Since my work with xQsí Magazine encourages me to stay up-to-date on all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) news, I knew what to expect even before tuning in to ABC’s premier of “Work It.” I had 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 that have been most affected by the economic downturn, not straight cisgender men.
However, it was one line in particular that successfully made me turn off the TV.
You read correctly. During a conversation with his friend Lee Standish (played by Ben Koldyke) dressed in women’s clothes, Angel Ortiz (played by Amaury Nolasco) actually attributes his own transphobia to his culture.
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 continued marginalization of trans people (particularly women) on the island and in the diaspora.
Deconstructing the statement, one realizes how wrong Angel is. 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. In fact, every year the Puerto Rican Cultural Center hosts a beauty pageant for young trans women. This yearly event has even been documented in Josué Pellot and Henrique Cirne-Lima’s documentary “I am the Queen.”
However, what 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 ABC and the writers of “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. Every one of them in a violent manner.
Some big producer may have though transphobia was funny, but ABC, we’re not laughing.