ABC’s Paul Lee Can’t Understand Why Transgender People Dislike ‘Work It’

We’ve had some conversations here about Work It, perhaps the most puzzling new show of 2012. But when asked about an ad that called about the fact that the show doesn’t appear to recognize that transgender people face substantial risks were the gender they were born with to be revealed, ABC entertainment president Paul Lee’s answer was…unfortunate.

“Certainly in terms of the lesbian and gay community, we’re incredibly proud of the work ABC does, and that’s not just Modern Family, it’s Grey’s Anatomy, it’s Private Practice. In that case, I didn’t really get it,” he said. “I loved Tootsie, I think it’s a great thing, so in that particular case, I didn’t get it. But I think that’s me.” And he said that given the sophistication of the rest of the network’s fall lineup, “I thought there was room for a very, very, very, very silly show.”

Which certainly is true, though I thought that one of the better things about Revenge was its deadpan embrace of its deeply campy, silly concept. But then, what do I know. It seems like a fairly unfortunate thing for Lee not to have investigated the fact that what he’s presenting as a wacky way for straight men to cross-dress for gain (which yes, is the same concept as Tootsie) carries real implications and danger for other people. Cross-dressing is not always a trip or a thing that people try on just for kicks. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to choose between expressing your true self even if it involves repeated difficult conversations and the risk of retaliation and presenting yourself the way society expects you to at considerable psychological cost. Dressing like a lady to get a job in a fake hecession to get a job that you wouldn’t actually be a fit for is a deeply silly scenario. Being transgendered and navigating your life is not. Recognizing that Work It has unfortunate blind spots and overlap would seem wisely conciliatory and respectful.