-minute brakes at my part-time second job,” wrote Busey to Wild Gender. Busey watched the trailer for the show and found the outright mockery of gender-variant, female-identified people, appalling.
“I did a little research and found article after article condemning the sitcom. And amazingly (those articles) were written by cisgender people,” said Busey. “So I decided I would write about it. But when I read the article about ABC’s president dismissing concerns about the sitcom because it made him “cackle.” That really got me mad. So I went to twitter and there were quite a few tweets condemning it, some from drag queens as well. There was so much outright dislike within our community I decided to write a petition since none was started.”
As of December 6, the petition has already garnered nearly 400 signatures. ABC—or more specifically, its parent company, Disney—is no stranger to public outcry against current programming. A petition to get the Kardashians bumped off E! has over 70,601 signatures and has been circulating for months with no result, besides a level of validation for the tens of thousands of people tired of the show.
Personally, I have little doubt that “Work It” will shove past all of us dissenters and air. But I doubt it’ll last long. Not because the content is offensive to queers. Because the show itself is just bad.
In response, I’ll continue to keep my fingers crossed for a world where gender-variance is no longer considered comedy.