Category is: Live! Work! Pose!—Pray Tell
The second episode of Pose focused on work: the care work of being the mother of a house; the political work of challenging transphobic, misogynist, gay white publics; the have-to-eat work performed by Blanca in a nail salon and Angel in a peep shop; the freedom work of expanding trans* geographies that Blanca takes on, trying to move beyond the (relative) safety of balls.
Because Samuel Delany’s Time Square Red, Time Square Blue is one of my bibles, and because my pal Christina Hanhardt wrote a book about safe spaces, I was thinking about space as I watched this episode: the space of the pier, the space of the white gay bar, the open space of sex work, the peep show as a contained space of sex work, the space of prison. I’m interested in how containment is working in the show: the doors, the rooms, the windows, the frames, the ball, the house, the prison, the clinic (in the first episode, but it haunts all the rest). About gender and gendering as space-making, space-reducing, public-making, containment-making.
But also about spectrality. Angel (Indya Moore) says, “They don’t see us as real.” Many years ago, I wondered about what it meant to be experienced as not real, what it meant to be experienced not simply as deviant or aberrant, but as, somehow, spectral, and how spectrality could be a way of no-life, an impossible living.
In the peep show, contained behind glass, protected and encased, Angel can be fantasy for those who encounter her. 1987 is before the (relative) safety of live sex cams. For Angel, the peep show is a space of (relative) safety. She says as much: “It’s safe behind the glass.” It’s impossible not to think of maidens encased in glass coffins—even as I wonder who needs that fantasy. I wonder what it means to be the object of a (dangerous) fantasy or even (dangerous) obsession. All this, even as Angel refuses to be spectral: “I make $150 a night,” she says. To leave that, she asks for an apartment, a lease for a year, all bills paid. Fantasies cost. Perhaps. But there’s something else here, something about how Angel plots materiality. (The idea is still emergent—perhaps I will realize it later.)
I think it’s difficult, if not impossible, to disentangle misogyny, white supremacy, and transphobia. I continue to believe that any anti-homophobic thinking and acting that does not root itself in feminism is not only deeply impoverished, but, honestly, rubbish.
In 2018—to use a framing young(er) people like—it is not difficult to believe that the “hottest” gay bar in 1987 catered to white gay men under 35. Nor is it difficult to believe that it was transphobic. Or that it called the cops to arrest Blanca. (I have no real words to express my rage when patrons at the bar applaud—APPLAUD—as Blanca is being arrested.) It is not difficult to believe because in 2017 and 2018, cops are still being weaponized by white gays and lesbians against queer and trans* people of color. (See Toronto Pride, for instance.) And, I’m very willing to speculate that the “hottest” gay clubs in major cities in North America are still built to cater to gay white men under 35.
(*cough* Queer as Folk)
Because care is the antidote to violence (Hartman on Sharpe), I want to end this musing on Blanca mothering Damon. About the love-sex talk she has that so many of us didn’t and, I suspect, still don’t. Not simply, there’s a virus killing us, but, also, let your hunger and desire mean something. I would prefer not to monumentalize sex. I would like, especially, not to monumentalize “the first time.” I want space for it to be mediocre and unmemorable and mindblowing and earthshattering and clumsy and messy. But, above all, chosen.
When Blanca hands Damon pamphlets on safe sex, he says, “I don’t need these. I’m not planning on having sex.” She responds, “No one ever plans on having sex. And I can’t be your mother and your conscience.” And adds, “You gotta make smart choices.” And says, “When you have sex, that’s your decision to make, no one else.” At this point, based on what we’ve seen, Blanca hasn’t disclosed her HIV status to any of her children. “If I could go back,” she says. “If I could make different choices,” she means. “If I had different choices to make,” she means. I am enthralled by Blanca, by the world she imagines is possible and by the persistent, unglamorous work she puts in to realize that world.
I learn trans* from Christina Sharpe. She writes.
I want to think Trans* in a variety of ways that try to get at something about or toward the range of trans*formations enacted on and by Black bodies. The asterisk after a word functions as the wildcard, and I am thinking the trans* in that way . . . The asterisk after the prefix “trans” holds the place open for thinking (from and into that position). It speaks, as well, to a range of embodied experiences called gender and to Euro- Western gender’s dismantling, its inability to hold in/on Black flesh. The asterisk speaks to a range of configurations of Black being that take the form of translation, transatlantic, transgression, transgender, transformation, transmogrification, transcontinental, transfixed, trans- Mediterranean, transubstantiation, . . . transmigration, and more. (In the Wake)
Writing from Nairobi, I find Sharpe’s use of trans* more useful than that offered by Karen Barad (adapted from Nash Jones):
Trans* is a term that employs the wildcard symbol (*) for internet searches. It is at once a term meant to be broadly inclusive (e.g., transgender, transsexual, trans woman, trans man, trans person, and also genderqueer, Two Spirit, genderfuck, gen- der fluid, masculine of center) of an array of subversive gender identities, and also self-consciously tuned into practices of exclusion.