In my Covid-19 related down time, I have had ample time to bin—err, catch up on all my Netflix jams. If I had to choose the most engaging, heart wrenching, impactful TV drama, it would have to be Pose, hands down.
Pose depicts the impact of AIDS on the trans community and Ballroom culture, gatherings in which trans and queer people celebrated and encouraged one another in their difference. Through the interrelated storylines, we get a peek into the lives of a people and a culture that was forced to exist underground amongst the shadows. Not only did this story make me laugh out loud, cringe in fear and bring me to my knees in tears, Pose is highly acclaimed as one of the first to feature trans actors, earning numerous Golden Globe and Emmy Awards.
In my humble opinion, there are 3 reasons why EVERYONE should watch Pose.
1. To deepen your understanding of culture
As Americans, it’s easy to take culture for granted. Maybe this could be due to the intent of our forefathers to create a “melting pot” in which all citizens merge into one society, but I don’t really know. In theory, this intent echoes the highly touted “utopian” society heralded by the great thinkers of the world. But, as with all theories, these ideas are just that: an expression of the possibilities. Theories must be tested to determine their viability if they even have a chance at ever being real.
Watching Pose brought to my awareness yet another marginalized community that rejects the standard American identity to embrace their own experience of themselves. For some, this identity is easy to accept due to privilege, upbringing and cultural support. But for many of us, this ideal will always exist beyond our reach simply because we’ll never fit the ideal.
As a double minority in America, I feel it’s easy to shrug off the angry black woman who “just needs to get over it”, but when other communities begin to speak out on the very same issues, it challenges us to question the importance of culture and what it means to belong, both collectively and personally.
In Pose, we witness the fact that our trans and queer community had to create their own culture because society would not accept them as they are/were; a story that resonates with my life experience and that of my ancestors. While it may be difficult to comprehend for the majority, these stories are a part of American history that deserve to be considered and included as a cultural reality.
2. To witness the challenges that marginalized groups experience in seeking societal acceptance
Because I grew up listening to Madonna and loved Vogue (both the song and the dance form), Pose not only revealed the roots of this art form but also the context from which it was born.
Ballroom culture was created from community gatherings developed to ensure that trans and queer folk were able to “pass” in society. Through competitions between various Houses, or families, contestants fought to see who had the most grace, most butch—skills that ensured community members would be safe in society. Vogueing, made popular by Madonna, is a byproduct of these ballroom competitions.
While these scenes were fun and celebratory, most often I found myself saddened by watching them.
As a black woman, I am always creating awareness around what it means to be black in America. Most of my life is dedicated to this. But I will never know what it’s like to have to “come out” from a racial perspective: My skin color is apparent to anyone with eyes. Thanks to those who walked before me, there are even some policies that deter racial discrimination.
Pose made me very conscious of the fact that there are other forms of discrimination that plague our country. Our trans and queer people CHOOSE to self identify in the face of discrimination simply to be free. They could just conform to social standards and be safe, employed, loved—accepted. But they choose to risk it all.
This show made me question the limits of the “melting pot” our country projects as a social objective from a completely different perspective.
3. To witness the importance of community
The greatest take away from watching Season 1 and Season 2 of Pose is the necessity of celebrating the life you have been given regardless of the cost. Despite abuse, violence, rejection, abandonment, and the onslaught of AIDS, the LGBTQ community continues to share the joy of life and self expression as a birthright.
In Pose, the characters loved each other enough to both check each other against giving up their dreams, as well as support one another through the challenges they faced. The Houses of Ballroom culture served to provide the family dynamic that many trans and queer folk lost in choosing to live as themselves. The mothers of each House took pride in each of their children, nurturing them to appreciate and love themselves, even providing homes for those displaced within their communities.
Pose taught me the importance of love and family in community and the great need to belong, no matter race, gender, sexual preference or identity… a fact that ALL of us can benefit from remembering. The fight for freedom and equity extends far beyond race.