With the holiday season approaching, the anxiety of interacting with family members is a concern for many LGBTQ+ people. The anxiety comes from a complex interaction between family members, ranging from rejection, microaggressions, dismissive attitudes, or a combination of the three. I find the discussion vital for the LGBTQ+ community, especially because it is usually the most vulnerable and marginalized who are expected to confront the ignorance of their family members, not only to educate family members on acceptance, but mainly because LGBTQ+ people are constantly asked to prove their humanity.
In my following discussion of FX’s Pose, written and directed by Steven Canals, Ryan Murphy, and Brad Falchuk, the definition of family is subverted, and the dynamic between family members is illustrated from different perspectives. The perception of family is analyzed through the main character Blanca (MJ Rodriguez), and her relationship with her birth mother and family, and her non-traditional family. To clarify, Blanca’s non-traditional family is the family she is at one point adopted into, and then later the family she constructs for herself. In Pose, the alternative family modifies itself into a “house.” A “house” is a chosen-family, where people can live and express themselves in, find mutual respect, while supporting one another through an assortment of means. Furthermore, in the New York ball scene, the tradition of a “house” is to perform at a ball, which is the dance culture for mainly Black and Latinx queer and trans people.
In the “Pilot” episode of Pose, the definition of family is unpacked and explored, revealing a far more meaningful unity between people who share experiences, rather than sharing kinship. After Blanca takes Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain) and Angel (Indya Moore) into her house, and perform their first ball, and ultimately lose against the House of Abundance, the audience watches the trio sulk in their loss outside the ball. Lil Papi (Angel Bismark Curiel) approaches the trio, asking if he can join Blanca’s House of Evangelista. In the moment, Blanca doesn’t quite understand the importance of Lil Papi asking to join her house, seeing as she lost the dance battle and her house’s chance for glory, yet Pray Tell (Billy Porter) reminds her the importance of building a house: “You want a reason to keep going on after tonight? There it go right there. Houses are homes for all the little boys and girls who never had one.” Pose highlights the importance of building familial bonds within queer and trans communities, showing the significance of creating alternative families when birth families reject their queer and trans children. While a house appears as a performance group within the ball scene, Pose truly captures the purpose of a house, which transcends the dance floor, and showcases queer and trans individuals in a communal setting, who reciprocate from one another.
Moreover, family is a facet of identity, and so, recreating a particular piece of an individual’s identity is necessary for the individual to feel fulfillment. The familial dynamic and theme is recurring in Pose, reminding viewers, particularly LGBTQ+ viewers, the importance of family, but family in the terms of a healthy affiliation, where support is reciprocated, like in Blanca’s House of Evangelista, which again, surpasses the ball scene.
In Pose’s “Mother’s Day” episode, Blanca’s trauma from her family’s rejection is the central focus of the episode, revealing Blanca’s desire to be in a space of love and acceptance. After Blanca receives news of her mother’s death, she begins to work on overcoming the anxiety and fear of needing to visit her birth family, who she knows will reject her for her trans identity. Before Blanca visits her birth family, she visits Elektra (Dominque Jackson) in the hospital, who Blanca considers her adoptive mother. In the scene, Elektra is lying in a hospital bed, post-op, unexpectedly alone. The hospital scene is made up of medium-shots and close-ups, capturing a range of emotion between the two women. As the two discuss their past, under the bitter tones, Blanca seeks to establish a basis for forgiveness and respect between herself and Elektra:
I’m here because in my life I’ve had two mothers: the one that brought me into this world and you. The first one, the first one, died just this week. Before she could forgive me. Before I could forgive her. You and I, we’ve got our problems. Enough water under the bridge to drown this whole city. And, the world may have destroyed the version of you, who saved me that night outside the ball, and took me under her wing, but you’re the only mother I have left. You may be a terrible mother, but that don’t mean I can’t be the loving daughter I want to be.
Blanca, in her vulnerable state, is the one who begins the conversation between Elektra and herself, demonstrating the offset in power dynamics, where the one with less authority takes more responsibility in the interaction. Considering the outcome, Pose demonstrates the ability to move on from the past, the trauma, and the difficulties in interacting with certain family members. Although Blanca takes the first step in mending the relation with Elektra, and later her sister, Blanca does not force their acceptance, but waits, focusing her devotion to her new family: her house, House of Evangelista.
Pose displays the intricacies in dealing with family members who reject a person’s entire humanity for their sexuality and gender expression. I find Blanca’s actions to be well-intended, seeing as she works to mend relationships she desires to see fixed, yet knows where to place her energy and labor. Blanca’s characterization reminds viewers of the importance of mutuality in the relationships between familial dynamics, whether it be from an individual’s birth family or alternative family. Most importantly, Pose reminds LGBTQ+ people to invest their energy and affection for people who return their love and see an individual for their humanity. Pose expresses a reality for people in the LGBTQ+ community, offering a realistic, proper alternative.
— Miguel Soto, Associate Editor