‘Pose’ is a drama that tells the stories of queer people of color in the late 1980s and 1990s. Set against the backdrop of the ‘ballroom’ scene in NYC, ‘Pose’ follows the life of Blanca (MJ Rodriguez), a Trans Latina who decides to develop a ‘house’ after discovering that she is HIV positive. A house is a chosen family, led by a mother or father who takes in “children” (young adults) who often have been discarded by their biological family because of their gender identity or sexuality. The purpose of the house is to provide a sense of family that gives unconditional love and presence, structure, support, and understanding to those who need it most. The ‘balls’ as Blanca explains in episode 1: “are a gathering of people who are not welcome to gather anywhere else. The celebration of a life that the rest of the world does not deem worthy of a celebration.” Participants up in outfits according to different categories and are judged by a panel; winners receive highly coveted trophies, losers receive the shadiest of ‘reads’ from the host, who is often Pray Tell (Billy Porter) .
However, ‘Pose’ just isn’t good TV, ‘Pose’ is inclusive TV that assists us in understanding the socio-cultural and political dynamics impacting the LGBTQ SGL community. ‘Pose’ has the largest cast of queer actors of color of any scripted production. It also has the largest cast of transgendered actors playing the roles of transgendered people. It shows the unique challenges of being a queer person of color and the devastating impact that race, socioeconomic status, gender, and sexual identity can have when they intersect in the life of an individual and its impact on the community. The choices that one has to make when your freedoms are limited by the bias and power of others; the joy and triumph that come with community and the importance of advocacy are also on full display. Perhaps the most glorious, yet disturbing, thing about ‘Pose’ is that it tells these stories so well, many of the storylines could be happening today. 30 years later and many things have not changed for this community.
According to the 2015 United States Trangender Survey (USTS), the Black transgender population has an unemployment rate twice that of other Black people in the US, are more likely to live in poverty, have a higher rate of sexual assault (over 50%), and have 5 times the rate of HIV than their peers. It is no surprise to any clinician that in the same report we learn that Black transgender individuals are 8X’s more likely to report psychological distress than their peers, yet over 30% report negative experiences when seeking healthcare.
Professionally, what we know is that complex trauma and the impact of psychosocial stressors can create an increased likelihood of mental health and physical health problems. This is why It is so important that there is visibility and voice given to these issues. It is important that as we engage in clinical practice we ensure that we are inclusive in our training to be competent to provide support to different populations in our community. When we are researching , when we are speaking, when we are treating we need to be inclusive of the needs and understand the supportive factors of this population.
As this is forum is Therapy for Black Girls, I want to make a special case for Black Transwomen. As of June 2019, there have been 10 Black trans women killed in the US, that we know of. As a cisgendered woman, I am aware that I live with a certain fear around sexual or physical assault because of someone else’s perception of their power. I can only imagine the heightened sense of fear that persists for a Black trans woman that becomes very real with each murder. This is something that is not talked about, it is not widely investigated and there have been no arrests in any of these cases. We have to be inclusive of our communication to acknowledge Black womanhood in its totality. It is important that when we are considering the needs of the Black woman, we don’t just assume that we need to only be considering the needs of cisgendered women. We need to be intentional about understanding the needs of all Black women and interrogating our own stance and ability to treat and provide support.
‘Pose’ is an important TV. Sure, the storylines are juicy. The acting is phenomenal. The outfits and music hit differently. But ‘Pose’ is important because it reminds us of what is often so easy to forget. There are battles being fought that we don’t get to hear about and there are choices we need to make that ensure that we are doing the work to ensure health and wellness for all in our community.