Pose arrived in 2018. I've never watched anything quite like it. The TV show is glorious in its over-the-top celebration of lives that are far from easy. It's set in the ballroom subculture of New York, which created the 'Vogue' poses later popularised by Madonna's pop song.
There really aren't that many TV shows catering to the transgender and nonbinary community, especially to those who are also people of colour, so I was eager to leap upon Pose and binge watch all the episodes as soon as they arrived on Netflix. It felt intensely familiar, courtesy of my nonbinary status, but it also opened up a new world for me, that of transgender people of colour, at the same time.
It's the Eighties. Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain) has found his way to the city after being thrown out by his parents when they discovered he was gay. The young African American yearns to become a dancer, but right now just finding food and shelter are challenging enough.
Angel (Indya Moore), a transwoman of colour, is a sex worker down at the Piers, which is where she meets Stan Bowes (Evan Peters) and begins a relationship with him. Damon and Angel join the newly formed House of Evangelista created by Blanca (MJ Rodriguez), another transwoman of colour.
Together, they storm the ballroom and win category after category at the regular balls, hosted by the flamboyant but vulnerable gay man of colour Pray Tell (Billy Porter).
Pose was a step forward for the transgender community because it cast transgender actors and actresses in the roles rather than having cis actors playing transgender characters. There were so many vibrant and inspirational characters, all portrayed by transgender actors and actresses.
Rather than being relegated to a single characters whose story was told in terms of their transition, which tends to happen in other TV shows and films, we were shown many, many individuals happy with their identity. They were flawed; they were immensely varied; they were all intensely relatable and resilient. I loved their struggles with each other and with relationships, and I was intensely moved by their battles against HIV and AIDS.
Pose was irrepressibly positive in its life philosophy, but it didn't pull any punches either. When Blanca's mother dies, having never accepted that her daughter was a woman, Blanca is brave enough to go to the funeral and insist that her siblings accept her presence. She dreads the occasion, but finds the strength to go because she is supported by her community.
Again and again, the theme is one of being strong enough to give cis people a chance to accept you, but only being able to do so when surrounded by close friends who understand what it is to be you. The same dynamic was at play in season two after the murder of a transwoman sexworker, Candy, brought her disapproving parents to her funeral. At the service, Candy's grieving mother and father meet with the transgender community and learn more about their daughter's life. Despite intolerable loss, they accept Candy at last for who she was.
The early struggles with HIV and AIDS also lay at the heart of the show. Pose got down into the detail of how hard it was to manage HIV in the earlier days, the pain of loss upon loss as so many transgender and gay people died of the disease.
Despite the gruelling subject matter, and the fact that Pose was always honest about how marginalised trans and gay people are (especially LGBTQIA+ people of colour), it was one of the most positive and empowering shows I have ever seen.
Life is there to be embraced and enjoyed, no matter how painful it can be at times, and Pose tells us that the secret lies in being strong within your own community as well as giving the rest of the world a chance to surprise you in a good way. It can happen.
Thank you so much for reading my review of Pose here at John C Adams Reviews. My next review is for Mysteries on Monday. I'll see you there.
In the meantime, please feel free to share your recommendations for LGBTQIA+ dramas you've enjoyed in the comments section below.
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If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested in reading my review of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson here. Or you might like to take a look at my review of The Peanut Butter Falcon here.
If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin here.