In the shadow of this supposedly intact world of white New Yorkers, a queer community emerges that, even if it wanted to, does not fit into the bigoted picture. Their skin is too dark, their hair is too fuzzy, their lips are too full; what’s more, their sex does not fit their physical sense of self and their sexual inclination does not fit into the predominant mould.
The extreme exclusion they face engenders a world of its own with its own rules and values. In so-called ballrooms, houses led by mothers compete against each other to win trophies in a variety of performance categories. Ironically, this often involves the representation or exaggeration of social stereotypes in the most accurate way possible. The costumes are varied and extravagant. Every detail fits and underpins the lifestyle portrayed. Yet nothing is as it seems or as it should seem. Men are women, women are men, men want to be women, men want to be like men and are into men. Everyone is everything that he or she is not allowed to be in everyday life. The tension between social rejection and the simultaneous attempt to imitate this very society is of particular interest in all of this. After all, very few people choose to exclude themselves from society or want to be forced to live underground. Social otherness is a burden imposed by the mainstream.
As the story unfolds, it becomes clear how rigorous the visual parameters are in the value cosmos of the ballrooms. Symbols of true femininity are held to be a voluptuous bust, a narrow waist and a large behind. If you don’t have these features, you can forget about even trying to compete in the “Femme Queen Realness” category. From today’s point of view, this creates a vicious circle, since the unambiguous assignment of female and male physical appearance attributes has long been recognised as a factor in the dynamics of discrimination. Nevertheless, “Pose” splendidly manages to address this theme with elegance and yet with poignancy. Blanca, the main character and leading figure of the series, sits herself unabashed down in a gay bar in one episode and is initially asked by the purely male-looking community to leave, and later, when she refuses, is forcibly removed from the premises.
How much society evaluates someone exclusively on the basis of their exterior and how much individuals suffer from this is magnificently depicted in. The series offers insight into a community of outcasts with whom most people will never come in contact in their everyday lives. Access to this world is only sought and found by the people who depend on it. “Pose” raises many important issues. In addition to trans- and homosexuality as well as discrimination, it also engages with other social circumstances and influences of the recent past. For example, the AIDS epidemic, which emerged in the 1980s, is repeatedly touched on – and the victims of this are often vilified as being “justifiably punished by God” by mainstream society even to this day.
“Pose” is emphatic and intelligent, a series that inspires the viewers to broaden their horizon, to question their habits of seeing and thinking, and then to clearly recognise just how privileged their own life may be. Still, “Pose” does not simply raise a moral finger. Artistic expression becomes the catalyst of joie de vivre and the expression of mutual (self-)love, a love that unites all of us, beyond all superficiality. The series has also been rightly praised for consistently casting predominantly transsexual people with mainly African American or Latin American roots.
The message is clear: in the long run, it is not appearance itself that should be changed, but the habits of thinking and seeing that evaluate it. Design can be the mediating discipline in this process, redefining relationships, restructuring thinking and thus emancipating it from pure superficiality. Of course, “Pose” also lives from its staging and is only an idealised representation of the relationships and people whose real fate certainly did not unfold as if in a TV series. Nevertheless, “Pose” opens up spaces and, as with its protagonists, one has to look beneath the shiny surface when judging the series to recognise its intelligence and remarkable topicality.
Creators: Steven Canals, Brad Falchuk, Ryan Murphy
Cast inter alia: Mj Rodriguez as Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista, Dominique Jackson as Elektra Abundance, Billy Porter as Pray Tell, Ryan Jamaal Swain as Damon Richards-Evangelista
First season consisting of eight episodes was released on Netflix at 3 June 2018 (US), 31 January 2019 (DE). The second season was released at 11 June 2019 (US).