I don’t know if I’ve ever been this moved by a television show. Pose on FX has been giving me all my life and so we must discuss.
I’ve always been a fan of historical fiction in literature and film. When people think about history, the tendency is to think of a time decades ago – as if history were something that exists in the distant past. But I think there is value in looking back at the last 50 years of American history – particularly from the perspective of people of color – because truthfully, a lot of laws were passed, policies enforced, and precedents set that have tremendous bearing on the world we know today.
Not only does Pose tackle some heavy subject matter, it is also extremely entertaining. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll snap your fingers and scream “yaaaasss” at the TV screen.
First, the ballroom culture as a queer poc from the South is something that was completely lost on me up until maybe a good year ago. I had seen Paris is Burning in high school but that was the extent of my exposure to the scene. It was something still very much outside of my immediate experience.
This summer, since I’ve been in D.C., though, I have had the pleasure of experiencing my first ball and even befriending the truly amazing young queer people who organized that particular ball and who also have their own house. While something still foreign to me, they welcomed me with open arms and I, them.
But I digress…
Pose really brings the ballroom scene to life in a way that’s never been seen on television. Quiet as its kept, ballroom culture has produced and is responsible for a lot of the vernacular being used in today’s pop culture. All the “yaaassss-s” and the “hunty-s” and the “tea-s” and the “shade” – all this vernacular comes from the ballroom world. And if we’re really being real, it’s a slap in the face to the culture that they don’t get that credit. But we all know how the mainstream (i.e. wyt pepo) likes to appropriate otherness and make it trendy without paying homage.
The more you know… right?
The HIV epidemic of the 80s and 90s, though not central to the story, is a huge part of Pose’s narrative. Each of the main characters encounters the virus in some way – whether directly or indirectly – and motivates a lot of the action of the story.
Pray Tell’s experience of the disease is not Blanca’s experience. Blanca’s experience is not Damon’s. Damon’s experience is not Ms. Rogers’. But everybody encounters the crisis in a unique way and what Pose offers us on this front is a human understanding of something that many folks only know empirically/historically.
LGBTQ+(emphasis on the T) Experience
The experience of being trans in one that is foreign to most folks (including myself), but the writers and show-runners (Hail Janet Mock) do an amazing job in giving us characters with lives that though very different from what we know in our immediate experience. The audience is really able to empathize with and embrace these characters.
What Pose really exposes to its audience is that though things have changed since the 80s, they have also (tragically) stayed the same. Little queer boys and girls are still being loosed of house and home on the basis of their caregiver’s intolerance. Trans people -particularly trans women – are still being harassed and in worst case scenarios killed for simply trying to exist as the people they are. And while HIV/AIDS is no longer an epidemic, the stigma of the era chronicled in the show still carries into modern times and casts a dark shadow of mystery and uncertainty on living a healthy life as a person who doesn’t subscribe to heteronormative sexual practice.
I’m not done talking about Pose on here. The next post is going to take a deep dive into the actual story of the show and the characters that make it so amazing. If you haven’t gotten into it, I highly recommend you do so. Not only is Pose tackling some real shit, it’s also a damn good time.