Welcome to the twenty-seventh article in our Pride series for the month of June! Each day we will be highlighting a different LGBTQ+ character who we think is a great example of representation, dynamic characterization, and overall badassery. Check out the rest of the series here.
Pose is an exciting new series on FX that is centered around the drag ball culture of the late 1980s. The show is set in New York City in 1987 and gives us a peek into a segment of LGBTQ+ culture that, by and large, has been absent from our screens (although Madonna’s “Vogue” video brought drag balls into the mainstream for a short while).
The series has earned critical praise, both because of its truthful portrayal of what life was like for the LGBTQ+ community in the Reagan years, and also for utilizing LGBTQ+ actors, writers, and producers to tell their own stories. There are five transgender women of color who lead the show, all of whom portray transgender characters. And the show’s writing and producing teams include Janet Mock and Our Lady J.
Broadway star Mj Rodriguez plays “Blanca,” a member of the House of Abundance family. Within the first few minutes of the series, Blanca learns that she is H.I.V.-positive, and this harrowing news motivates her to live her life more fully. She becomes frustrated with her house mother’s overpowering sense of leadership and leaves the House of Abundance to found her own house, so she can create something that will last after she is gone. The House of Evangelistas is born, and Blanca begins taking in misfits and others who have been discarded by their own families and communities, giving to them what she herself has never had.
By the end of the first episode, Blanca’s warm and nurturing spirit is evident and powerful. She is house mother, but she also appoints herself as guardian of those living with her. One of her “children,” Damon, is a 17-year-old dancer who has been disowned by his parents because of his sexuality. Blanca not only gives him a place to sleep, but she also “forces” him (literally dragging him by his ear as some mothers do) to audition for the prestigious New School of Dance in the city. Damon gets accepted to the program, and Blanca’s steady maternal presence in his life is established.
Blanca further proves herself as parental role model in the second episode. After staying up until the early morning hours waiting for Damon to return from a date, she gives Damon the “sex talk” that he never received from his own parents, emphasizing to him the vital importance of practicing safe sex. Her concern for his well being is instinctual and also personal: she wants more than anything for Damon to avoid making the same mistakes she has made in her life.
The Christmas-themed third episode of the series focuses on the family unit as a whole that has been created in the House of Evangelistas. Each member of the family shares memories of Christmas that are mostly rife with heartbreak. Blanca sets out to change everyone’s Christmas experience by decorating their apartment with a tree, constantly playing Christmas music, and even cooking a complete turkey dinner. Even a hilarious kitchen disaster does not dampen the Christmas spirit.
Pose is a dance-musical show, but it isn’t all glitz and glam. It tackles difficult subject matters that are often glossed over or avoided completely in other television shows and movies. For example, in the second episode, Blanca goes to a bar to meet her friend Lulu for drinks. And the patrons and staff of the bar – all cisgender gay men – make it clear to Blanca that she and Lulu, also a trans woman, are not welcomed in that establishment. Blanca demands that they are served drinks, but the bar’s owner asks them to leave, because as he says, “I’m not throwing a costume party.” Blanca is confused why they are not accepted in a gay establishment. But her friend Lulu explains clearly that rampant transphobia exists even within the LGBTQ+ community:
Everybody needs someone to make them feel superior. That line ends with us, though. The shit runs downhill, past the women, the blacks, latins, gays, until it reaches the bottom and lands on our kind.
Blanca’s story is refreshing, because never has a transgender character in a television series been given such depth, presence, and sheer power to live her life and tell her own story. Her identity affects every part of her life, but it is not the only aspect about her that we get to see. She is a mother figure, compassionate and resilient, who only wants to help her children find their place in the world. By the end of episode four, she still has not shared with them her H.I.V. status, only because she fears that they will worry about her health instead of focusing on their own dreams. Her motivation to create something that will last long after she is gone is both beautiful and heartbreaking.
Pose has four more episodes set to air this season. If you are looking for a show that has complex characters and captivating storylines, set to a killer ’80s soundtrack, then Pose is the show for you.
Do you have a character spotlight suggestion? Leave it in the comments down below!