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"POSE" Continues to Break Ground

The FX TV show “POSE” continues to break ground by depicting characters and stories we rarely see on television. The latest episode, written by New York Times bestselling author and transgender rights activist Janet Mock, is powerful and important. Trans women of color writing for trans women of color: what a time to be alive!

“POSE” goes places that other shows with transgender characters haven’t gone before. During this episode viewers were given a window into the decisions that many trans women make when it comes to affirming who they are. In particular, we got to see those trans women who don’t have access to insurance or other means to pay for procedures.

Also in this episode we met Electra’s “daddy” as she contemplates having gender affirmation surgery. She wants to have it, but he doesn’t. So Electra has to decide if it’s worth potentially losing him to affirm herself. Angel and Candy are trying to navigate their own access to gender affirming procedures as they seek out silicone injections. Angel also has a conversation with Stan about how he feels about her penis.

There are very real images and conversations had about sex, desiring trans women, fetishizing trans women, body parts, tucking, what it means to be a woman, and who or what defines us. In the end, the characters do what is right for themselves, and they understand that self love has to come first. Choosing yourself is something that most people likely never regret.

The storytelling here is so relatable. “POSE” has allowed viewers to get to know trans women. We are invested in their lives and interested in their stories. Isn’t it amazing what happens when you portray people as they are: multidimensional with hopes, aspirations, and flaws. Audiences relate to the characters in “POSE” because they reflect the world we live in. It may be a world that many have been unfamiliar with, but it’s real, nonetheless.

Personally, you may never have contemplated gender affirmation surgery. But you probably know what it’s like to compromise for someone else. Those feelings and situations are universal. “POSE” is just giving queer people of color a chance to be seen on a universal platform: TV. For that reason, this show is a gift. It is a gift to queer communities that have been underrepresented. It is a gift to those who came before us and left their marks on the culture. It is a gift to those people of color who lived and died at the height of the AIDS epidemic. 

With and through all of that, “POSE” is doing something different in its storytelling about HIV. It is showing the devastation, fear, and resilience through the experience of Black and Latinx people. During the episode, Damon suddenly gets sick with the flu. He has been having sex, which immediately causes concern for Blanca. This prompts the house of Evangelista to have some real conversations about HIV. The reality of the epidemic and the lack of response from the government hits home for them.  They feel the disregard for their lives, especially as lives of color. Blanca and Pray Tell are strong parental figures but even they have their breakdowns. They know that as long as they are alive they will be fighting for something. Some form of their humanity will always be oppressed, and right now HIV is a part of that.

They ultimately decide there is power in knowing their HIV status, and everyone in the house gets tested. Pray Tell ends up being the only person to test positive, although he chooses to hide his result from everyone except Blanca. I guess he wants to shield them from the harsh realities of the world for as long as possible. No matter what the results, however, they will surely impact everyone moving forward.

These moments on-screen are long overdue, and are such that I have criticized Hollywood for their lack of in the past. Even telling stories of marginalized groups of people comes with a bias. The overwhelming majority of TV shows and movies about the LGBTQ community and HIV have been about white men. They are not the only queer people in the world and definitely not the only ones who are or who have been impacted by HIV.

Just like everywhere else in this world, there is diversity in this community. And “POSE” is giving us that. During a time when Black and Latinx LGBTQ people account for the majority of new HIV cases in the United States it is so important to see their experiences reflected on-screen. It is so important to see the community talking about HIV, getting tested, and supporting each other no matter what the result.

The multiple conversations about HIV during this episode were again powerful and important. They inform our understanding of the past, present, and future. When it comes to the past, it reminds us that the HIV epidemic was in communities of color from the beginning. It just wasn’t discussed or focused on in mainstream media. When it comes to the present, it allows us to see how far we have come. We can now be in control of our health through active prevention, treatment, and comprehensive programs offering support. When it comes to the future, it implores us to keep working and advocating. We must stay focused on moving forward so we don’t get complacent and see a repeat of past devastation.

Today and everyday I remember and honor those who worked, lived, and died during that time. “POSE” continues to shine a light on everyday heroes who contributed to our culture and society. Be happy, be proud, be you, and always pose.