“The category is…. Liiiiiiive!... Woooooork!.... Pooooooose!” Pray Tell’s voice booms through the speakers, accompanied by the syncopated piano chords characteristic of early-90s pop music. Pose has become the only show I look forward to every week, and the only show that I watch on TV because, let’s be honest, who watches TV on TV anymore, anyway?
What started out as a show that revolved around the drama between two women in the ballroom scene turned into an exploration of the trans experience and the discrimination that goes along with it, the effect of the AIDS epidemic on the ballroom and larger gay community, the struggles trans women face specifically, the bonds forged between LGBTQ+ individuals living in the 1980s-90s and more. Pose is my Tuesday night staple, and I hope that this article convinces you to make it your Tuesday night plans, too!
A Cast Full of Trans POC and LGBTQ+ People
The first thing I noticed about the Pose actors is that they are primarily trans people and LGBTQ+, and most of them were people of color. This is also what the ballroom scene was made up of, but I honestly didn’t expect a major show to have so many trans people actually playing trans people. That’s kind of a sad, reality, isn’t it? The primary protagonist to be followed in episode 1, Blanca Evangelista, is played by MJ Rodriguez, a biracial trans woman. One of the other main characters, Angel, is played by a nonbinary, transfemme person named Indya Moore. Then we have Angelica Ross, a black trans woman who plays the role of the fiery Candy. This is just the tip of the iceberg of a talented, diverse cast.
While this show dips its toes into issues permeating the LGBTQ+ community, the best part about the show in my eyes is that it’s centered on trans people in a way others shows are not. As much of the directing staff, writing staff, and actors are LGBTQ+, they have an intimate and familiar perspective on these issues. Janet Mock, a trans woman, directed some of the more heart wrenching and unfortunately realistic episodes showing the struggles of the trans community. Pose goes more in-depth than just talking about getting kicked out of the house for being LGBTQ+ or having one white gay as the token gay character. While I don’t want to specifically spoil anything, the show talks about passing privilege and the infighting of trans people, friendship or love, gender reassignment surgery and its social implications, the murder of trans women, sex work for survival, HIV and AIDS, reconciling your love for your parents and their disregard of your identity, and so much more.
Trans People? With Personality?
Shocking, I know. Who knew we had personalities! Even more unbelievable- EACH character has their OWN unique persona. For many years, trans people and trans women specifically have been treated as just a plot point, like a temptress who “tricks” men into being attracted to them or a sex worker who ends up dead, disheveled and cold for the cops to investigate. The Pose actors do a great job of adding much more complex, positive representation of trans people. Blanca Evangelista is the kind, nurturing mother to all the children in her house. Elektra is a domineering, intimidating, theatrical mother who gets what she wants whenever she wants it. Candy is sassy and determined like no other, with a sharp tongue. The list doesn’t stop here- even the more minor characters get more and more developed as the episodes go on. Instead of being depicted as one trans hive mind that the media likes to portray us as, Pose does a great job of ensuring that each character gets more and more fleshed out and different from one another. They don’t all agree and all have their own interests in mind, each reflecting a different side of the trans community. All the characters have different experiences in friendship or love, and it shows through how they interact with the other cast members. By diversifying the perspectives present in the community, Pose really shows cis (and trans!) audiences that trans people are not just the demonized figures that we’re made out to be.
Visuals and Soundtrack
Let’s be real- visuals have been important to fans since they’ve been made into hazily-edited gif sets on Tumblr back in the early 2010s. The theatrics embedded in the ballroom community don’t just come out through the snippy, witty, shade-laced dialogue between characters. The visuals in the show are gorgeous, with everything from muted neutrals and reds in the more mellow or intimate scenes, to the frantic, bursting neon and glitter of the ballroom competitions, all while reflecting the more hazy and subdued color schemes of 80s and 90s media. The soundtrack that backs all of this slaps, too. When somber piano ballads aren’t playing behind the more tender moments, the scenes are supported by dazzling, twinkling 80s synths, late 80s-early 90s R&B percussion, drum machines, and pittering keys. On top of the curated music, the cast themselves have the opportunity to sing in a couple of episodes, and they’re all amazing. Appearance is the whole point of the ballroom categories, you already KNOW that anyone that’s walking a category is turning out phenomenal looks. I’ll let the visuals speak for themselves below, but to really appreciate it, you’ll just need to watch the show!
Trans Female and LGBTQ+ Friendships
This is one of the best aspects of the show, in my opinion. The rival “houses” of the Pose actors (think houses of fashion) that battle for trophies in the ballroom community battle outside the ballroom, too. Much of the drama in the show extends beyond what’s typically “catty” and trivial. Some characters really go in for the kill, like Elektra, who calls Blanca a crossdresser and even insinuates that she has no honor for not telling her family she’s trans. Despite these rivalries, the girls always come together when they need to. While, again, I won’t spoil anything, the mothers and house children overcome their competing attitudes to do AIDS activism, put on a cabaret, stand up against a profiling landlord, and support each other after a friend’s murder. Whether it be out of friendship or love or both, the relationships forged by chosen families and communities in this show oftentimes supersede that of parents that were not there for them.
The Shade of It All!
This show deals with so much- AIDS/HIV, trans discrimination, the rise and appropriation of ball culture, protesting, brutality, complications in trans romance, and more. That’s important and all, especially as a feminist who may or may not be familiar with the struggles of trans people, but one of the best parts of the show is the drama! The shade is incredible. Elektra’s artistic, metaphorical insults are my favorite. If you want to see someone read a bitch, then this is DEFINITELY the show for you! Don’t get me wrong, the show definitely uplifts women, portraying the trans femmes especially as characters who are strong enough to be on their own and stand up for what they believe, but they also know how to use that strength to not let other people step on them. And that is where the insults and shade come in. The writers of Pose really know how to make drama, and make it relevant. It ties into issues of passing privilege in the trans community, the ball scene’s category judging system, and issues of wealth inequality. On the surface level, though, it’s just great drama.
So in conclusion….
Watch Pose on FX every Tuesday at 10PM EST for clear skin. She’s on Netflix! She’s on Amazon Prime video! If you have the time, you should definitely try to get into it. Whether you want to analyze it through a feminist lens or just want some good TV, it’ll be a good time. It’s helped me learn more about myself and evaluate my privileges to grow up in a more accepting time, as well as help me delve more into the struggles trans POC face every day. If you’re trans, it’s honestly life-changing to see yourself represented on TV. I don’t even watch TV, and I try to catch it every week. It’s got drama, sex, romance, gay characters, trans characters, historical drama and tragedy, success, determination, tenacity, visuals, soundtrack, and anything else you could want. So, what are you waiting for? Watch Pose ASAP!