[Note: The post below contains major spoilers for the July 9 episode of Pose, 'Never Knew Love Like This Before.']
“I have to say, bitch, you do have nerve,” Billy Porter’s Pray Tell says, admonishing a Madonna-decked Candy (Angelica Ross) after a poorly received voguing performance at the top of the fourth episode of Pose Season 2. “You are not a dancer, you are not a voguer, and quite frankly, I’m concerned about your health.”
Pray Tell might weaponize his quips from his perch; the judges might flash fives and zeroes; Candy, on more than one occasion, might pull out a hammer. Still, the ballroom was a safe space, offering through competition refuge from the realities of the HIV crisis, marginalization, and violence against the trans community.
When tragedy strikes, the group’s familial bond proves all the more integral. Candy, after turning to sex work to support her house, is brutally murdered. Her death is the FX series’ most blatant underlining yet of the hate transfolk face outside their chosen family, who have to take the investigation into their own hands and call in favors to arrange a proper funeral—that is, a funeral proper for the hammer-wielding fire starter the group loved to pick on, but loved nonetheless.
As her given and chosen family both say their farewells, a spiritual Candy gets to say her piece. As emotional as each of the final confrontations are, they are true to Candy’s time on earth: full of jabs and near-constant squabbling.
That two-fold dynamic is apparent in Ross’ relationships on set as well. As she chats with reporters during a break from shooting the July 9 episode’s opening ball scene, Porter sits beside her. Ross’ first words about her co-star: “The funny thing is, Billy’s really old.” Porter giggles, and Ross shares how the actor influenced her long before they worked together.
“I was in middle school, and I was doing a production of Grease,” she says. “I remember they thought they were on the edge and being progressive by doing blind casting, so they cast me as Teen Angel. But they had only gotten that idea because they saw someone on Broadway—this Black person in this wild outfit and hair doing this role.”
Of course, that wild outfit and hair belonged to Porter, who appeared in the 1994 Broadway revival of the musical. “I never knew until Billy was talking about that role, and I was like, ‘That was you?” Ross considers watching Porter’s performance kismet, adding, “I became a ham in that role. Billy, you were definitely a signpost on my journey.”
Ross’ said journey as a Black, trans artist has come with a price, but ultimately, authenticity is invaluable. “We have something called ‘pay it.’ It’s that old African Trans proverb,” she says. “It just means, ‘Girl, whatever the price is for that experience, pay it.’
“The life of trans people of color and LGBT people of color may be filled with a lot of dangers or challenges; it may even be lonely. But we have learned to make beautiful out of challenging spaces—out of our lives.”