Strike A "POSE"
(Image is subject to copyright. Source: FX)
Sunday night was the premiere of “Pose,” the new FX show by creator Ryan Murphy about the underground Ball culture that started in New York City; a culture created and cultivated by the queer Black and Latinx community. “Pose” is groundbreaking on so many levels. The show features the largest Black and Latinx LGBTQ cast ever. Writer, TV host, and transgender activist Janet Mock is a writer and producer on the show. In the pilot we are introduced to the multidimensional character Blanca, who is a strong Latina transwoman that happens to be living with HIV. So basically we have a show debuting on television during Pride month that features Black and Latinx LGBTQ actors, writers, and producers, and an HIV-positive transgender main character who is not dehumanized but looked to for guidance and support. All of that in one show! What a time to be alive!
“Pose” will change many conversations. It will be proof that visibility matters and is still a powerful tool to alter perceptions about HIV and the communities impacted by it. The show begins with a group of transwomen of color. They are letting the audience know right out of the gate that this show will not be like anything we have seen on TV before. “Pose” is set in the mid to late 1980s, during a time when the threat of HIV was in the forefront of our society, racism was alive and well, and we still had a really long way to go for LGBTQ rights and visibility. Yet we also had the emergence of this unique and important subculture.
For anyone unfamiliar, the Ball world has been a creative safe space for queer people of color for quite some time. At a Ball, contestants walk the runway as a means of competition. They dress based on the category that is given and the goal is to give as much “realness” as possible. Fashion and music are incorporated and contestants are typically judged on dance skills such as voguing, appearance, and attitude. Many people who walk in Balls are part of a house. The house is an alternative family that often consists of queer Black and Latinx youth that have been rejected and don’t have any other place to go. The housemother and/or father take them in and provide support and a safe space, while giving them an outlet for expression and creativity.
The pilot episode captures that time by providing a window into the world of several different queer characters of color. The earlier mentioned Blanca, who quickly decides to leave her current house and start her own as a mother, is driven and dreams of creating a house that will become legendary. There is Angel, a transwoman who joins Blanca’s house and makes a living as a sex worker. She finds herself connecting on a different level with one of her clients. Lastly, there is Damon, a 17-year old Black boy who has dreams of becoming a dancer and is harshly rejected by his parents for being gay. Through these characters, we are able to witness the violence, pain, and struggle of rejection, and the new families formed because of it. We experience the fear and devastation of an HIV-positive diagnosis, and the choice to live life fiercely in spite of it. We also feel the resilience of a marginalized community and the brilliant art and fantasies that were created in the midst of them. This is history, and we must embrace all the darkness as well as all the light that comes with it.
“Pose” is not perfect, but it is real. It shows the world through the lens of a community that has been ignored and marginalized by society for too long. This community isn’t celebrated enough, and this show put them front and center so the world can learn what many of us already know. Our queer Black and Latinx brothers and sisters are creative and talented trailblazers. The pilot episode sets the stage to highlight a group of people that in a time of great uncertainty and oppression chose to rise up, empower themselves, and create a beautiful new movement and culture.
In the pilot we also meet Pray Tell. He is a gay Black man who is the emcee for all the Balls. He says it best, “Houses are homes to all the little boys and girls who never had one... and they keep coming everyday just as sure as the sun rises. Pull up, work harder, triumph…if not today, maybe tomorrow.”
Through this Ball movement, many found family, freedom, and joy. Now Pose!