The grittiness of 1980s NYC paired with the ubiquitous fashion statements of that decade cement a sense of enviable nostalgia in FX's new series, Pose. Within that time capsule, the show places props that assist in making broader statements that are relevant today amongst the city's LGBTQ youth of color— particularly those who are members of the underground ballroom scene.
Pose is executive produced by Ryan Murphy and co-created/produced by Steven Canals, a queer Afro-Latino from The Bronx. The team enlisted transgender creatives like author Janet Mock and Our Lady J as the program's producers and writers. Down to its cast, Pose is represented by those who form part of the LGBTQ community; it's herald as the first scripted television show in history to have the most number of transgender actors occupy lead roles.
In the series’ premiere episode (June 3), its rich storyline paired with captivating characters swallows you right up. There’s the loving mother figure, Blanca Rodriguez (Mj Rodriguez), a transgender woman who finds out she’s HIV positive but has a dream of starting her own house. In ballroom culture, a “house” refers to the voguing/ballroom family you belong to. In addition to being a community that nurtures one’s dancing/voguing capabilities, it also provides support for those who no longer have biological families to fall back on—usually because of their sexual orientation or sexual identity.
As Blanca makes her ambitions known to Elektra Abundance (Dominique Abundance), the mother of House of Abundance, she is swiftly shunned and met with fierce opposition. Nonetheless, she creates shelter for her new children in the House of Evangelista, which is lodged in her apartment.
Blanca ends up saving Damon Richards (Ryan Jamaal Swain) a 17-year-old black gay teen from suburban Allentown, Pennsylvania who is kicked out by his homophobic father and overtly-religious mother. Damon, a trained ballet dancer, ends up homeless in the streets of NYC dancing for pennies to survive. It’s a far too common story that takes place in urban and non-urban communities of color everywhere.
Richard and Blanca’s storylines brought me back to a time a few years ago when I worked at an LGBT Center in New York City. There, I sadly encountered many kids like Damon who were kicked out of their homes because of their sexual orientation. Most of them lived in homeless shelters and were also members of the ballroom community.
Canals dreamed of telling a story he identified with as a queer man from the Big Apple. For his characters, their dreams are also coming to fruition despite their struggles. At the end of episode 1, Damon gets accepted into a famed dance school after Blanca persistently coaxes the institution’s admissions director to give him a chance at trying out after missing the deadline. You’ll see him twirling and gliding to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” It leaves you wondering what will happen next in his life, and the rest of his co-stars, as he pirouettes to the beat.
When it comes to trans identity, the dialogue among the transgender women in Pose is excruciating. There’s great talk of identity politics, and who can pass more as a woman than the other. It’s a toxic conversation, but one that sadly reigns supreme and is held accountable for a transwoman’s privilege and mortality in society. According to the Human Rights Campaign, transgender women of color are the most susceptible to fatal violence. In 2017, the HRC reported a total of 28 deaths among transgender women occurred nationwide.
But Pose wouldn’t be what it is without all of its outlandish ballroom costumes, dance performances, and big personalities. It's like if 1990’s Paris Is Burning resurrected with a longer life expectancy. The legendary documentary touches the surface of the stories Pose is intricately telling.