If, like me, you’ve become a fast devotee of the new Ryan Murphy-helmed series Pose, you’ve no doubt become familiar with the perfectly delivered one-liners of character Candy Abundance (member of the House of Abundance, of course). Episode 4, which aired last Sunday, gave us an opportunity to get to know Candy better as viewers were taken along on her quest for “realness”—in the form of a more prototypically feminine body.
Much to our delight, Angelica Ross, who plays Candy, is as real as they come. The actress, activist and founder of award-winning transgender advocacy and education incubator TransTech Social Enterprises has been leading the charge on fighting discrimination for over a decade. Now, with Pose, she’s enjoying an all-too-rare opportunity to bring more visibility and respect to the trans community, as she told The Glow Up:
It’s really incredible, and it’s long overdue. ... The process of casting through filming [has] been, I think, an experience and rediscovering—both for the inside of our community as well as folks that are on the outside looking in—rediscovering just how much talent is in our community.
It’s so much love to be a part of it, and I think that’s what people feel on the screen. ... It is truly, truly is just unbelievable. I wish that this kind of content was on when I was coming up, but it just feels amazing to be a part of it now.
After seeing Ross in several rounds of auditions during a six-month casting search, Murphy created the role of Candy Abundance for her, adding her to the main cast, which includes five transgender women of color (not including day players and extras)—the first of its kind in television history.
Set in 1987, Pose fictionalizes the lives of some of the most marginalized in our society: gay men and trans women of color. For Ross, who attempted life in a male body and even a stint in the military before stepping into her truth as a trans woman, the show’s themes often hit close to home. Case in point: Episode 4, when Candy, desperate for a curvier physique, procures a (literal) bargain-basement silicone job from a garish character called Ms. Orlando, played by trans activist Cecilia Gentili.
“When they say ‘Cut!’ [Cecilia] and I and Angel [played by Indya Moore] are sitting, having a conversation about how real this scene is, and how [Cecilia], years ago, saw the girls and gave bad advice,” Ross told us. “[She was] just saying to herself, ‘You know, we did the best with what we knew.’”
Ross, who exudes confidence, also admits that even well over a decade into her own transition, she wasn’t immune to the insecurities Candy reveals in episode 4, admitting to us that some of the scenes were actually “triggering” for her:
Being in the hair-and-makeup trailer and looking in the mirror and seeing that [prosthetic] hip on me, the way that they did it, it was exactly what I would want as far as an addition to my body, you know? So it was hard, because I got to see my body as I want to see it actually, minus the bruises and scars. ... It even had me, as a person at this late stage in my transition, thinking, “What can I do to get this work done?”
So it’s hard, and you’ve still got people like Nicki Minaj and Cardi B and K. Michelle, who all also talk about pumping things into their butts, and it’s just interesting to me that what [trans women] did for our survival, they’re now doing to try to keep a man.
Survival is one of the major issues that trans women, and especially trans women of color, are forced to contend with—an unfortunate reality as true today as it was in 1987. If it seems that trans women are suddenly trending, it’s only because of the continued raising of voices within and outside the trans community calling attention to the fact that when it comes to misogyny, patriarchy, sexual assault and toxic masculinity, the issues and dangers that trans and cis women face are far more alike than different.
Ross acknowledges those similarities as well, pointing out that even on the subject of embracing femininity, both trans and cis women have had their femininity used against them.
Back in the day, putting on makeup for trans people was, again, a survival thing. And so, for many of us back in the day, we had to learn how to do “invisible makeup,” where you didn’t want to look like a drag queen walking down the street and get clocked or whatever ...
And then we come into a time when cis women are being painted for the back row like it’s RuPaul’s Drag Race ... and I think it’s a great thing that’s actually happened, because I feel like misogyny did its number on our culture and on women in a way where [it] had us believing we have to wear Hillary Clinton pantsuits in order to play the game—that we can’t perceive our femininity as power.
Ross calls Endeavor CMO Bozoma Saint John—who recently told Vogue, “I’ve always wanted to wear what makes me feel most powerful—her personal style icon. “She’s hashtag goals,” Ross said. “Just a tall, dark drink of hashtag goals. She’s professional, she’s doing her job, but she steps into the office in gold lamé or whatever she feels like stepping in the office in, and it’s inspiring.”
One can interpret the unapologetic and unabashed glamour Saint John favors as her own version of “keeping it real,” and it’s an attitude echoed by Ross. When asked about the concept of “realness”—a consistent theme in Pose and in ballroom culture at large—she’s very clear:
Like Candy says: “I am real.” So, you know, my experience as a trans person is the same in the sense that every fiber of my being lives and breathes this realness—I am as real as they come. But depending on my environment, I experience the rejection of my reality.
The rejection that so many trans people face—specifically when it comes to procuring gainful employment—is what led Ross to create TransTech, a Chicago-based educational hub that enables its members to find community, attend trainings and develop marketable tech skills.
Ross has been leading the movement to demarginalize the trans community but laments that gaining support continues to be a struggle.
The reality is a lot of people talk a game about supporting trans women, but the proof is definitely not in the pudding. ... All these LGBTQ organizations and funding groups and all that, none of them fund TransTech. When you think about white, cis, gay and rich donors, [look to see] which ones of them are on the donor list for trans-led organizations, and you will not find many. ... Time after time, the response I’ve gotten back is, “We don’t get it. We don’t understand or we don’t fund this aspect of the work that you’re doing”—there’s always a loophole.
But Ross forges on, creating opportunities and events to empower her community, like the upcoming TransTech Summit on Oct. 20, 2018, at the Groupon headquarters in Chicago (early registration opens up June 30). Ross tells us it’s her way of creating the kind of support and encouragement so many in the LGBTQIA+ community so desperately need—a type of community and empathy brought to life in the storylines in Pose.
“I know it’s difficult and we’re all trying to find our way, but ultimately, Pose is about not only defining family but helping each other win,” she says. “And that’s what I want people to come away from this [with]: Whether it’s the shade or the feedback or having the love to tell someone and give them feedback or to support someone, all these things that we are doing should be the motivation that I want you to win.”
The Glow Up Tip: You can catch Angelica Ross and the cast of Pose on Sunday nights at 9 p.m. ET on FX.