ABC-TV on Transgenders: Let's get real

ABC premiered its sitcom, Work It . Its only redeeming quality is that it will serve as the benchmark for bad television for years to come, right alongside Hello, Larry and AfterMASH . The show gained negative ratings across the board, and was pounded by the critics.

Meanwhile, I get to sit back and smugly note that I saw this coming. "Guys dress up as women to get something" is a dead concept, one from which movies and television have wrung out every last dram of humour. Time to hang it up along side Francis the Talking Mule and airline food jokes.

And don't even start me on the misogyny and racism that made up some of the other so-called humor in this stinker of a show. I can only assume the show's creators had hoped to make something so offensive that it would pick up a crowd of viewers who wanted to revel in it. They seem to have failed to understand their potential audience, and will now likely pay the price.

Yet, as I pen this epitaph to bad television, I want to talk about one thing. While this show about men dressing as women in order to get a job is not about transgender people, it does reflect a lot of what some people think transgender individuals are.

At the heart of this show – the very reason its main characters were donning dresses and speaking in falsetto – is the notion of deception. The characters are being something they are not, in order to deceive people.

This one thing is at the heart of most major misconceptions of transgender people, and has been for decades. This is the very key to what people do not get about transgender people.

When we face opposition in fights for our rights, people talk about how treating us fairly will lead to sexual deviants preying on "helpless females" in the lavatory – never mentioning that such activity would remain wholly illegal regardless of the gender identity or expression of the predator in question. The argument isn't about identity or expression: it is about deception.

Often, when trans people are murdered, the killer claims he "panicked" and killed due to this panic. We're seeing this play out in the Christmas Eve murder of Dee Dee Pearson of Kansas City, Missouri, whose alleged killer somehow managed to panic and act out in the heat of passion while also leaving the scene, picking up his gun, and coming back to murder Pearson. While I fully believe that transgender panic is a pathetic excuse for taking a life, it, again, is rooted in this notion of deception. The argument is, after all, that these killers were somehow "tricked" into believing their transgender victim had made them somehow believe they were not transgender.

When people shout out, "That's a man" or "That's a woman" at a transgender person, it's as if they're trying to warn others. They are sounding the alarm, and pointing out a traitor in their midst.

As one person discovered on the day after Christmas in New York, shouting this earned him a beat down by a transgender woman and her girlfriend. I may not agree with what they did, but I can certainly understand the sentiment.

It's this fear of deception that leads people to ask us what our birth names were; as if that name is somehow more "real" than the one we use today and have on our legal documents. It's what causes people to ask about what is or isn't between our legs – and expect that we will answer a question that they themselves would be deeply offended to answer.

Even in transgender circles, we fall prey to this same thing, dividing our community as we seek to police the identities of other transgender people, deciding from an ever-shifting criteria who is "really" transgender, and "really" able to claim the mantle of their chosen gender. Perhaps, one assumes, if we can turn on our own, we'll be more accepted as "true" amongst our non-transgender peers. Never mind that they all still see us as jocks in falsies, trying to steal jobs from "real women" just like on ABC's lame sitcom.

The trouble is – as I've said time and again – those of us who are transgender, or have chosen to live our lives in our preferred gender identity, or express our genders however we see fit, are not trying to be deceptive at all. Indeed, we view it as quite the opposite. All those years of trying to somehow "fit into" a gender we don't identify with was the deception. We were trying to deceive ourselves, and simultaneously deceive others into believing that we were the perfect man or woman when we knew that simply was not the case.

It is, perhaps, the thing that makes this trans as deception construct so difficult for those of us who are transgender. It's entirely the opposite of our reality, and hard to grasp otherwise. Yet the pervasiveness of it makes it both vital to understand and vital to dismantle.

Being transgender is not a dodge. We're not side-show charlatans, trying to defraud people with our very beings. We're not running a con game here. It should be obvious to those looking in from the outside that there's remarkably little for us to somehow gain by all this: as a general rule, none of us are winning prizes by being out as transgender.

So let's take the chance, in the wake of the worst sitcom of at least this year, to make sure people understand what we're all about. Let's put to rest all those tired "trans as deceiver" stereotypes and get real.

About the writer:

Gwen Smith never could make magic tricks work. You can find her online at

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