Okay. I didn’t actually see it, but after seeing the commercials I had no intention to see it either. And after reading the reviews—most, if not all, of which were unanimously negative—I’m not sorry I missed the pilot of ABC’s Work It. This only crossed my mind because I came down to cook dinner while the roomies were watching TV and a spot came on for it, which sparked a conversation.
Even as a non-transgendered person, I find the very idea of the show offensive on several levels (and most of the reviews confirmed my suspicions). It makes a few ugly insinuations:
- Puerto Ricans are drug smugglers.
- All a man needs to do to pass for a woman is don a dress, bra, wig and high heels, and talk in a higher voice (think Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot, which Work It wishes it could but has no chance of ever being).
- The only reason women have sales jobs is because men want to sleep with them.
- Men are insensitive Neanderthals.
- Even when pretending to be women, men are still more successful than those dumb, tampon-sharing women they’re impersonating (who, by the way, can’t tell the difference between another woman and a man obviously in drag).
This is the station that just had a news anchor, Dan Kloeffler, come out publicly as a gay man in October of 2011. ABC Family was voted the most gay inclusive network during 2010-2011. Shows like “Ugly Betty,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Modern Family” have prominently featured gay characters. One of my favorite shows (up until the 5th season, when it all sort of fell apart) was “Brothers & Sisters,” a show my parents deplored due to the inclusion of three openly gay main characters—two of whom were married in the show.
So now for it to come out with trash like Work It?
Counterpoint this with an incident a few weeks ago on Facebook where I ended up deleting a friend after he said that Hulu was “acting up” and was “gay.” When I called him out on this, he came back with, “Oh, c’mon dude, you know what I mean.” *winkwink-nudgenudge* To which I responded, “No. I don’t know what you mean. Enlighten me.” The eye-rolling came loudly through the screen when he came back with, “Gay as in stupid. Not gay as in homo.” (“Homo”?) Then several of his friends rushed to his defense, saying that I was overreacting. One guy even chimed in, “Hey, guy, I’m bi and I’m not offended.”
Right, because… oh, nevermind, I’m not going to get into bisexuality in males, which is pretty rare and often a way of cowardly eschewing the label of homosexual—as if to say, “hey, I like pussy too!” Because real men like vaginas. Even the ones who also like la bite.
The moral of the story is that I ended up de-friending him over the incident. That may be a bit reactive, but it would’ve been one thing if he’d thought it over and realized that using that particular word as pejorative might be hurtful and offensive to gays and lesbians. It was how little he and those who commented seemed to care, and the fact that nobody noticed the insidious logic. Because it’s not like anyone has been maligned, mistreated or murdered for being gay…
“Gay” came into use as a pejorative in the 1970s: “That’s so gay.” It was a way of putting down effeminate (and therefore “gay”) behavior in men, and quickly became an easy insult amongst young people who adopted it as slang. Gay = stupid (read: “those dumb faggots!”). Because, as we know, all gays are stupid. Just like the women of Work It who’re too dumb to realize that their new co-workers are a couple of dudes in really bad drag.
What bothers me is not so much that drag is being used for a cheap laugh. It’s one of the oldest stand-bys in theatre. They say that laughter fills uncomfortable silences (I’m not 100% who said that though), and what makes people more uncomfortable than seeing a male pretending to be a female, temporarily emasculating himself in front of an audience? Of course, when we’re all in on the joke it’s funny.
It’s not so funny when you’re the joke though.
It speaks to these deep-seated fears we have as a society about masculinity and the fragile thing that it is. It can be undone in an instant, which is why a woman can have a lesbian “phase” and go on to be a “normal” wife and mother, but a man is gay for life if he has just one sexual encounter with another man. It’s why the gay character (male or female) is such a staple: think Nathan Lane in Frankie & Johnny; Harvey Fierstein in Mrs. Doubtfire; Rupert Everett in My Best Friend’s Wedding. With few exceptions, their sole function is to provide a clever foil to the protagonist and sage advice via witty banter. They are rarely given external lives beyond this, and aside from a few cliched bits (which are almost always played for a laugh, such as in Internal Affairs, when the characters played by Andy Garcia and Laurie Metcalf realize they are checking out the same woman) are essentially treated as non-sexual.
It makes the gay character a stereotype, someone so impossibly larger-than-life that he or she could never really exist in real life. And therefore an entity to not be concerned about.
Yes, using “gay” may be a trope for most people. I doubt images of homosexuals being burned alive in the Middle Ages, “corrective” rape, teens hung in Iran, or of Matthew Shepherd tied to a fence post and beaten to death spring to mind for them. Nor were the creators of Work It intentionally making light of issues that transgender people face everywhere—and not just in the workplace.
Yet they’re unwittingly reinforcing the notion that to be anything less than heterosexual is to be less than human.