WARNING: Major spoilers ahead for episode 4 of “Pose:”
While in the hit ballroom drama, Candy has always struggled, especially with choosing the correct category, she’d come a long way. Yes, she is still a mean girl who can read the girls and even threaten folks with that infamous hammer of hers, but she’s evolved a bit. She’s no longer the girl having strangers in basements inject faulty silicon in her rear, nor is she tagging behind former house mother Elektra Abundance Evangelista Wintour (Dominique Jackson) feeding off her scraps.
Ms. Candy—as Pray Tell (Billy Porter) would say—had stepped up to become a co-mother, molding her own children and house, along with doing her damnedest to carve out her own lasting legacy. And as we jumped three years later to 1990 this season, we see how the girls—rather naively and annoyingly—have faith that Madonna’s hit song “Vogue” would bring them all from the shadows of this underground world into the bright lights of the Big Apple.
As Candy said, she needed to the first one in the line of that mainstream gaze, because she has bigger dreams than winning trophies in the face category. She was destined to become a star in the outside world.
She was looking to the future.
Of course, we all wanted that for her, to see her rise and be successful like Angel (Indya Moore), but in the fourth episode “Never Knew Love Like This Before,” we realize that Candy “is never coming home.”
Days after she’d gone missing, her bruised and bloody body was found, thrown in a seedy hotel closet like yesterday’s trash. See, Candy had to engage in survival sex work to keep her house afloat, but this time around, the danger too many vulnerable women like her face is what ended her life.
Granted, it’s not like death is new to Pose. But the majority of those deaths have been from complications of AIDS, mostly taking the lives of Black and Latinx men. Meanwhile, many of the girls (outside of Blanca) seemed unscathed by the virus on-screen. But as Angelica Ross recently told me this season co-creator Ryan Murphy was clear that this season they would no longer be viewing these women’s world through “rose colored glasses.”
But thankfully, her death wasn’t treated like an afterthought like Tara from True Blood or with blatant disregard like Missandei on Game of Thrones). As I recently pointed out for Shondaland, Candy’s storyline was treated with “the love, dignity and respect it deserved.”
During Candy’s memorial, her fierce-as-ever ghost appeared in order to make amends with frenemies like Pray Tell, encourage Angel to carry on her torch to the next generation of trans girls like her and to reunite with her estranged parents who had refused to see their son as the woman she was born to be.
Most importantly, Candy was no longer the butt of the ball’s jokes. In her final scene, she was able to fulfill her biggest goal before crossing over: To be the queen of the ballroom in a category she knew she could conquer, lip-syncing.
But it’s important to point out that this stunning (and triggering moment) in television was also an example of art imitating life. In the iconic 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning, which Pose is heavily inspired by, Venus Xtravaganza’ promising life was ended short when her body was found in a “sleazy motel” four days after she’d been strangled.
Like Candy, her killer was never caught.
One would think that with time comes progress, but for trans women, specifically Black and Latinx trans women like Candy and Venus, that isn’t always the case. Yes, they are more visible in pop culture, but being seen doesn’t translate into safety. Just this year alone, eleven Black trans women in the U.S. have been murdered:
Michelle “Tamika” Washington.
What’s even worse is that it’s estimated that the average lifespan for trans women is only 35-years-old.
Think if that were the case for cisgender Black women. Think if every year you inch closer to 35, you inch closer to death. Every time you blow out your birthday candles you are reminded of ALL the years, happiness and dreams that will be robbed from you because you are brave enough to live your truth.
That’s the real tragedy. All that potential, just lost. All of the gifts they can offer and receive from this world, gone.
This is exactly what Candy’s fictional death represents—the dreams deferred of the real-life Black trans women we’ve lost and will continue to lose to this senseless, transphobic and crippling violence.
Sadly, it’s happening on our watch.
So if there was ever a time to stand up for Black trans women, it’s now. Now is the time to love and support our sisters by fighting for a better and more welcoming world that allows for them to live their fullest and longest lives. We owe them that.
Most importantly, now is the time to ensure that when we say the names of the Candys of this world, we’re not just doing it in death, but celebrating them in life.