Pose actor Ryan Jamaal Swain opened up on enduring homophobic abuse by his stepfather.
Swain, who plays dancer Damon on the show created by Ryan Murphy, recalled always wanting to become an actor.
‘The rest of the cast had left the stage. My mom was saying, “Come on Ryan, leave the stage,”‘ he explained, remembering a tap dance routine when he was only four.
‘People were laughing. But I didn’t care. I was like, ‘This is where I’m supposed to be”. That was the first time I found myself,’ he said in an emotional interview with The Daily Beast.
Pose was his big breakthrough role
Graduated in acting at Howard University, he worked several hospitality gigs, while sleeping on a friend’s couch, waiting for tables to turn.
When his agent presented the possibility of Pose, Swain said he felt ‘bogged down in emotions. This is TV. I don’t know. I’m a theater kid’.
The show features trans and gay black characters living the ballroom culture in NYC in the 80s, during the AIDS crisis.
‘But then I read Pose. It felt tremendously magical. It was one of most brilliant things I had ever read, and I saw myself in it,’ he said.
His stepdad’s homophobic abuse
Like his character Damon, thrown out by his family because of his homosexuality, Swain experienced homophobic abuse while growing up.
When Swain was 12, he would hide his leg and knee pads in the lining of his bed not to go to his football practice.
‘It was becoming excruciating for me to go. Something inside of me was not being fulfilled, and I needed to figure out what that was and how that was,’ he said.
While trying to find himself, Swain ended up doing ballet and tap and going to dance recitals, while also playing football and basketball and ‘doing all the sports any Southern kid does’.
‘I noticed that my stepfather wouldn’t be at my dance recitals, but would be at my football or basketball games. There was a dissonance, and I felt what I was doing was wrong,’ he said.
‘My biological father had left my life at around five or six. This male figure, my stepfather, was supposed to be my god, my knight, my armor. and I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong. As a child, when you don’t have that articulation, the feeling is it’s your fault, rather than something is wrong with the other part of the equation.’
‘Why are you talking like a fag?’
His stepfather would make offensive comments on how he walked and talked, especially if he put on an English accent.
‘Why are you talking like a fag?’ Swain recalled him saying.
‘It was very much homophobic, very hard. A child needs to be told they’re safe, heard, and loved.’
And then the verbal abuse turned into physical abuse. On one occasion, he told his stepfather to stop talking to him in such a derogatory way.
‘We got into an argument. He pushed me. I pushed him back. He pinned me down on the bed. My mom came in and split the whole thing up,’ Swain said.
Swain on the relationship with his parents
Swain’s mother separated from his stepfather when Swain was in college, just when his biological father came back into his life.
The two reconnected and his father ‘is heavily following Pose, and all the articles about me. He read about what my stepfather did, and said how fucked up it was. They haven’t talked about Swain’s homosexuality yet, “but he’s read everything and seen the videos.’
Swain has a great relationship with his mother, ‘one of the craziest, wackiest people in my life’.
‘She has always accepted me. We have always been close. She’ll call me “superstar”, and I say, “Girl, quit calling me that. I’m still your child”. She’s just thrilled for me. She knew I wanted this for a very long time,’ he also said.
‘People shouldn’t need to come out’
Swain identifies as queer and believes there should be no reason why LGBTI people need to come out.
‘As a queer person or LGBTI person, there’s no necessity for you to come out. Straight people don’t have to. It’s not 2005. People don’t have to come out. No announcement is needed. You were born that way. That is you,’ he said.
‘Coming out, the label, is what I have a problem with. I want to reverb and rewire it and remake it to be “inviting-in”, so we invite people into our experience, and into my experience as a queer male.’
He furthermore added: ‘I have never hidden who I am. I hope we get to a time where we don’t have to hide for our own safety. But in “coming out of the closet”, it’s like I have to reveal myself. No. I’ve always been here, now you’re invited into that experience. That’s more powerful, and it comes from a space of unifying different things.’