First order of business: please watch this fucking show. I really don’t have enough good words for it.
You may be familiar with the 80’s Harlem ball scene from the documentary “Paris Is Burning.” Well, “Pose” shines the light a little bit deeper by fictionalizing. “Pose” isn’t just about ball culture or the AIDS crisis or the trans Women of Color, but also on the power of chosen family, love and the dedication it takes to live the life you want.
Buuuuuuuut, if you really can’t find the time to watch it…
I’ve conveniently distilled a few nuggets (five, exactly, because listicles) of wisdom for you to digest, right here.
Now these lessons didn’t just come from watching a TV show. They come first and foremost from the community that show works hard to portray.
And the seeds only took root by virtue of all the soil preparation given to me by being minimally involved in ball culture when I can(different as it may be today), and my own queer community.
Reflecting on all this, I feel how far I have, my community has, to go. How much potential we have to flourish, but also where our hesitance and problems lie.
See, 1980’s NYC, where ‘Pose’ is set, was not a easy place to be out & gay, to put it mildly. Especially if you were Black or Latinx. The looming omnipresence of the AIDS epidemic, the constant harassment & dismissal from everyone in power, the ignorant attitude and outright propaganda about queer people, the targeted misogynoir trans women of color faced nearly constituted a genocide. Technically, it did (and that genocide is ongoing – just look at the news).
Not many people survived, and everyone lived on the edge. That intensity gave them all a mentality of- as Pray Tell’s partner Costas described it – “grab life by the balls.” If oppression can gift anything, it’s realness. Closeness. When you don’t know how long you have to live, emotional distance makes no sense.
That’s not to fetishize the struggle & death of the people whose lives this show is based on, as Stan recurringly did in the show. You can’t absolve yourself of inauthenticity by worshipping the “realness” of marginalized people whose communities you don’t belong to.
Today LGTBQ folks are so incredibly lucky to have access to social programs, to have medicine for HIV – although many in poverty still don’t – to have media attention & legal protections in some places & shows being written for us…a lot has changed for the better.
However visibility isn’t a wholesale good. With it come challenges. Danger, even, for the most marginalized. Besides conservative backlash propaganda & violence, we run a real risk of leaving the vulnerable among us behind as we struggle to balance authenticity and safety under the approving eye of power.
As our communities are normalized, temptation arises, especially for white cis gays, to give up the struggle and assimilate into the very stiff, dead-eyed white suburban culture that once cast us out.
That’s part of why I think Pose is such an important show. Not only does it employ real trans women to play trans women, it offers lessons for queers of today that can help us reconnect to our roots.
So without further ado… the category is: Things I Learned from Watching Poooooooooossssse!!!!!
1. Family matters.
Family matters. It’s easy for us queers to get sour on family, especially when we are isolated & trying to make it on our own…but family is nothing more than a rich, unwavering commitment to love.
Family is community. Family is fucked up sometimes. With family, there will be drama. There will be bullshit. But you know its real if at the end of the day, they’ve got your back. If you just walk away from everyone who is problematic or make you uncomfortable, you’re not going to find that love. Obviously that doesn’t mean put up with abuse.
But conflict isn’t abuse. In fact, it is a catalyst for growth, step past stagnancy into deeper waters of relationship. Conflict stirs up what’s been hiding at the bottom of the pond, for better or for worse. If you never get into it with your loved ones, beware of being committed to a false harmony more than you’re committed to loving each other no matter what.
2. Love is TOUGH sometimes.
Because the world is tough.
If you don’t put in the work why do you expect to reap the reward? You can’t live what you dream without discipline. You want it? Go get it. Drop the excuses. Especially if you come from privilege, but even if you don’t.
So long as your dreams are coming from the right place – your heart – fear is useless. Alchemize that shit into MOTIVATION.
Nobody’s gonna live your life for you.
Now I’m of the opinion the neoliberal, fiercely individualistic culture of Reagan-era New York isn’t exactly healthy. For many of us millenials, even hearing “no excuses” can be triggering: conservatives misuse this truth as a weapon, blaming people for their suffering and taking attention away from oppressive systems by pointing every finger at the individual.
Yet it is possible to hold two truths at one: that you are not to blame for your suffering, but you are responsible for your own life.
3.White ‘gay’ culture is just the repackaged joy of queer Black & Latinx folks
White queers: if we’re going to appreciate and not appropriate our ‘own’ culture – y’all better be giving BIPOC so much fucking gratitude (and honestly? money, if you have it). Most of what we do to ‘act gay’ or express ourselves is directly rooted in the expressions of Black & Latinx people. RuPaul may have commodified it and sold it to you, but that doesn’t mean it belongs to you. Or me.
Respect the terms. Respect your elders. Learn your history.
And if you’re invited in, don’t act like you own the place. Don’t take culture, commodify, and profit from it.
That entitlement is internalized white supremacy, we all deal with it. Just make life a little easier on POC and don’t make it their problem.
If you want to dive deeper into confronting that shit, check out educational resources by WOC, like Layla Saad’s “Me & White Supremacy” workbook.
4. Elders deserve respect.
Speaking of elders: if you’re a typical millenial like me, you may have been disappointed by older people in your life. I sure as hell don’t know many older folks who have lived their dreams, given life their all, or left a legacy of love. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
Pose says: draw your boundaries, yes, BUT writing off your elders, problematic as they may be, doesn’t make sense. Find people you can respect, but also remember the value of compassion.
If your blood family can’t reconcile – and reconciliation IS a two way street, since many parents weren’t equipped to raise the children they were given – you have family out there. You have ancestors, even if they’re not your direct bloodline. They matter, because without them, you have no foundation.
One of the greatest robberies AIDS took from the LGBTQ+ community was stealing our elders. The knowledge they gained from living hard lives was priceless, and much of it was lost with their untimely deaths.
Don’t disrespect their memories or legacies by playing along with the narrative transgender people were just now invented by Tumblr keyboard warriors. Or that everything is fine now that Wells Fargo will hire white gays while it simultaneously pledges money to fund pipelines poisoning Native land.
5. Nobody can save you from your life.
Whatever lot you’ve been given, embrace it.
If you can’t bear your daily reality, make what changes you can.
Of course you don’t have do everything alone – actually, you can’t. Trust, community, support are absolutely crucial for survival.
But don’t trust anyone who’s trying to rescue you by taking you away from your truest path. It may feel good at first, but repressing your honesty will gnaw away at anything you have.
Well, that’s about it. Thank you for reading!
Take what medicine you need, then go out, and live, work, love. POSE.
Until next time,
Kal / Dandy Phantasm