Ryan Murphy’s show Pose is about the real-life ball scene in New York City in the late 1980s. Seemingly inspired by hit documentary Paris Is Burning, the show follows trans women and gay men as they navigate life during the AIDS crisis.
What’s unusual, but incredibly significant, about the show is the fact trans women are playing themselves. Despite Hollywood’s history of using cis male actors to play trans women, five trans actresses star in Pose. Additionally, there are some trans women working behind the scenes writing and producing episodes, including Janet Mock and Our Lady J.
In fact, the fourth episode of the show, which aired on 26 June and written Mock, was the highest-rated episode to date.
I love you all so damn much! Episode 4 of #poseFX was our highest rated episode to date. Please keep telling your friends to watch. Your presence is being counted! YOU will get us that season 2 pickup. pic.twitter.com/CTLHI8ivTO
— Janet Mock (@janetmock) June 26, 2018
The success of Pose comes after many trans actors united last summer in a video urging Hollywood to represent them on screen.
Reactions to Pose
‘I’ve never seen a show before where not just the characters but the actors, are pretty much all trans women, or at least queens of some sort or another,’ Christyn, a 27-year-old trans woman, tells GSN. ‘It’s very empowering to see characters that look like me having dignified roles in a story.’
Christyn recalls the first time she saw a trans character on television. It was an episode of Just Shoot Me where Jenny McCarthy, a cis comedian, played a stereotype of a high-femme trans woman in a ‘gay trap’ plot.
‘It’s no wonder I was so circumspect as a 13-year-old asking questions about people like that, and ultimately repressing how I felt for twelve more years,’ Christyn, who began transitioning two years ago, says.
‘Having trans women write a show about trans women ensures that the experiences represented on the show are authentic, unlike those representations that were common in the 90s and 2000s, so the younger people of today have better characterizations to internalize.’
Other Pose fans, and those in the show, agree with Christyn’s analysis.
This episode was written by Janet Mock. Black Transwomen writing for Black Transwomen. What a time to be alive! 🏳️🌈🏳️🌈🏳️🌈#PoseFX
— Ashley Innes (@Ash_Innes) June 25, 2018
You don’t need to be gay to support #PoseFX.
You don’t need to be trans to support.
You don’t need to be already educated on the subject to support.
You just need to have sense and no hate/prejudice in your heart.
New every Sunday on FX @ 9/8c pic.twitter.com/ADqylwuSmy
— THE CHAMPAGNE GODDESS (@saintdeyves) June 25, 2018
— Angelica Ross (@angelicaross) June 27, 2018
#posefx is so #special… it is a composition of stories all #LGBTQ people can relate to. It will also help those who have prejudices toward the #community understand, #intellectually and #emotionally make #space for LGBTQ people to be #visible, #safe and #loved, especially #TWOC
— IAM (@MooreIndya) June 29, 2018
Coming from a place of privilege
Christyn, however, recognizes her relative privilege compared to many of the characters on Pose.
‘I’m a white, middle class, mostly passing trans woman living in a state with legal protections for gender identity, and working for a company that now provides health insurance coverage [for transition-related care],’ she says. ‘That gives me privilege that a lot of the characters on Pose do not have, and unfortunately, there’s so many of us still today in circumstances like that.’
Speaking to that point, transgender women of color have a high rate of murder in the United States. As of June, there have been 12 known homicides of transgender people this year, most being women of color.
‘I hope that having this kind of authentic representation will help those people, because they’re the ones who need to be lifted up,’ Christyn said.
More than just a show
Pose is actually doing more than just giving transgender people of color honest representation. Back in May, Murphy announced he will be donating 100% of profits from the show to LGBTI charities.
‘We’ve entered this area of television as advocacy, and I’ve seen the difference you can make in people’s lives by showing up for them, caring for them, and helping them in any way that you can,’ he said.