First off, thank you for reading my previous post about how my fascination with what plays on television led me to attend what turned out to be nothing more than some marketing outfit wanting to know of the attendees’ product preferences. If that post felt like a slog for you to read, well, now you know how I felt attending that event.
The inspiration for that tale (and it was a true one, by the way) was an entry on one of the WordPress blogs I routinely follow. Hannah had received information about a prospective TV series involving the world of crossdressing. Intrigued by the basic premise, she joined in on a focus group consisting of fellow CDs and the creators/producers of this show. Hannah would offer her two cents to the producers, and would do the same on her blog… which I highly, highly recommend you read. Seriously, check out that link, for Hannah articulates her thoughts on the matter better than I ever will.
Naturally, you’re wondering if I took part in this focus group. Well, I’m sorry I didn’t. Matter of fact, Hannah’s post was the first that I had heard of this show. (Man, I gotta get on some meaningful mailing lists.) But that doesn’t mean I was hesitant to look it up myself afterwards.
The prospective show is titled The Candy Store, and according to its website, its premise is this: Two people have bought a business specializing in prosthetics for post-mastectomy breast cancer patients. The clientele, naturally, had exclusively been women… until they discover that men are starting to shop there… the type of men who’d rather not stuff their bras with balled-up socks. It leads to the shop creating a side business specializing in the “10% of men who hide a very big secret,” that being male-to-female crossdressers who bring, as the show’s description states, “unique [stories] of joy, pain and resiliency as they fight to balance their masculine obligations [family, friends, careers, etc.] with their feminine desires.”
According to the show’s website and Facebook page, The Candy Store is at this moment only in the development phase, creating “sizzle reel” content (as seen in the above behind-the-scenes images) that’s akin to a proof of concept form of a television pilot. There’s no indication that a studio, network, or streaming platform is attached to the project… but then again, does a show necessarily need to be attached to such things in order to succeed in 2021? (Don’t answer that.)
From what The Candy Store‘s production crew and Hannah’s post (seriously, read Hannah’s post) have indicated, the show, should it be “picked up to series” in some form, will be dramatic in tone. I imagine it won’t be as earnest as, say, This is Us, where Kleenex is used to dry eyes and not stuff bras. Perhaps it will be a type of anthology series that has regular characters but spotlights the guest cast; think Fantasy Island without the supernatural aura (no offense, Mr. Roarke).
Still, the thought of The Candy Store being dramatic in some way or form will be a stark difference to how crossdressing on film and TV have usually been depicted in the past. Such depictions can be boiled down to one quick phrase:
A man dresses up as a woman. Hilarity ensues.
“Hilarity ensues.” From at least the days of Some Like it Hot and Milton Berle’s TV work, that’s how Hollywood has traditionally treated the thought of men dressing, for one reason or another, as women — as a bit of comedy audiences will eat up and enjoy… because comedy seemed to be the only way conservative audiences would accept men dressing up as women.
Even though the works I mentioned above were in the 1950s, depictions of crossdressing have been mostly humorous since then. The most prominent of these has been Tootsie, in which Dustin Hoffman passes himself as an actress to land soap opera work after he’s proven to be too difficult of a thespian (and a man) to deal with. Yes, Tootsie is a movie I admire, and still do, especially how Hoffman’s character realizes he’s become a better man after being a woman. But that concluding realization is not remembered as much as the overall premise (Dustin Hoffman in drag)… and the hilarity that ensued.
It’s been the same way on the small screen, including a show that predated Tootsie by two years, Bosom Buddies. That sitcom revolved around the premise of two New York advertising writers who, unable to find affordable lodging in Manhattan (their old place got the wrecking ball), resorted to living in… wait for it… a hotel catering exclusively to women. Yes, Kip and Henry had to pass themselves off as women, from wig to heels. And, yes, hilarity ensued. But that was only part of the overall premise, thank goodness. Credit Bosom Buddies‘ production team for recognizing, during its two-season run, that crossdressing was just a sidelight, and that the show worked best by also being about people yearning to further friendships and careers. That the two leads (this guy and this guy) brought their all to their roles certainly helped, too.
And then there shows like Work It. No, you probably don’t remember it; I myself never got the chance to watch it (ABC cancelled it after two episodes in 2012). But, yes, I do recall hearing of the premise: Two men, after being laid off from an automobile factory, become pharmaceutical salespeople… and pass themselves off as women since the sales staff is “almost exclusively” women. Hilarity, supposedly, ensued. But the critics didn’t think it was funny. Which probably wasn’t surprising… though not entirely in a “TV critics hate everything anyway” kind of way. Think more a “this is the 21st century, when cisgender men don’t need to pass themselves off as women to secure work” kind of way. Oh, and also in a “let’s trivialize the obstacles trans people face in the workplace to generate canned laughs” way. (Ugh!)
The famous opening line of Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s poem “Solitude” popped into my mind just now:
Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone
I can’t help but think that, for how the crossdressing community (the male-to-female segment in particular) has long been depicted on television, a similar line would apply to us:
Put on a dress, and the world will laugh with you;
Pair it with a frown, and they’ll think you deserve the pain
Willingly or otherwise, our community has had the paintbrush of humor applied to us. It’s as if any smile we wear, joke we crack, song we sing (in falsetto), or dance we perform has been the spoonful of sugar that helps the rest of the world accept our stories — and our very existence. It’s been that way from probably long before Some Like It Hot, right up through Tootsie, Bosom Buddies, your local drag show, and any other story or performance, large or small, big screen or otherwise, that involves a male-identifying cisgender person putting on a dress, wig, and makeup.
But what if we weren’t putting on a little song or dance, or spraying seltzer down someone’s pants? (Sorry, I had that Mary Tyler Moore Show episode in my head for a moment.) We all have lives we must deal with when not getting dolled up. But when we do get dolled up, and we interact with the rest of the world, would they be accepting of us as we are of ourselves? Would we be made fun of? Would we see relationships severed because our friends and family would only accept us as men? Would we lose our livelihoods because of it? Or even our lives?
Just as Hannah expressed in her post (and, again, go read that post), I feel like I need to display a positive, responsible sheen to the cisgender world. For all we know, I may be the first crossdresser, if not the first trans-identifying person, an Average Jane or Joe may discover, whether they may be a cashier or restaurant server (if I’m out in public) or web surfer (if they discover this blog or my Flickr or social media feeds). Maybe they’ll discover that I may be just like them, the only difference perhaps being that I present as one gender or another. I wish sometimes I didn’t always have to bear this weight of responsibility… but I know it’s part of being a crossdresser.
But this blog is just a lot of words. Images, especially the moving kind, have a lot more sway in our world. You know how Pose has been such a moving, three-dimensional depiction of LGBT people, and trans people in particular? Hopefully The Candy Store, should it progress to a series in some way, can portray the crossdressing community in a similar positive light.
It’s for sure that The Candy Store‘s creative team feels that responsibility. On the story section of show’s website, they express a desire to have an inclusive production team, including gender-nonconforming people. They also express a mission to help the world understand the many motivations that prompt us into putting on another gender’s clothing.
And what would those motivations be? Well, we crossdressers certainly don’t dress up for the sake of gaining employment, securing lodging, or eluding gangsters. We don’t do it to become freaks or daytime TV talk show fodder. We also don’t always do it to express our sexuality; need I remind you that gender and sexual identities are two totally separate things. And we certainly don’t to it to become deviant or evil, an unflattering depiction I hadn’t touched on yet in this post but still must be acknowledged… because those awful depictions are out there and have made impressions of the worst kind.
On the other hand, crossdressers really are… well, people just like the cisgender world. We deal with jobs and families and friends and bills and health and a whole lot of other things. It just so happens that we put on another gender’s attire to express ourselves or even help us realize our true selves. Some of us do it to display to the world an identity we usually keep secret. And we also do it to seek and initiate friendships with likeminded people, help strengthen relationships with those who accept and love us without condition… and feel good about our own selves, no matter how greatly the rest of the world may disdain us.
To highlight the title of this post, what I hope the crew behind The Candy Store will do… or, actually, will continue to do before and after their pilot becomes a series is to listen to and embrace our community. They’ve already done that with the focus group Hannah was a part of, and I’m sure the production crew they hope to assemble will provide lots of advice and insight.
What I hope they also continue to understand and acknowledge is that our community is such a unique and diverse group. Yet at the same time, our community is so easily misunderstood, disdained, and dismissed. I hope they’ll create characters and stories that will reflect us in a positive way. They don’t have to be all mawkish and sappy, nor do they need to be a laugh a minute (as noted above, we’ve seen the latter for decades)… but they need to be authentic and honest enough to generate positive word of mouth. And good word of mouth will top any metric of viewership, as some of the best shows have proven throughout TV history (two words: St. Elsewhere).
(Oh, note to self, and not to be all selfish: See if the show is arranging another focus group. I wouldn’t mind offering my insight… or at least a story idea or two.)
If, heavens forbid, The Candy Store never becomes a series, I hope the producers realize that just by making an effort to launch this project in the first place, they have already made a positive contribution to the crossdressing community. Knowing that someone has desired to tell our stories will hopefully inspire someone, be they a CD or an ally, to create their own unique tales of dressing up and expressing their feminine side… and that those tales will be strong enough to last for generations.
Good luck to those involved on The Candy Store, and may you have the chance to bring an awesome series about an awesome community — our wonderful, fabulous crossdressing and gender-nonconforming community — to fruition.