It’s the start of a new decade on the season two premiere of ‘Pose’, and every scene exudes the energy of 1990. And while the episode starts off on an incredibly solemn note, by the end, we’re all feeling hopeful that the tides might be turning for the trans and queer community of color that’s so highly celebrated on this show. Let’s begin:
Hart Island Is Where They Bury Our Dead
While Pose is a show that offers plenty of humor, cattiness, and entertainment, it’s also a show that excels at educating the world at large about the struggles the black and latinx queer and trans community faced in the 80s and 90s (and continues to face today). In this episode, we learn about Hart Island, which has served many purposes over the years but has mainly been a location of mass burials from as far back as 1875. During the AIDS epidemic, thousands of individuals were buried here after losing their battle with the disease. In the episode, Pray Tell and Blanca show up to leave a small grave stone for Keenan (the bartender who became Pray Tell’s boyfriend at the end of last season).
ACT UP Or Get Out
Sandra Bernhard joins the cast of ‘Pose’ this season as Nurse Judy, who cares for the HIV and AIDS-ridden queer community and invites Pray Tell to join her in her activism. When Pray joins her for a meeting of ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, which still exists today), he is filled with new energy to begin fighting for his life and his community.
Pray recruits House of Evangelista to join him at a protest addressing the Catholic Church’s stance against condoms to protect against HIV (which was only making matters worse for the community). The action on the show was another history lesson, modeled after die-ins that the real ACT UP has organized over the past few decades.
The only Evangelista who didn’t show up of course was Elektra, who seems to have gone cold again over the past couple of years since Season 1 took place. When Pray calls her out at one of the balls, he receives the support of everyone there. But things take a turn when Elektra finally gives everyone at the House the finger and leaves to join her old House.
The Category Is: Vogue
After everything Angel went through in the last season, it’s nice to see her finally rising up once more. Blanca forces her off the pier, this time to enter the Fresh Faces Modeling Competition. While she impresses one of the judges, she’s told she needs professional photos. The judge sends her to a photographer and he offers her a deal: she can get her photos for free so long as he allows Angel to photograph her for some images for his own collection. Angel agrees, but the photographer ends up forcing her to pose fully nude—which is something Angel was clearly not ready for or comfortable with.
When she tells Blanca and Papi what happened, the two go straight to his studio, give him a solid beat down, and steal the photos from him. It’s not certain whether there will be repercussions for this, but either way Angel’s feeling a bit safer now. Even better, she ends up making it into the top 10 for the competition.
Throughout this episode, Blanca talks about how Madonna’s use of vogue and ballroom culture in her latest video might finally be the thing to elevate the queer and trans people of color community. It’s a nice thought, but one that Pray is quick to pass on since it hasn’t happened before. Living in 2019, we in the audience know that the moment of ‘Vogue’ in pop culture came and went, with little widespread recognition of the QTPOC people who created it in the first place. While Madonna did hire people from the community to dance alongside her, few outside of the culture likely recognized them or how important this moment was.
Still, better late than never. And today we live in a world where a mainstream network is airing a show that celebrates this community in the most authentic way. We’ve still got a far way to go, but like Blanca, I’m doing my best to stay optimistic.