Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming People Get Real About the "Tragic Trope" Pose Shatters
I remember my family watching episodes of The Maury Povich Show's "Guess If You Can. . . Man or Woman" when I was a little kid, where transgender women were the butt of jokes. Audience members would yell "That's a man!" — among other homophobic and transphobic slurs — and although I didn't have the language to understand my gender identity as a child, it still played a role in repressing who I was. Growing up, the only visibility I witnessed being given to the transgender community was that of exploitation and transphobia.
I am a 25-year-old black transgender woman, and it wasn't so long ago that I finally came out as the woman that I am today. It's easy to get wrapped up in the daily and basic tasks of trying to survive as a trans woman in a world that is eager to erase our existence by any means necessary. That's why, for me and many other transgender and gender nonconforming people, Ryan Murphy's FX series Pose, which was just picked up for a second season, is a refreshing reminder of just how far visibility has come within my community — and an example of its continued progress.
Pose has already broken historic barriers for the transgender community by featuring the largest cast of transgender actors in television. In addition, the show featured the debut of the first transgender woman of color director when Janet Mock took over behind the camera with the sixth episode of the season, "Love Is the Message."
But perhaps the most critical reason this show is so vital isn't because of its history-making accomplishments, but simply because it provides the transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) community with a first-of-its-kind television show made specifically for us.
Watching Pose affirms my complex identity being at the intersection of both racism and transphobia — the place where transmisogynoir exists. Every time I see Blanca, Elektra, Angel, Candy, and all of the trans women of color who make that show what it is, I get a reminder that I am truly capable of doing anything.
By now, we all know how homicide, suicide, and workforce discrimination impact transgender women at staggering rates, specifically transgender women of color; often, representation and visibility for us focuses more on our pain than our liberation, and these are the only stories that we hear.
Shar Jossell, a 30-year-old entertainment reporter and transgender woman of color, calls it the "tragic trope." She explains how Pose is helping to change that perspective and offer an antidote to the dangerous cliche.
"When I think of Pose, I think of the adage, 'I am not my sister's keeper. I am my sister,'" Jossell tells me. "Pose is a show that I so desperately wish I had as a resource in adolescence. For me, this show reiterates the fact that, although we [trans women] as a whole have varying experiences, stories, and backgrounds, there is a common universal thread within our community. It doesn't matter if it's the late 1980s or 2018. Watching these stories unfold over the past few weeks has resonated with me in ways that no other visual content has before."
Beyond the scope of just being a TV series, it's important that we focus on the various ways Pose is helping to shape the culture around an intersectional LGBTQ+ community. Not only does Pose celebrate our moments of joy, but it also tackles subjects such as HIV/AIDS, providing a more sound and nuanced perspective on the epidemic that was prevalent during the 1980s.
For every viewer who tunes into the show, Pose provides an opportunity for another person to know a transgender person. And the more cisgender people learn and understand about the transgender community, the less likely they are to discriminate and the more likely they are to become allies in helping us create a better future.
"This show is changing lives and saving hopes — including mine," says Vanessa Clark, a trans woman from New Jersey. "I never thought I'd see the day when a show of its kind wasn't only mainstream and national, but that it would so truthfully reflect the trans experience as many of us see and live it."
"It's so humbling and touching that for the first time on TV, I'm seeing myself reflected back in its trans characters," Clark adds. "At last, my dating experiences are coming to life on a screen for so many people to see and learn from, and the characters are as vulnerable as I can be when it comes to my body image and self-esteem in this ever-so-judgmental and critical world."
Clark's evaluation reminds me of episode five, titled "Mother's Day." We see Blanca being forced to reconnect with her estranged family after the death of her mother. In one scene, Blanca tells her former house mother, the cunning and flamboyant Elektra, "It's not that I give a f*ck about what people think, but I do want to be seen and respected as a woman. That's who I see myself to be."
So many of us desire what Blanca was yearning for in that scene: wanting to be seen as who we are without restraint and to have the ability to live our truths out loud.
Brezaja Hutcheson, a 20-year-old nonbinary VCU School of the Arts student, says Pose has inspired them to "live unapologetically."
"After watching each character's story unfold week after week, I can say that I identify with their struggles of living in a world where they are seen as 'other' and the obstacles that they must overcome to survive," they note. "However, watching them become stronger and more confident in who they are due to this adversity has inspired me to walk with confidence when I tell people how I identify and to let others know that I am valid. "
Hutcheson also says the series has inspired them to create more accessible media for the queer community — especially trans and gender nonconforming folks. "The happy as well as heart-wrenching storylines written for the show have helped me think about the queer community on a larger scale," Hutcheson says. "I know that there are many, many more stories that can and need to be told. Watching the cast portray the lives of our elders lets me know that we were always here, and we will continue to live and prosper as a community. Pose is written by us, for us, and it is time for the world to know that we are proud to live as our true selves."
Summer Johnson, an 18-year-old trans student at the University of Southern Mississippi, saysPose couldn't have come at a better time: during her early transition.
"I feel represented in a way that I never have before. Watching them become fully rounded and fleshed-out characters, I feel as if I am on the screen, feeling the highs of joy and a loving environment and the lows of the rejection and shame," Johnson says. "Pose has given me a sense of reassurance that a trans woman like me has a place in the world and that we are loved."
With the season finale of Pose airing on Sunday, July 22, Johnson credits the show's run this Summer with helping her spark her own path to self-discovery.
"Every week, sitting down with the House of Evangelista makes me feel like one of the girls for once just kiki'ing and enjoying myself," she says. "This sparked the progression of my transition toward my true self. Without Pose, I don't know where I'd be on that journey."