“Houses are homes to all the little boys and girls who never had one, and they keep coming every day just as sure as the sun rises.” – Pray Tell, 1987
Pose covers an area I didn’t know existed. Where transgender people oversee a house full of their ‘children’. They live together, support each other and ready themselves for balls. Where competitions are held, prizes given, for various categories. Costumes, wigs, poses, dances…with an announcer giving running commentary and judges judging by holding up cards with numbers. It’s set in the late eighties, early nineties at the height of the AIDS crisis, exacerbated by Reagan and by general ignorance and fear of this disease. This is before Rent came out. This is during Madonna’s Vogue period…and I get to learn where she got the inspiration for that song. It’s from the people who run the balls and compete in them. The vogue-ing, so to speak, became a craze that showcased this private world and seemed to promise acceptance and even love for the people others found frightening or laughable.
So, if you have no idea this show is even on, go watch it. It’s entertaining, heart-breaking and a look into the actual history of America during Reagan and Bush. A reminder that we have arrived far from that time and yet need to ensure our progress forward with the LGTBQ community [sorry if I am behind on recent labels being used here] continues. I am not gay, but I can sympathize and want the best for others not like me. My empathy exists yet. It’s rather how I ache for what’s going on at the border with those seeking an end to what’s going on in their own countries. The horrors that made them become refugees. Because I can and do understand why they’d leave.
As I did work in Honduras for a bit. I saw firsthand what it was like there. I watched soldiers with guns bigger than they were guarding the banks. Military presence. Scary ass military presence. I saw how women and children were treated. Badly. Women had no recourse if abused or under threat or raped. None. No shelters, the police would laugh in their faces or deliver them back home to the very men who were beating the shit out of them. Their families, staunch Christians all, would look down on a woman wishing to leave such a situation. Abortion? Yeah, no. Birth control? Eh. I told a father in a teacher meeting that his daughter could be doing a bit better. I said this cavalierly. I expected such a common thing to say would have the consequence of dad going home and making sure his daughter did her homework…and instead, he went home, took off his belt and beat the shit out of this fourth grader. I mean left bruises, welts and cuts kind of beating. Because of some careless words I said.
So yes, I get why people are fleeing Honduras and Guatemala and other places in Central America. San Pedro Sula is the murder capital of the world. Go look that up. I never felt unsafe in China. I traveled around there by myself and felt fine. I never feared I’d get hurt or killed. Honduras scared me. I admit it. Not just the giant bugs, but how flimsy my doors were. If anything happened, I was on my own.
A man known to us teachers followed me home one night, drunk and raving. And I got myself into my house, without being raped. I was shaken. I told what happened to my fellow teachers, and that’s where it ended. He was told to leave me alone, by two of the other teachers, and…no local cops. I’d have been laughed at or worse, told I should have enjoyed the attention.
Pose. Before I jump into my brief time failing utterly in Honduras.
What this show does so well is reveal the humanity of people we’ve been taught to think of as subhuman or demons or laughable clowns. The drag queens. The transgenders. The queers. The gays. The…all the other names here. Yes, the campiness is there, the over the top performances, the volatile personalities rubbing against each other, sometimes literally. But we get to see the vulnerability, the heartache, the losses. We get to see young kids kicked out of their homes and taken in by these mothers who run the various houses. We get to see the every day struggle of being who you are when the world tells you you should be dead or hidden away. The sheer courage it takes to step out of your door each day.
It’s written by people like Janet Mock. It’s written from some other perspective than straight people imagining what this world is like and getting most of it wrong. Women have had to endure centuries of men writing about them as if they were fragile idiots or gold-seeking harpies. Or even that women don’t matter at all in the scheme of things or across the webs of history itself. Women writers were few and far between. And to get published, they also had to follow the formulas. Or write anonymously or under a male non de plume. This is a whole post by itself, of course.
Pose, before I get distracted!
I happened to catch the very first episode of season one last year. It was fantastic. The acting hit it out of the ball park. The storytelling. The shadow over these people called AIDS. The excessive consumerism era that was the late eighties. The community presented who seemed every nationality out there, not just 99% glow in the dark white, 1% ‘other than white’. Representation does matter. It matters and oh boy, does Pose go for it here. They also use transgender actors.
I also enjoy how the second season focuses more on the houses, the mothers and the people in their care, their friendships, fights, relationships in general.
If you’ve not seen this show, go watch it. If you don’t know why the AIDS epidemic was made worse by Reagan, go watch this. Or go look it up. Others have showcased this one, such as the Normal Heart and Angels in America. Pose takes us on the every day, tiny journeys of regular folk who just happen to be gay or ‘other’. Who struggled with how to pay for the expensive drugs. How the doctors and people of this small community would gather the bottles of meds to give out to those who needed them and couldn’t get them…from the bedsides of the dead. The looking out for one another.
On losing your friends to this disease and on watching society around you shrug at these deaths as if ‘those people’ deserved to be forgotten as quickly as possible. It’s such an ugly ugly aspect of America. And gives us a basis for the hatred and fear going on now about, well, those who are different or not straight white Christian males.
Pose is also funny. It’s uplifting, you cheer at the victories of these various characters. You watch actual journeys taking place as people learn from their mistakes and make new mistakes instead of the old mistakes over and over. You watch families form and stay strong together or break apart, but come back together. And you see love in all ways, from romantic to friend to family. The love that doesn’t judge or ask that you be anything but who you actually are. Pose says we all matter. Even those on the outskirts. Those in the shadows. Those wandering about homeless, selling their bodies because their families kicked them out of the house for being different or not what that family could accept or endure under their roof. Those of one gender dressing as another gender. Those who…yeah. All the people who had to and still have to pretend they’re ‘normal’ so they don’t get hurt or murdered for who they are. Or lose a job. Or be denied rights. Or be denied medical care. Or be denied that last visit from someone they love as they lay dying in a hospital.
One of the most gut-wrenching moments of this stellar show was the visit out to Hart Island, to the unmarked graves of those who had succumbed to the infections or maladies let in by HIV. The unclaimed corpses shipped to basically a leper graveyard as society proclaimed such deaths meant nothing at all and were probably deserved. A reminder that if the government had allowed the CDC to look into all this, a lot of people would have been helped and remedies against this discovered that much quicker. They don’t care about us—it’s what you hear a lot on this show.
Another soul-shattering episode showcased the murder and funeral of a main character, who had gone to make money by prostituting herself at a run down motel famous for seedy hook ups. Her battered, dead body is discovered. We get reminded that transgender people are often at risk of being killed. Even here in America. And we also got to see Candy, the one murdered, say her goodbyes to the people she loved and fought with. We got some closure and damn, something so hokey should not have worked as well as it did. Damn.
But Pose showcases why you should care. Why it’s important to care about those in the margins and that, hey, those in the margins are not clowns or there for our amusement or scorn…they are, yeah…people. Pose gets it right so often. Those we’ve been taught are the ‘other’ or too strange to attempt to understand are people. Who love and work and hunger and cry and laugh and do everything people do. And oh my god, do we need to be reminded of that in this goddamn present time.
From Pose, Season One, Episode Four– Fever. Janet Mock, writer
Blanca: You should have heard them talking, like not knowing is an okay thing.
Pray Tell: They’re young.
Blanca: That’s my point. They don’t know shit about shit. It’s my job to teach them. What’s the point in being their mother if I can’t teach them to do to protect them from the one thing we all know is comin’.
Pray: Then tell them to be careful.
Blanca: They’re kids! Most of the grown men we know aren’t careful. They gotta get checked and not just for their sake. They need to know so they don’t hurt nobody else.
Pray: I stopped getting tested.
Pray: After Custus got sick and I saw how the AZT made him sicker. He’s not the first. I know about five people where the drugs killed them before the virus did.
Blanca: You don’t know that.
Pray: I know that Ronald Reagan will not say the word AIDS. Health insurance will not cover any treatment. The world wants us dead. They don’t think this is a plague. They think it’s some sort of divine justice or Darwin’s answer for sodomy.