Op-Ed: ‘Pose’ Shows Us Family is More Than Sharing the Same Blood
Please note: spoilers ahead if you haven’t finished the first season of Pose.
The category is: family. A theme which filled every episode and almost every moment of the hit television series, Pose.
Watching every Sunday night, you couldn’t help but feel attached to the various families displayed on the screen. Whether it was the House of Evangelista led by the kind and morally upright mother, Blanca Evangelista (MJ Rodriguez), or the dramatic yet crass, House of Abundance steered by the no-nonsense and elegant Elektra Abundance (Domonique Jackson) – this show displays that there is no set definition of what a family should look like. Pose shows us that there is a lot more to family than just blood and DNA.
Set in the late 1980s New York, the series emphasized the transgender ballroom scene, adjacent street life and the looming threat of the AIDS epidemic. The initial buzz about the series focused on matters of representation. It is the first American series where much of the core cast is not only transgender, but played by trans actors. This coupled with the behind-the-scenes staff, such as writer-director-producer Janet Mock, helped cement the series’ tone. The result is unlike anything Ryan Murphy, one of the show’s co-creators, has put out before.
Pose did what many shows don’t quite hit the nail on – balancing humor, drama, sad moments and outright expression of raw emotions. The witty comebacks, catty nature and the amount of shade thrown will be enough to fill our personal GIF collections for the rest of 2018. But the true nature of the show is its warmth and affirmation. This is a powerful series about family, both blood and chosen. It’s also about the ways in which the families we choose can replicate the dysfunction of the very situation one hoped to escape from. The characters not only battled with rejection from their own families but how difficult it is to overcome your conditioning and past trauma to become the opposite of the people who hurt you.
This season every character is given their chance to both fall from grace and triumph against their vices. Elektra went from living a posh lifestyle dipped in furs, to sleeping on park benches and dancing at the peep show. Angel let herself become vulnerable to let her “Prince Charming” into her life and heart, only for him to leave her disappointed due to his own confusion and battle with his own sexuality. But the two characters that stood out the most are Pray Tell and Blanca. Pray Tell (Billy Porter), the larger than life emcee, seemed to have it all together emotionally; commentating at the balls, breathing life to the already extravagant displays of beauty, but battling his own sadness as death takes the love of his life. Losing his long-time boyfriend Costas to AIDS and even facing his own diagnosis, Pray Tell still rallied the House of Evangelista (along with his best friend Blanca) to push forward, in spite of the obstacles the world was throwing at them.
One of my favorite moments was during the season finale when Pray Tell went on a date with the bartender, Keenan. Pray Tell, reluctant to date because of his positive status, agreed to go on the date after a push from Blanca and this was a very pivotal moment in his character development. You could feel the apprehension as Pray Tell discloses his status to Keenan, but more importantly, the relief and love after Keenan fully accepts Pray Tell. The stigma attached to HIV is a huge thing that prevents HIV+ persons from feeling like they can live a normal, healthy, romantic life and this display of genuine love and acceptance is crucial in debunking the stigma and myths about people living with HIV and AIDS. HIV doesn’t make anyone less desirable or deserving of love.
Blanca is the heroine that we all dream of. She is consistently kind and ethical, and not because she is working an angle or has a hidden agenda, but because she genuinely sees the best in every person she encounters. This isn’t to say she is a pushover because Blanca has no problem voicing her opinion, no matter if the person is ready to hear it or not and this is what makes her such a great character. When characters are teetering on the edge of doing what’s right, Blanca is there to get them together. Blanca is aware she is not without flaws and doesn’t hold her accomplishments over her children as her former mother, Elektra did. She knows when to make tough choices to protect her family, as when she kicks Lil Papi out for drug dealing, but also when to be comforting and nurturing – when Angel is dealing with the heartbreak from Stan, Blanca is there like any mother would be, to comfort her and help her pick up the pieces.
Pose has been refreshing in every way you can fathom. I have not watched a show in a long time that has made me feel so many emotions as Pose has. Watching this series is an investment and you can’t help but root for the characters. Sometimes I went into episodes thinking something terrible was going to happen; part of this is due to being familiar with Murphy’s other work. I am a huge fan of his American Horror Story series, where your favorite character may or may not make it to the last episode. But I soon realized that this show is not like that. Thanks to Mock, the series was able to be authentic and raw, while still giving hope for the characters and the better ending they deserve.
Pose is a show that not only shows transgender characters but transgender characters of color, living through their trauma and achieving their sense of peace each in their own way. That’s f*cking awesome. Too often black and brown bodies are vehicles of pain and oppression on television only to be subservient to white characters and their happiness. Without the collaborative efforts of Mock and other writers, Pose could’ve completely missed the mark. I’m thankful that it didn’t. Family can be self-created as there are no rules when it comes to finding your home.
Pose is renewed for a second season, so be sure to catch the wonderful cast again on our screens soon.