Welcome to the ballroom: ‘POSE’ pushes new boundaries and adds an authenticity to the trans world like you’ve never seen before
Last night, FX debuted its newest show POSE—highlighting the more than 100-year-old ballroom scene in NYC. Following the success of American Horror Story, expectations were riding high for the newest creation from co-creator, director and writer, Ryan Murphy.
POSE would be the first show on a major network to showcase a cast primarily made up of Black and brown queer people—specifically transgender women. The nearly two-hour long debut episode didn’t disappoint as we were ushered into the amazing world of ballroom culture—a space created for those who don’t fit into the constructs of society.
I’ll be honest when I say that many of us in the Black Queer community were nervous about setting our expectations for POSE too high—being the first show of its kind to highlight one of our many beautiful subcultures. We have witnessed time and time again what can happen when your story is told through the lens of a white ally, no matter how great their work is considered. Fortunately, Murphy decided not only to use people from the actual ballroom community as actors, but also involved many of them behind to scenes as writers, consultants, and episode directors.
I was nervous as I started watching the show. There’s something to be said about seeing people you know and love from the Black queer community getting their first shot at something so major. Within the first 10 minutes, I admit that I had this feeling like some of storylines were being rushed, which did concern me. In the first initial scenes we saw museum heist followed by several arrests of those involved. A young man beaten with a belt by his father for being gay—then thrown out the house to only have his mother side with the father. Following swiftly behind is the story of a trans character being given an HIV diagnosis. It was all coming fast and all I could do was hope that it was with reason.
Once I got further into the show, I realize that unpacking so much early on was a great idea because it allowed the rest of the episode to fleshed out properly—taking away from needing suspenseful or jaw dropping moments throughout and allowing the viewer to really connect with the characters. The episode became less about a moment and more about the journey all these characters were taking. A journey that many of us will go along for the ride with—a journey that many of us know personally.
Representation and visibility is hard to come by as Black queer people. Although many of us know the dangers of that being tokenized, we also understand the importance and necessity of seeing ourselves reflected as parts of society because we exist in all parts. What many of us are left with is the trauma. The stories about Black transgender murders, and the violence that our community faces. We never get to see Black queer community in its totality—a glimpse into the beautiful parts and witness the nuance and complexity of what it means to truly be Black and Queer.
I know it’s only one episode in, but POSE does a brilliant job in showcasing this totality. There’s the transwoman who comes to terms with understanding she’s more than just a sexual being and doesn’t deserve to be left in the shadows when the man she’s seeing goes back to his family or is unwilling to stand with her publicly. There’s the Black gay boy who deals with violence from his religious parents because of his queerness, who must then defend himself against the violence that white society uses against him because of his blackness and his journey in finding love and a sense of self by created his own family. Most importantly, all of these stories focus on the idea that despite the oppression there is joy—Black joy—and it is brilliant, witty, fun, and exciting.
Even as we received the news today that the U.S. Supreme Court has sided with advocates of religious freedom by ruling that a Colorado baker can refuse to serve LGBTQ couples, bringing a major blow to the continued fight for marriage equality, I still see POSE has having a larger significance than just another hour long drama for TV. This show is the continuation of the movement that started at the Stonewall Inn, led by several people who were also major parts of the ballroom scene. It is the moment that we get to own, seeing ourselves as fully developed characters on the screen for the first time. We get to share in the narrative because so many of us have lived it and come out on the other side, bruised and beaten, but still here.
POSE is the reminder that despite these oppressions, we are still alive. Striking a “pose” for all to see and letting the world know we too are human. It’s time for us to take the stage.
George M. Johnson is a Black queer journalist and activist located in the NYC area. He has written for TheRoot, ET, HIVequal, TeenVogue, NBC News and several other major publications. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram