It’s still rare to find character portrayals of queer and trans people of color living with the same messy humanity that empathizes the White characters of many canonical TV shows. In “Pose,” the new Golden Globe-nominated FX drama set in the ’80s New York City ballroom scene, Black and Brown LGBTQ people have the agency to show the multidimensionality of those human experiences.
The series begins with the Mary Jane Girls’ “In My House” playing in the background as the House of Abundance steals royal gowns from an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, before strutting at a ballroom competition in Manhattan. When the police arrive at the scene, Elektra Abundance (Dominique Jackson) hands herself in, her hands outstretched in victory, the ballroom crowd still hype. In “Pose,” the ball is a mirror of everyday life: its humor, darkness and trauma. And it’s a space for Black and Brown queer and trans folks to dream and create amidst the horrors of the Ronald Reagan administration, the AIDS crisis and the rise of corporate, luxury wealth.
“Pose” centers on Blanca (Mj Rodriguez), an Afro-Latinx trans woman who decides to leave the House of Abundance after discovering that she is HIV-positive. She decides to become a House Mother, forming her own House of Evangelista, making it a place of refuge for people who have nowhere to live. By the end of the first episode, she recruits Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain), a Black gay teen who’s been kicked out of his home, Angel (Indya Moore), a trans Puerto Rican sex worker and former member of House of Abundance and Lil Papi (Angel Bismark Curiel), a Latinx orphan who needs a place to stay.
While the ball scenes are the high-energy points in the show, the everyday experiences of the characters’ lives, their relationships and desires are what reveal deep human complexities. In the Janet Mock-directed episode, “Love Is the Message“—the first American television episode to ever be directed by a trans woman of color—we see this up close in a tryptech set in context of the HIV/AIDS crisis. Pray Tell (Billy Porter), the ballroom master of ceremony, copes with the last few weeks of his dying partner’s life; Blanca, who is newly diagnosed, contemplates dating again; and Angel confronts her boyfriend’s White cisgender wife. The episode shows the horrors of racism, homophobia and transphobia, without taking away the protagonists’ self-determination to find hope and community, even in the most subtle ways.
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Mock recalls one such moment in the episode, when Blanca and two of her girlfriends are in a shop talking about a guy who asked her on a date:
I love the ball scenes; I love the shading and reading. But at the same time, it’s in the small moments that I have such joy. Like the girls—Lulu, Candy and Blanca—in a shop talking about dating and love and having sex. Those moments are the things that we never see trans people having. You never see trans people having joy, because so often, they’re just the sidekick that comes in to teach a cisgender or straight character what it means to be authentic. And instead, it’s them talking about their desires. It’s that great Sex and the City moment that everyone loves so much: them around a brunch table. They get to have that, and I think that that does a lot of work in affirming our community.
With the largest cast of transgender actors in television history, five main roles performed by trans women of color and a crew comprised largely of queer and trans people, “Pose” is unequivocally groundbreaking. In a year when the federal government has moved to eliminate trans rights, it reminds us that state violence is part of a larger thread of history, and that resilience can manifest in so many ways. “Pose” exemplifies authentic on-screen storytelling and our moral obligation to fight for it.
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Response by Trash Lapras regarding recent hiring at @Brooklynmuseum . Museums are not trying to liberate us. they steal art, hire white people to curate and theorize around it, and make us pay to look at it all while supporting ongoing colonial and gentrification efforts in our country and beyond.