An Open Letter to the Cast and Crew of Pose
I’ll spare you my transition story because it’s fucking painful. I do want y’all to cry, but tears of happiness. But here are the important bits: I came out at 13 as a gay male. I lived in Arkansas. From 19-21 I was an activist. I was outed to most of my family by the newspaper. I moved to NYC a year later, in 2012. After 5 years in NYC, I was able to come out to myself as trans, and I have been transitioning for 23 months.
My transition has included a breakdown, losing my job, a few suicide attempts, and a few hospitalizations. This time a year ago I had clinical agoraphobia and selective mutism. All of my friends abandoned me. Except for my trans friends. They were always there.
I’m happy to tell you that after a lot of hard work I’m now happier than I have ever been. More importantly, I believe in myself for the first time ever. I realize that all the people who have believed in me throughout the ages weren’t delusional, I WAS. I was a cynic. Cynicism is the ultimate weapon because it invalidates any act of sincerity. The most painful part of this is knowing that my cynicism is a tool I developed to anesthetize the pain of living in a world that hates me. One that I ended up using on myself, and not on the world. I have come to realize that the deepest pains I have ever felt are the ones I have caused myself. I’m learning to forgive myself for them, and I am starting to shine. I know, now, that the only difference between me and the movers and shakers is that they believe in themselves.
I am choosing to believe in myself.
Pose has helped me make that choice.
For most of my transition, I’ve avoided transition narratives, because let’s be honest—they’re all so painful. But combined with my agoraphobia, I was starved for trans contact. All my life, no matter how I presented my gender, I’ve known I was queer. I’ve wanted nothing more than a queer community. Straight society has always told me that I don’t need that; it’s okay to assimilate. So many of the gays I know have always told me that. They’ve all been white.
I found a community of trans folk, and I found it online. It was tremendously helpful during an incredibly painful part of my life, but I knew it was a substitute. I knew that I lived in one of the few cities where all-queer communities were real, but because I never believed in myself I couldn’t see how a community could believe in me. I worked on this really hard with my therapist, and began consciously spending more time just hanging out in the West Village. Good things started happening to me. I bumped into queers. We didn’t have super meaningful interactions but they were real interactions and that has supercharged me. I haven’t found a community yet but I will persist until I do. I know families of people just like me are real and I won’t stop until I’ve found one.
This month is super important to me, not just because of Stonewall 50, but because I turned 30 9 days ago. I did a lot of hard work to get to this moment, and I feel revitalized. A few days after that initial spark, when I first started to believe in myself, I felt ready for some trans stories. I chose Pose.
You have reinvented my life and I only started watching on Friday.
Just last week I texted my friend “I want to etch stories of trans happiness into the public narrative” AND HERE YOU ARE DOING JUST THAT! Lately I’ve realized that it’s not that these stories have never existed, it’s just that they have never been told to me. They have been told but they were stories I never knew about because I didn’t live in a world where those stories would have crossed paths with my life.
I was sobbing from the first episode. The fact that you shoot in present day NYC and don’t try to fetishize the look of the city during the 80s makes it so much more real to me because it’s the actual backdrop of my life. The scene when Blanca met Damon in Washington Square Park made me sob because I have so many similar experiences. I have slept in Washington Square Park for a few hours when I didn’t have a home and was bouncing between couches and had literally no where else to be. I have slept with men who I didn’t want to sleep with because it meant the difference between a roof over my head or sleeping on a bench. And some of those relationships have grown into real things. Real friendships that last over years.
The last serious thing that I was struggling with was my posture. It has always been TERRIBLE, and I know that’s because I’ve been wanting to hide my body. But my body is fucking beautiful and I love her so much and I want the world to see her. After months spent studying different books and articles on good posture I was in a place that I thought was right, but I knew something felt missing. After watching all of these beautiful trans bodies be portrayed just as they are on Pose I knew what I was missing, and started practicing holding my chest out in front of the mirror.
Oh my god, what confidence I feel. It’s like my whole body locks into place and she’s just ready to take on the world. Indya Moore, you gave me that gift. It was only after imitating you in the mirror and finding my confidence that I looked you up online and saw that you’re also non-binary and also use they/them. I never knew how much it hurt to have no representation until I knew how good it felt to have some. I am never going back.
After watching the first few episodes, I decided to summon up my courage and go to Brooklyn Pride. I bought a trans flag and was dancing with it and having so much fun. At one point, a woman tapped me on the shoulder and said she was with NYC & Co. and she wanted to know if she could take my picture to use in city publicity about World Pride. I was so happy to be seen in that moment and quickly signed a waiver. She saw my email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) and asked what I do because she doesn’t see many custom email addresses. I told her that I was working in tech but had to quit my job to focus on my transition.
I couldn’t hold it in and I started crying and it ended up with me sobbing and telling my story and she was hugging me. I asked her if there was any way that we could tell my story because I never want another person to have to experience all the trauma that I’ve experienced. She promised that she will reach out to me because she has a few projects she wants me to contribute to. Then we took the photos. I channeled Indya Moore because the way they hold themselves gives me hope. I thrust the trans flag above my head and popped my chest out and let myself feel everything. I didn’t wipe the tears from my eyes because they were hard earned. I haven’t heard back yet but I’m not giving up hope that the photos are incredible.
And if it doesn’t work out then I will keep trying, because I have seen my brightness and I shine so brightly that I can’t be ignored forever. I will share my transness again and again and again because it is the best part of me.
I’ve spent a decade studying the AIDS crisis. I know so many stories and I can’t even remember where I first heard them. When I saw Damon’s teacher visiting a student dying of AIDS and dancing in spite of it I burst out sobbing because I knew it was real and I don’t even know how I know these stories. It’s helped me realize that it’s not just an abstract history I’ve been studying. It’s my history.
Something has clicked into place very recently: part of why I suffered for so long is because there was no queer person there to witness me. There was no queer person to witness me because they have all been murdered. Just this weekend I was walking my dog Sylvia (named for Sylvia Rivera because they were both orphans on the streets of NYC and they both have saved my life) with a trans friend, and at one point we were sitting on a park bench and I was just full-body sobbing because I felt the loss of AIDS. I know that any other person would have censured my feelings in that moment, but I was with a trans friend. He knew what I was feeling was real and he just hugged me and let me feel it.
I’ve seen How to Survive a Plague enough times to lose count, but something remarkable happened this morning. I was watching the season 2 premiere and clutching Sylvia and sobbing when all of a sudden I found myself chanting with the protesters on screen: ACT UP. FIGHT BACK. FIGHT AIDS. It’s about having the documentary experience and the narrative experience. It’s making that space real for me. Which is such a gift because that space is the only reason I’m here and able to live the life I live.
I understand now why I have suffered so much. It’s because my entire life I have been kept away from the stories that help me understand my reality.
I will not be silent and I will not give up. I will try again and again and again until I find a megaphone, and when I do, I will etch more stories of trans happiness into the public narrative.
Thank you, Mother Blanca, for giving me that hope.