When I first heard about the television show Pose I had no interest in watching it. It wasn't because I'm one of those internally homophobic kids who hate ballroom culture (I loved Paris is Burning too much for that) or because I'm transphobic and Pose is filled to the brim with trans actresses. It was 100% because Ryan Murphy's name was on it. I don't trust that man after the way Glee’s later seasons went, how Coven ended, and how Scream Queens and all the seasons of AHS after Coven turned out. But some of my virtual and real life friends ecouraged me to give it a try so I did, and LORD am I glad I did. Pose took the late 80s, the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis, featured some queer and trans POC in relative poverty in NYC and turned it into a beautiful story about humanity, family, and support. I don't think I've seen such a beautifully made show in a long time. Simply put, Pose is EVERYTHING and you GOTTA watch it. Need convincing? Here, let me learn you something. (CAUTION: There be slight spoilers ahead)
From the first episode to the last, Pose gives us representation, heart, drama, love, and just some good ass television. Basic rundown: we're in 1987 New York City following a few Houses (groups of queer and/or trans people who live together, support each other, and most often, participate in balls together) as they try to survive and make a name for themselves in a world that would sooner see them dead. The show first introduces us to the House of Abundance led by the domineering Elektra Abundance as they risk jail time to win a few trophies in the latest ball. More than anything, ball culture is about giving people who society throws away the opportunity to feel valued for a few hours at night, so it makes sense that the houses are willing to do anything to get that validation and leave their mark on the world. That desire is what makes our lead character, Blanca, break off and start her own house: the House of Evangelista. Young Black gay dancer, Damon, soon joins her house when she finds him sleeping on a park bench, as does another of Blanca’s Abundance sisters, Angel, and a street smart young Latinx kid named Papi. Under Blanca’s leadership, the House of Evangelista shows the best aspects of queer chosen families. The Evangelistas get a home, an opportunity to better themselves, and plenty of love and support that the world at large denies them.
This is important to see. When Damon joins the Evangelistas he comes in off the streets after being thrown out of his house for his sexuality and feminine mannerisms. Angel, as a trans woman of color, is given vital support with the Evangelistas, and Blanca’s house gives street kids Ricky and Papi somewhere to call home. And this is just within the first three episodes! Pose stands out because it has no intention of murdering its trans women, giving every gay (or hetero-flexible in Papi's case) HIV, or having the three white characters be the spotlight or the heroes. Instead, it humanizes queer and trans POC in a way that we hardly ever see in...well anywhere. We live in a world where trans women of color have a life expectancy of 35 years and queer people of color are still disowned and brutalized at alarming rates, and a large reason for that is because people just don't see most of us as human. Our stories are called propaganda, an agenda, and SJW bullshit so much that many of us feel as if our lives have no meaning. We are called sick every time we turn around, so having a show like Pose that tells us for 90 minutes or less a week that that's not true is like having a mini-ball whenever Sunday comes around. You can't underestimate how important that is.
And I think Pose itself recognizes how important it is. The first episode ends with Damon having auditioned for dance school. He had no intention of auditioning because as a kid fresh off the streets with no prior training and no money, what was the point? It would just be more disappointment. Blanca, acting as a true mother would, forces Damon to audition and demands that the school at least let him dance for them. Both demands work. When Damon comes out of the audition victorious, he looks straight at Blanca and tells her “I would be dead if it wasn’t for you”. I’m not ashamed to admit I bawled like a baby, because those words could just as easily be applied to the lives of every queer person (especially queer person of color) who has ever had to create a family and a space for them to be themselves. Pose isn’t just a show; it is an affirmation that regardless of what the world at large tries to tell you: you matter, your life matters, and you are valued.
Even behind the screen you have all sorts of affirmation. The show has Janet Mock, Our Lady J, and Steven Canals as writers and the infamous Leiomy as a ballroom consultant, giving queer and trans creatives the chance to shine too. Having people intimately aware of the experience they're writing about allows them to show a different side to the queer and trans experience as well. I’m not afraid to admit that I spent the entire first season on pins and needles waiting for someone to be murdered by a closeted trick, to be incarcerated for the theft that they have to resort to, or for one of the main characters to die like so many others have due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Its still taking me some time to accept that I don’t have to fear for these characters, that here they are allowed to thrive, not just survive, and do so in ways that changes how even other queer and trans people see themselves. I appreciated the effort to show TWO Black gay couples in a world where the media would have you believe they don't exist. I appreciated learning more about ballroom culture, since in the HBCU south we find community in a whole other dance style. I appreciated the flashing lights, great music, and bold styles of Pose almost as much as I appreciated being allowed to see people like me thriving; I can only hope that the show continues to impress.
Pose just aired its season finale last night, but seeing as you can easily find the episodes OnDemand, FX’s website, and a number of other platforms, now is as good a time as any to get into it (before Season 2 comes out). The show is educational, emotional, and must watch TV for everyone. I mentioned in my Pride Month post that this is one of the few examples of Black queer centered TV on right now, but it’s so much more than that. It is evidence at the power of inclusive storytelling, proof that trans casting is valuable (IDK what you were thinking ScarJo), and an opportunity for my other queer and trans family to see themselves represented. It truly is a groundbreaking show, and worth it for anyone to jump right in to. Don't worry, there's plenty of room in the House of Pose fans.
What do you think of Pose? If you haven't seen it, are you interested in giving it a shot? Feel free to leave your questions, comments, and concerns below and don't forget to like, share, and subscribe!