If you’re not watching FX’s “Pose,” you are truly missing out on something extraordinary.
The Ryan Murphy drama set in 1987 is centered on New York City’s ballroom scene, a safe haven for the Black and Latino LGBTQ community. While voguing and winning categories are definitely part of that world, the show digs deeper, showing us the importance of building one’s chosen family via a home, the devastation transphobia and homophobia cause and the power of living one’s true self in an unaccepting world.
Not only has it been hailed as one of the most anticipated shows of the summer, it also made history as the first to television show to have five transgender women playing leads, all of which are dynamic and the heart and soul of the show.
One of these gems is the ultimate scene-stealer, Angelica Ross (“Her Story” and “Claws”), who plays the no-nonsense, yet vulnerable Candy Abundance (member of the House of Abundance). While early in the season, Candy initially serves as the comic and shade relief, it’s in episode four that we see what’s behind Candy’s tough exterior. She struggles with her own insecurities of not being able to “pass” as a cisgender woman, the desire to have a more “female’ body and the loneliness that comes with that.
Trust: These scenes are powerful to witness.
HelloBeautiful sat down with actress, activist and creator of Trans Tech to talk about the cultural and political importance of “Pose,” why we need to see more Black trans women on the screen and what Black cisgender women can do in order to be better allies to our trans sistas.
HelloBeautiful: Now, this isn’t your first acting job. You’ve worked on “Claws,” “Doubt,” and the Emmy-nominated webseries “Her Story.” How did you get involved with “Pose?”
Angelica Ross: My old agent reached out to me about the show and talked to me about auditioning for the role of Blanca (MJ Rodriguez). So I did, but still felt that I wasn’t necessarily the best person to play an Afro-Latina, but I gave it my best. Later on, they called to tell me that I didn’t get the part, but Ryan Murphy sent a message saying that I was talented and that he hoped to work with me in the future.
A couple of months later, I learned that they created the role Candy for me!
HB: That’s so dope. I really love Candy and all of her layers. I want more of her.
AR: Candy is so funny and witty and reads people a lot, but we see in episode four that there’s so much more underneath all that. She is insecure [because she can’t pass as a cisgender woman in society] and she lashes out as a way to protect herself.
So you think she is tough and ready to fight for whatever the situation, it’s not just because she likes to be that way. We see this as she gets read by Pray Tell (Billy Porter) and has to “learn” to find the category that’s the right fit for her, despite what her body looks like. But what Candy shows us is that she feels sexy and there isn’t one way or definition to be a woman.
Looking back, I didn’t know if I initially intended to create that layer for her, but I realized I was developing this part of her character in communicating who she really is to the world. And you can’t help but to root for Candy, even though she can be a bitch.
HelloBeautiful: Every Sunday night, #PoseFX is trending on Twitter. Fans just can’t stop talking about the show. Did you ever imagine the response would be this like?
AR: No. I had no idea the show was going to be this big!
I’m still getting used to how this is happening. It’s incredible and mind-blowing. But I have to constantly check in with myself like, “You good girl?” [Laughs]
But it’s time. For decades the world has been waiting for a show like this, because the ballroom scene has spread across the world. Finally, we are seeing it on the screen. But I also realize there is so much trans history that hasn’t been told yet. it’s been whitewashed, co-opted or not recorded and while “Pose” is making history right now, that’s just one part of it. There are so many people making this moment happen who are at home that don’t get recognized for all the work they have done to get us all here to be on a show like this.
HB: I won’t lie. When I first heard that Ryan Murphy was doing a show about the ballroom scene, I was a little apprehensive. Not because he’s not talented, but because too many times we’ve seen white creators make so many mistakes telling our stories. But I stand corrected in this case. Not only is one of the creators, Steven Canals, a gay Afro-Latino man from the Bronx, but trans writers such as Janet Mock and Lady J are helping shape the stories as well.
AR: Definitely. How could someone not ask, “Is this gonna be done right? Is this gonna hit the community wrong?” But let me say, Janet has made the world of a difference. It would not be what it is without her. Not only was she in the room writing, she was also in the room challenging certain notions and that matters.
But most importantly, Ryan is enlightened and is in a place that is different from a lot of white people. He wants to be held accountable and cares about saying the wrong thing or not getting something right. He recognizes that just because he is a gay man doesn’t mean he understands everyone else’s experiences with oppression.
He allows himself to be corrected and talked to, which is different from a lot of other people in his position.
HB: Please tell our readers why Black trans representation matters.
AR: It matters because we deserve to be seen. And Black Hollywood, who should be leading this work, for the most part are either ill-equipped or unwilling to tell our stories. But what I know is that our lives and stories matter and they need to be told.
Not only that, but watching our show takes the conversation about the trans community even further than when we only talk about us just in terms of laws [like bathroom bills]. Too often these political conversations, which are very important ones to have, often blur our humanity because when we are talking about rights, so often the response is how trans people are taking away from cis people’s rights, which isn’t the case. But what Pose” does is give America the opportunity to see these characters as the human beings we are.
Just looking at Angel (Indya Moore). I hope people seeing her are asking themselves, “She’s just a young girl, how can I spew hate towards her?”
HB: What are some of the biggest misconceptions that Black folks have about the Black trans community?
AR: One of the biggest misconceptions is this hotep idea that being LGBTQ is ruining the fabric of the Black family because “gayness” didn’t exist before white people introduced it to us through slavery by sodomizing Black men. Look, we’ve been here forever. But religion and the [homophobia and transphobia] that comes with it allows for us to hold on to this hatred and intolerance. It’s time for this to stop.
We keep talking about how Black Lives Matter, so let’s actually mean that and care about all of us.
I also want for people to stop thinking that trans women are “tricking men” and being deceptive about our identity. We are not lying about who we are and these men know exactly who we are because they are out there seeking us. If anyone is being deceptive, it’s these men not being honest about who they are and the fact that they are attracted to us. They are the ones hiding.
But I also want to say that the idea of deception also happens when cis people are not expecting for us to be in “their” spaces. I used to work at the Apple Store and I standing at the front of the store, doing my job. Two men walked past me talking about how I were there trying to trick people. Uh…what? i was like ain’t nobody trying to fool you, I’m trying to make a living. I am just trying to exist.
But see, men need to claim everything in their space without asking. It’s exhausting.
HB: Violence against Black trans women is real and deadly. How often do you feel unsafe?
AR: There are plenty of times that I don’t feel safe and wonder can I give this man my phone number and if I do will I fall victim to his toxic masculinity.
I was recently flying on Delta and was in their Sky Club and this Black man approached me and said, “You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.” It was like being in a rom com, girl. [Laughs]. And like many woman, who wouldn’t enjoy appropriate male attention? I believe that if a man is attracted to women, he is gonna be attracted to trans women too, but does this mean I’m trying to trick you? You approached me, so should I disclose right then? It’s tricky because we know that disclosure in the Black community is dangerous and can lead to us getting killed.
So I’m hyper aware in situations like that because you never know what is going to happen.
HB: Finally, what can cisgender Black women like me do in order to be better allies to our trans sistas?
AR: First, see us as women. And when Black cis women are speaking about women in general conversations, challenge yourselves by saying trans and cis women, even if you didn’t think about it before. So now in that moment, you are being intentional about all the Black women you are talking about it. And by doing that you stop erasing us and can start to see that we have more in common than we are different.
Also, stand up for us and use your platforms to educate other cis women about trans issues and the importance of sisterhood. And finally, please respect our pronouns, because when you don’t, it’s obvious that you don’t see us as human.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Watch Angelica and the cast of Pose on Sunday nights at 9 p.m. ET on FX.