In 1980 ABC premiered a sitcom about two cis men in the advertising industry, trying to find an apartment in New York City. One of their cis woman friends suggests they move into a rent-controlled, affordable place in her apartment building. One hitch--the apartment building, known as the Susan B. Anthony Hotel, is strictly for (presumably cis) women.
So, naturally, they don't hesitate to crossdress in order to get in.
The sitcom Bosom Buddies (get it? Bosom? Buddies? HAW HAW!) was not terribly popular and only lasted two seasons, but it was long enough for one of the cross-dressing stars of the show, Tom Hanks, to get major exposure as an actor. Shortly after Bosom Buddies was taken off the air, Hanks found himself in two starring movie roles--Splash, along side Daryl Hannah and John Candy; and Bachelor Party, which had a small part for professional female impersonator Christopher Morley as one of those gosh-darn deceptive trans women who got into one of the party-goer's pants only to pee while standing up and talk in a deep voice just in time to deliver some, um, comic relief, I think some call it....
Now, this is not to go after Tom Hanks, although he's got a lot of explaining to do for both directly and indirectly associating trans women with deceivers, and throwing in a helping of pitiful ain't-foolin'-nobody for good measure. This is about ABC, the network that green-lighted Bosom Buddies in the first place.
This was hardly the first time ABC had used trans women as the butts of jokes. Three years before, the ABC sitcom Soap premiered, introducing the world to another up-and-coming actor/comedian, Billy Crystal, portraying a gay man in one of the first portrayals of such on prime time television. Of course, by the second episode of the first season, he's crossdressing and telling his mother he wants a "sex change" so he can marry his boyfriend. Said boyfriend breaks up, so there's no further talk about transgender behavior after that--just a suicide attempt, followed by affairs with women. How convenient!
This is, of course, another stereotype about trans women--that we're "really" cis gay men who want to have operations only because of society's homophobia. Only someone who doesn't realize the seriousness of transphobia--or doesn't care about making transphobia worse--would insist on such a skewed view. And yet, it's depressingly common.
Both of these television shows were regularly shown in my household, and so I got a double dose of stereotypes about trans women from ABC alone. No wonder it took years for me to come to terms with being trans.
So when I heard ABC was doing it again, I got peeved. Bereft of original ideas, they're reinventing Bosom Buddies with a focus on jobs instead of housing. Welcome to Work It, which makes ABC president Paul Lee "cackle with laughter".
Curiously enough, there's quite a bit of resistance to this show--from the dubious "mancession" narrative it reinforces, to the problematic use of crossdressing for humor value, to concerns that it reinforces the pitiful/deceitful narrative, are showing up online with comforting regularity. I haven't linked to any of the articles to illustrate this--Google is your friend--but that doesn't mean ABC will pull the plug on the sitcom prior to its 2012 debut.
If you could, please take a moment to sign this petition urging ABC to not let Work It on the air. If enough of us speak up, there will be at least one less media message against trans women, one less negative image for trans girls to struggle with.