ABC’s ‘Work It’ harms the transgender community – periodTrans Progressive, Section 4A Tuesday, December 27th, 2011
Commentary: Trans Progressive
In the late seventies and early eighties my Dad, Jack Sandeen, worked at Disney Studios – first as a costumer, and then as the head of the wardrobe department. He worked on films such as Splash, The Apple Dumpling Gang and the original Tron. He passed away June 17, 2002 and I began my transition to Autumn Feb. 6 of the following year.
Disney, of course, now owns ABC and so somehow it seems personal when discussing a new television show scheduled to air in January, where cross-gender expression and costume are key elements to a temporary transvestite genre program. The new ABC program in question is called Work It and the first episode is scheduled to air Jan. 3, 2012.
The premise of the temporary transvestite genre, per Chris Straayer in the book Film Genre Reader III, includes the following:
“Temporary transvestite films share a large number of generic elements; the narrative necessity of disguise; adoption by a character of the opposite sex’s specifically gender-coded costume (and often its accessories, makeup, gestures, behaviors and attitudes); the simultaneous believability of this disguise to the film’s characters and its unbelievability to the film’s audience; visual, behavioral and narrative cues to the character’s ‘real’ sex; the transvestite character’s sensitization to the plight and pleasures of the opposite sex; references to the biological sex differences and the ‘necessary’ cultural separation of the sexes; a progression toward slap-stick comedy and increased physicality; heterosexual desire thwarted by the character’s disguise; accusation of homosexuality regarding the disguised character; romantic encounters that are mistakenly interpreted as homosexual or heterosexual; and ‘unmasking’ of the transvestite; and, finally, heterosexual coupling.”
And there is “necessity” for disguise: The temporary transvestism serves some need other than spectacle or theater. Generally, this need relates to problems of access, as in the case of getting a job, or escape.
In the brick-and-mortar world, many of us started our transitions with deep voices, heavy beards and bone structures that didn’t say “woman.” Many of us were – many of us are – visibly trans, not “passing” in our target sex of female.
As such, many of our experiences were as the objects of ridicule. I’ve personally been misgendered with male pronouns and referred to as “tranny,” “it” and “thing.”
And bluntly, the misogyny of the temporary transvestite genre is just wrongheaded. As well as boiling trans experiences down to horrid stereotypes, it also boils women’s experiences down to horrid stereotypes, and these stereotypes work against ordinary equality for trans people.
The genre may have been considered acceptable in years past, but most trans activists I’ve talked to about this believe this genre should no longer be considered acceptable. While Some Like It Hot is a comedic classic, it spoke to a different era.
Personally, I would really like Work It to just not see any airtime – I’d appreciate it if the company that employed my Dad for so many years did not air a show that has a premise that many of my peers in the community and I find deleterious to brick-and-mortar world trans people.
But, of course, the decision to air or not air the show is up to ABC. My opinion of ABC and Disney Studios will be incredibly low if they actually do air any episodes of this series.
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