UPDATE 1/14/12: ABC has cancelled “Work It.”
As difficult as it may be for you to understand, transphobia is not an inherent Puerto Rican trait.
Working with LGBTQ news, I knew what to expect even before tuning in to your premier of “Work It.” I had not only seen the preview, I had been reading everything the trans blogosphere had to say. And, just as I suspected, it was not only terribly unfunny, it was also downright offensive considering that it is transgender people (especially trans women) that have been most affected by the economic downturn, not straight cisgender men.
I watched it, cringing throughout the show. However, it this one line in particular that successfully made me turn off the TV.
That’s right, ABC. During a conversation with his friend Lee Standish (played by Ben Koldyke) dressed in women’s clothes, you have Puerto Rican character Angel Ortiz (played by Amaury Nolasco) blame his culture for his own transphobia.
This may have seemed funny to you when it was being written, but this is problematic in two ways. First of all, it incorrectly implies that transphobia is somehow inherent to Puerto Rican culture and, secondly, it insinuates that gender non-conformity is somehow outside of Puerto Rican culture. Both of these factors contribute to the continued marginalization of trans people (particularly women) on the island and in the diaspora.
But you know what, ABC? Angel is dead wrong. Gender non-conformity doesn’t just “fly in [his] culture,” it actually thrives. Last year, the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in Chicago crowned Yara Sofía and Alexis Mateo as 2011′s Cacica Queens. The two contestants of the highly popular RuPaul’s Drag Race were even invited to the Puerto Rican Day Parade later that year. Not only that, every year the Puerto Rican Cultural Center hosts a beauty pageant for young trans women. This yearly event empowering young trans women in Humboldt Park’s Puerto Rican community has even been documented in Josué Pellot and Henrique Cirne-Lima’s documentary “I am the Queen.”
However, that isn’t my biggest qualm. What’s most dangerous of Angel’s seemingly benign line is that it dares associate and, therefore, normalize transphobia within Puerto Rican culture. Once we begin to think of anti-trans bigotry as something widespread and normal, we stop being outraged by visible acts of violence on the community.
It is, therefore, incredibly irresponsible of you, ABC, and of your writers on “Work It” to use transphobia as a cheap punch line, especially in light of the series of anti-trans murders that have occurred in Puerto Rico. Since 2010, more then two dozen LGBTQ people have been murdered, more than half of them have been trans women, and every one of them in a violent manner.
Some of your big producers may have thought transphobia was funny, but ABC, we’re not laughing.
An earlier version of this opinion also appears at Chicago-Latino.com