For years the transgender community has bemoaned the fact that most trans characters in film and on television are played by cisgender actors. Not so with FX's daring and groundbreaking new series "Pose" in which MJ Rodriguez, a transgender woman, plays a leading role.
Rodriguez is one of several trans women who've been cast on "Pose." The series comes to television courtesy of Ryan Murphy ("Glee," "American Horror Story," "Feud," "Versace.")
"Pose" may be the first time in history that transgender women's lives are presented authentically. In addition to its trans friendly cast, the series has two trans women, Janet Mock and Our Lady J, serving as part of the show's writing team. Lady J, who is also a producer on "Pose," previously worked on Amazon's Emmy winning "Transparent."
"Pose" is set in New York City in 1987. The story focuses on the juxtaposition between Manhattan's uptown ball culture and the rise of the Trump-era luxury lifestyle. The ball culture is, for many African American and Latinx Queers, the only place where they can find community and acceptance. It's in this world that they create "houses," families of choice who live together and compete together at balls for trophies in a variety of drag categories, often emulating people in higher social classes than themselves. The balls can be a highly competitive and cutthroat world.
As the story begins, Blanca (Rodriguez) learns that she is HIV positive. Determined to make her mark on the world while she still can, Blanca forms a new house and becomes its "mother." The first member of this new household is Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain), a homeless gay African American teenager who wants to be a professional dancer. The second member of the house is Angel (trans actress Indya Moore), a wise, weary prostitute who becomes involved with Stan (Evan Peters) a suburban married father who works for Donald Trump. James Van Der Beek plays Stan's boss Matt, a slime ball and close associate of Trump—this character has been said to be based on Trump.
The first two episodes of "Pose" beautifully illustrate how close-knit the ball culture families are. Most members of ball culture houses have been rejected by their birth families--they become for each other what their birth families should have been. Blanca takes her "children" under her wing, pushing them to do more with their lives. In one powerful scene, she visits a prestigious school and convinces the Dean Of Dance to give Damon an audition.
"And who are you?" asks the dean.
"I'm his mother," said Blanca. Damon is accepted into the school. In another scene, after Damon is asked out on a date, Blanca sits down and offers him some frank advice about safe sex.
Blanca is a strong character, tough as nails but with a heart of gold. She resents the fact that trans women are refused service at gay bars and takes it upon herself to buck the system. Night after night she walks into a gay bar and demands to be served a drink. After being told that she's a drag queen--Blanca insists that she's a woman--she's physically thrown out of the bar. She returns the next night, only to find herself in jail. Bar patrons applaud as she's led away in handcuffs.
These are but some of the many powerful moments in "Pose." The series serves as a reminder of how transgender women and people of color have been traditionally treated by the mainstream gay community. The characters in "Pose" have been shaken, but they are not stirred. They've accepted the cards that life has dealt them and have held onto their dignity.
Though critically lauded--Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregation website, lists "Pose" as having a 95% approval rating--the ratings have been low. Only 700,000 people tuned in for the pilot. But its not too late to catch up with "Pose," as the first two episodes remain available for viewing On Demand and at the FX website. We hope you will check out this wonderful new series. Future episodes can be seen Sunday nights on FX.