It’s a Drag

Written by Joan Stevenson—

It’s A Drag…..

A man in a dress is a time-honored comedic tradition, but lately one met with great controversy. This TV season, ABC introduced the sitcom “Work It” about two unemployed autoworkers who actually do find employment – but the catch is that the only available jobs require women. So the only way they can get work is by masquerading as women.

Simple right? Should be hilarious right?

Well, by the time you read this “Work It” will have been canceled for a few weeks – and after only two episodes. The show was met with mixed reviews, but the general consensus has been negative.

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the Human Rights Campaign launched an ad that accused the cross-dressing comedy of reinforcing “false and damaging stereotypes about transgender people” and urged ABC not to air it.

My thinking is that maybe if the show had stayed on the air long enough, this might have been something that the writers could have taken on as a platform to spread understanding. It has to start somewhere!

Paul Lee, president of the ABC Entertainment Group, has been an advocate for the show from the start and says he doesn’t understand the backlash. He loves the show, possibly because he hails from Britain, where cross-dressing in comedies is quite common.

“I’m a Brit,” Lee told reporters, “I have to do a cross-dressing show every year. I grew up with Monty Python. What can I do?”

I don’t see what all the hub-bub is about either. Dressing in drag and being transgender are two different things, but I guess the average American is ignorant of the distinction – or just doesn’t care enough to know the difference.

This is probably why GLAAD and HRC tried to nip “Work It” in the bud. One tweet criticizing the show brought up an interesting point. @iamwesley said, “You know, as a Black comedy, I think #workit would actually be a good show.”

I think @iamwesley is right. The only man in a dress that mainstream America has no problems with is Tyler Perry.

Madea can be as loud and sassy as “she” wants to be and the black community keeps throwing money at her. Maybe because the character is accepted from the get-go as a woman and there is no taking off and putting on the persona. Stereotypes abound on Perry’s shows, but no one seems to have a problem there either.

The only time the “man in a dress” formula seemed to work is back in the ’80s with the sitcom “Bosom Buddies.” I enjoyed that show. It was very funny sitcom based on the premise of the classic Billy Wilder film “Some Like It Hot” starring Marilyn Monroe.

It seems that in the ’80s the American public was more open to something fun and different and, to me, it is gratifying to know that two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks started his career in a dress. He had nice legs too!

I guess the only network that’s allowed to do offensive humor and stereotypical jokes is Comedy Central or Fox – actually, this might have done well on Fox … Well, maybe not. I forgot Fox’s brush with cross-dressing in the late ’90s. “Ask Harriet,” another “I gotta dress in drag to get a job” show didn’t really last that long either (five episodes).

Here’s a thought, what if Logo took over the show? Would the LGBT community be as upset if they were controlling the situation instead of those “clueless heteros” that continuously stereotype and mislabel?

I think “Work It” would be exactly the same and not miss a beat, but it would do well in the ratings and there would be no mainstream media backlash. Most likely, it would become a point of PRIDE. You would probably see headlines like “Logo sitcom breaks misconceptions” or “Cross dressing comedy bridges understanding.”

Maybe the key to success with touchy subject matter is to keep it within the selected groups, but I think that just promotes more isolation – which is never a solution.

My main gripe is why don’t they get guys that can pass as women a little better? I guess the underlying joke is that we, the audience, see that they aren’t women – but everyone else seems not to so the burden (comic relief?) is on them to convince us. That’s where the stereotypes come in.

Because of the situation, of course the humor is based on stereotypes. What else could it be but a tried-and-true battle of the sexes? But reading through some of the negative tweets (#workit), it seems that women were just as offended by the show as the LGBT community, saying that the show portrayed women in the workplace very unfavorably.

Speaking as a woman who has worked in countless offices and business environments, they were right on the money and didn’t miss a trick.

Aside from just having a good laugh, I think the point of shows like “Work It” is for the character (and the viewer) to walk a mile in someone else’s pumps. It really wouldn’t hurt for the average hetero male to really learn how hard it is to be a woman today living in a man’s world. (Oh, and it still is a man’s world. Trust!)

It’s just a shame that we all just can’t “accept,” you know? Live and learn from each other without being so PC or easily offended. Not all of us are that small-minded. Maybe by the next time – and there probably will be a next time – another cross-dressing TV sitcom comes along we can all just sit back, have a cocktail, and enjoy it like I do. Maybe it’s just me. Some of my best male friends wear dresses. And those bitches are sickening!

I leave you with a thought expressed in one of the positive tweets I read. @itsallabouttheg writes, “Never thought I’d see a man on prime-time network television experience the trials of trying to figure out how to tuck. #workit.”

Joan Stevenson is an entertainer in the metro Detroit area. Find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @Lady_J_8 #theworldaccordingtojoan. Joan also has a podcast at and on Tumblr.

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