Connect with us

a&e features

Michael Tilson Thomas Q&A

The out conductor on his long career in classical music



Michael Tilson Thomas, gay news, Washington Blade
Tilson Thomas, gay news, Washington Blade

Michael Tilson Thomas says the public ultimately decides what works are retained in the classical canon.

Washington Performing Arts presents the San Francisco Symphony


Kennedy Center Concert Hall


Saturday, April 16


4 p.m.




Though just four performances, the San Francisco Symphony’s current East Coast mini-tour features two programs.

The symphony will perform on Saturday, April 16 at 4 p.m. at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall performing Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 “Unfinished” and Gustav Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde.” The players will be joined by mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and tenor Simon O’Neill. Two days prior, they’ll perform the same program at Carnegie Hall. The symphony will explore works by Copland and Schumann at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center this weekend.

We caught up with Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas, now in his 21st season with the symphony with whom he’s shared 12 Grammys, by phone this week. His comments have been slightly edited for length.

Michael Tilson Thomas, gay news, Washington Blade

Michael Tilson Thomas, music director of the San Francisco Symphony, says managing an orchestra like a business is a mistake. (Photo by Bill Swerbenski; courtesy San Francisco Symphony)

WASHINGTON BLADE: You’ve recorded many Mahler symphonies. What is it about his music that continues to resonate with you?

MICHAEL TILSON-THOMAS: His music is very central to my whole view of life and that was evident from the first time I heard his music when I was around 13. This piece in fact, which we’re about to play in Washington, “Das Lied von der Erde,” I heard the last movement, the farewell, called “Der Abschied,” and it was stunning, a shock to me to hear music which so completely described the shape of my own soul and what I felt to be my parents’ souls, where all the kind of aching questions about the meaning of life and all sorts of questions which I hadn’t even consciously formed, but somehow I just knew this was a testimony that meant so much to me. Part of that was the musical presentation of situations where there can be bitterness or frustration or conflict, but nonetheless there’s still an element of beauteousness as well. For me, the message of the music is to hold on to the beauteousness at whatever the cost. That resonated with me from the first moment and still does.

BLADE: Does the Schubert symphony you’re also performing contrast with or complement the Mahler?

TILSON-THOMAS: Schubert (was) … using this sort of haunted language that was very Czech-influenced because his parents came from what is now the Czech Republic and of course Mahler did as well, so there is this sort of major/minor haunted harmonic language that’s part of it. … On the piano you have a note which you sometimes call E flat or sometimes you call it D sharp. On the piano, it’s the same note, but in orchestral music, these two notes are actually different notes. They do different things and they lead in different directions. Schubert and Mahler are both constantly reinterpreting the meaning of a note. … You’re being kind of guided, pulled back and forth across the line of the meaning of a single note taking you into a brighter or darker world. That’s very much what they’re playing with.

BLADE: As you perform around the country and the world, do you sense differences in how the audiences receive the work?

TILSON-THOMAS: I think we’re very aware of the different audiences. They’re ectoplasmic almost. You come off the stage and you can just sense a certain energy and focus in the hall and that does affect the way you feel about the music. I’m fond of saying these big places for me are like national parks that you return to. You’ve wandered there before, but the company with which you find yourself is different and has an enormous influence on what the nature of the experience is going to be.

BLADE: Have you been insulated to some degree in San Francisco from the kinds of challenges many of our other national symphonies are facing?

TILSON-THOMAS: No, I wouldn’t say so. Like all the major orchestras, we’ve experienced different kinds of crises and growing pains, visions coalescing as different generations have moved through the orchestra. … These things are inevitable. I’ve been performing symphonic music now for 50 years. I started when I was 20, so I’ve seen many changes happen in music and society and music coming from China and Venezuela and parts of the world from which we didn’t used to see so many people. The growth of all these things is a very positive thing in the big picture. So there’s a very positive growth state and at the same time, there are definitely growing pains in society itself. How are these things going to be sustained and grown and what do young musicians coming into the profession desire? What kind of life do they want to have? All these things are being turned over and discussed even as we speak.

BLADE: Are you pressured to perform film scores or saw away under pop acts or that sort of thing to bring in new people? Or have you tried to stave off that sort of thing?

TILSON-THOMAS: There’s a balance that needs to be struck and there’s always going to be a concern of having too many programs that would be apart from the central mission of the orchestra. Not just in symphony orchestras but with any arts organization. There’s a lot of talk about searching for sustainable business models … but these are not businesses. These are idealistic organizations that are communities of people that were established to share a particular art as a living tradition and strengthening and preserving that and passing it on to many generations. That’s the real purpose. It’s necessary perhaps in each new generation to remind ourselves that’s what we’re doing and what we need to do.

BLADE: Your bio makes reference to your work “reimagining the concert experience.” In what ways have you done that?

TILSON-THOMAS: I’ve been very involved with multi-media, new technology and something of a pioneer in using the online resource Internet2 to reach people with educational messages in territories around the world. … Most recently with a process called LOLA, an information system that reduces online latencies and makes it possible now within a thousand kilometers to perform music with someone as if you’re really in the same room with them. … With the New World Symphony, we’ve done a lot of work in video that has been ahead of the curve. Not just concert performance videos … but creating kind of art installations inside the concert hall.

BLADE: Have you always been out professionally?

TILSON-THOMAS: Oh, I don’t know. That’s hard to answer. Joshua (Robison) and I got married a couple years ago but we’ve been together 40 years. Since the very beginning, we were together very clearly with no disguise and that goes back quite a ways at this point. To us, that didn’t seem so remarkable. We worked together in a production company that makes a lot of different musical products and education projects happen around the world and we’ve always done that. We haven’t been involved, as many others have been, in any courageous crusade of one type or another. We supported those things and I have such respect for people who did that. On the other hand, people now say it was somewhat extraordinary that we were living our lives that way in terms of being transparent about being together then and that was unusual, I guess, at the time.

BLADE: How gay are our orchestras in general?

TILSON-THOMAS: I’d say a very rough number would be maybe 10 percent or something like that. Maybe more.

BLADE: Perhaps more in San Francisco?

TILSON-THOMAS: Not necessarily. Orchestras are very individual animals. It was, of course, different when I first began conducting. In any major orchestra there might have been one or two people who were not even out but everybody just kind of knew they were gay. As opposed to now when there are many people in all the major orchestras who are LGBT and it’s not in any way a big deal and certainly not with the many young musicians. If people are thinking they might make music with someone, what’s going on with their gender or sexuality is of no interest whatsoever. If you’re talking about where you’re placing the third of a major chord or issues of tuning or articulation, then that’s a big deal.

BLADE: It’s interesting when you see the kinds of people given the Kennedy Center Honors over time and how popular acts are now being inducted much more often than performers from the classical arts. At the same time, there’s a lot of hand wringing in our symphonies and opera companies and so on. I could give tons of examples. Is society being slowly dumbed down over time?

TILSON-THOMAS: Well there are different kinds of occasions that serve different purposes. There are lots of awards and prizes that are given for certain types of work, like the MacArthur Fellows or the Pulitzer Prizes or the great number of other awards and prizes that are given to people whose names would be little known to the general public, but which nonetheless exert quite an influence within various arts worlds. … Some of these things are much more of an occasion in certain realms than something like the Grammys or the Oscars or those kinds of things which are really more shows. It used to be that if you were from the classical arts and you were up for a Grammy, you would go to the Grammys and you were presented with it there. That no longer happens. Something might happen in a hotel lobby earlier in the day or something because those awards are not in the mainstream.

BLADE: They only give out about six on the air anymore out of 90-some categories or whatever it is.

TILSON-THOMAS: Yeah, well, I guess in any art there will always be different sides. You have people doing quite specific work which they know from the beginning will appeal to a small number of people. Other people are working in much wider areas but it’s extraordinary at this particular moment, the diversity of work that is taking place. It’s really quite remarkable the very interesting experimentations with styles that a lot of people are doing. A lot of people are writing and thinking new thoughts, way more than you would think based on the gloomy predictions that are often made about the future of all of this. It’s not quite the way it looks from the outside when you see all the young people out there creating new work.

BLADE: Would you say the works of Mahler and Schubert don’t carry quite the cultural gravitas they might have a generation ago perhaps?

TILSON-THOMAS: I saw something in San Francisco the other night and one of the pieces on the program was written in 1199. It was the earliest and the most recent piece was written in 1963. So it’s extraordinary how much has changed in that period of 7- or 800 years. There were certain things about that piece from 1199 that were very reminiscent of works by Steve Reich or John Adams and that are still very influential in contemporary musical thought. A composer like Schubert or Mahler, the reaction to whom at the time was often hostility or incomprehension, over time it has been proven that there was something in that music that people wanted to come back to. Ideas that proved to be so powerful, so moving and so authentic that people wanted to hear them again and again and it’s fascinating because it’s the audience that makes that decision. I can be a big fan of some particular composer and can champion that composer through many times and create situations in which their music will be presented, but ultimately 10 or 15 or 20 years later, it will be the public that decides if that music means enough that they want to hear it again.

BLADE: Has audience etiquette improved or deteriorated to any noticeable degree over the course of your career?

TILSON-THOMAS: It’s very different in different places and even on different evenings. These things are very different from city to city and country to country. Even in San Francisco, there’s a certain sense of what the character of the audience is like. The Wednesday night audience, the Thursday night audience, they’re all slightly different in their reactions and in their focus. We created a new series called SoundBox which is designed for people who’ve never been to classical music concerts before with very experimental repertoire and it uses video projection and other things and is kind of set in a club atmosphere. Drinks are served and you have 20 minutes of music then 20 minutes of lounge-type activity and then the music comes back. Well, in fact these audiences are more quiet and focused than the subscription audience can be. They’re totally focused. When the music starts, they’re totally in it. What for me has been particularly gratifying is that with some of this earlier music we’ve been doing, we did one piece by Monteverdi from 1610, so many young people came up and said how transporting it was and you think, “God, here’s something from 400 years ago that can reach out and have that kind of emotional effect.” That really is one of the greatest treasures of my life.

Michael Tilson Thomas, gay news, Washington Blade

Michael Tilson Thomas (Photo by Spencer Lowell; courtesy San Francisco Symphony)

Continue Reading

a&e features

Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington celebrates 40th anniversary with virtual concert, retrospective

Veteran choir soldiers undeterred through pandemic with Zoom rehearsals



Members of the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington gather in front of the Supreme Court on Sept. 3, 2013. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

GMCW Turns 40
Streaming begins Saturday, June 5 at 7 p.m.
Available through June 20
Tickets: $25

Discussion of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington quickly becomes emotional for its members both veteran and newbie(-ish). They’re the kind of strong feelings that only exist when one has sacrificed and invested in something.

“It’s an experience that touches our soul in a way that not that many LGBTQ+ people get to experience,” says tenor Javon Morris-Byam, a gay 28-year-old music teacher who joined three years ago. “We have music tying us together and in the end, we make a product that we can share with the public and that’s a humbling experience.”

Steve Herman, 79, is a founding member, though he doesn’t sing. One of a group of “non-singing members,” he joined in June 1981 and has helped over the decades painting scenery, designing ads, serving on the board and more. His partner at the time had joined the chorus as a singer.

A Gay Men’s Chorus performance in 1983. (Washington Blade archive photo by Leigh Mosley)

Now retired after 47 years in the federal government, he says the Chorus “has been a major centerpiece of my life.”

“This may sound corny, but I couldn’t imagine my life without the chorus,” Herman says.

The chorus is celebrating its 40th anniversary this weekend with a streaming concert simply dubbed “GMCW turns 40” that can be streamed starting Saturday, June 5 at 7 p.m. and can be viewed until June 20.

Selections will include “From Now On” (from “The Greatest Showman”), “Rise Up,” “Make Them Hear You” (from “Ragtime”), “Truly Brave” and a new song called “Harmony’s Never Too Late!” written for the occasion by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, composers of “Ragtime.” Video clips of past performances will also be included in a montage. Tickets are $25 at

Thea Kano, the Chorus’s artistic director since 2014 (she was associate director for a decade prior), says “Make Them Hear You” has “kind of become our anthem over the last 10 years,” so contacting its composers for a commission made sense. They premiered it last summer virtually at the Chorus’s Summer Soiree, a COVID-induced postponement of its usual Spring Affair.

Thea Kano, center, joins members of the Chorus at the United States Supreme Court on the day of the Obergefell v. Hodges marriage equality decision in June of 2015.(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Kano, a straight ally, directs the Chorus with aid from Associate Conductor C. Paul Heins, Assistant Conductor Joshua Sommerville and accompanist Teddy Guerrant. Justin Fyala has been the Chorus’s executive director since 2016. Staff also includes Craig Cipollini (director of marketing), Kirk Sobell (director of patron services) and Alex Tang (accompanist).

Under the main Chorus umbrella are five ensembles: 17th Street Dance, a 14-member performance troupe started in 2016; Rock Creek Singers, a 32-voice chamber ensemble; GenOUT Youth Chorus, a teen choir of about 25; Potomac Fever, a 14-member harmony pop ensemble; and Seasons of Love, a 24-voice gospel choir.

GenOUT Youth Chorus. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Musically, the Chorus’s repertoire is eclectic.

“(We sing) everything from spiritual to glam rock to punk to traditional classical, and everything in between,” Morris-Byam says. “I love when the chorus is all together and able to produce a big powerful sound.”

Kano says working with Fyala is “a dream” and says under his leadership the Chorus is “in a very healthy financial place, which is wonderful and a very humble thing to be able to say right now particularly given that we’re in a pandemic — that’s not the case with a lot of arts organizations.”

The D.C. Chorus is a quasi-unofficial spin off of its San Francisco counterpart. During an early ’80s national tour, the San Francisco group performed at Washington’s Kennedy Center and had a profound effect on local audiences. Marsha Pearson, a straight woman who lived in Dupont Circle at the time and enjoyed hanging out with gay men, was one such person.

“I couldn’t believe we didn’t have one of these,” she told the Blade 10 years ago for a story on the Chorus’s 30th anniversary. “I thought, ‘We’re the nation’s capital, how come we don’t have this?’”

The Chorus performs at the popular gay nightclub Tracks in 1984. (Washington Blade photo by Doug Hinckle)

She hand wrote fliers — four to a sheet — had her sister photocopy them at her office, cut them up by hand and passed them out at Capital Pride in 1981. Accounts vary about how many showed up to the first practice at the long-defunct gay community center (no connection to the D.C. Center) on Church Street. Pearson remembers about 30. Others say it was more like 15-ish. It was June 28, 1981 and, by all accounts, an innocuous beginning.

Pearson never sang with the group — it was exclusively a men’s chorus. She asked if anybody had any conducting experience. The late Jim Richardson did and became the first director.

“I still remember the first chord,” Pearson told the Blade in 2011. “It was just a simple thing, you know, like do, mi, so, do, but I just got goosebumps. I was just elated that even one note came out, I was so excited. I got those same goosebumps at the anniversary concert last weekend. I put their CDs on and I get the same thing, especially on certain things they sing. You just can’t believe it sounds so great.”

Click here for more about the history of the group. A bio/history is also available at

COVID has, of course, wreaked havoc on the operation. Thankfully, Kano says, no members have died from it, though a handful (she says fewer than 10 that she knows of), including Kano, have had it and recovered.

The Chorus continued its Sunday evening rehearsals via Zoom, which, because of the precision required for musical performance, was tougher to take online than, say, a business meeting. It never occurred to the Chorus leadership to take a hiatus.

“I look back now like, ‘Why didn’t we take some time off,’ but I think off the top of my head at the time it was like, “We sing and we’re a social justice organization and community is such a big part of who we are,’” Kano says. “And so for suddenly, with no notice, to have something that we love so much and are so passionate about …. to suddenly just turn the lights off, that wasn’t even an option.”

A GMCW rehearsal in 2007. (Washington Blade file photo by Henry Linser)

With the Chorus and dancers and GenOUT, there are about 200 current volunteer performers. It’s been slightly higher at times. Some were deterred by the thought of rehearsing via Zoom although some former members no longer in the D.C. area — even a few overseas — rejoined when virtual participation became possible.

The murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement last summer and beyond was a galvanizing event. The Chorus responded with its “Let Freedom Sing” concert, which Kano says celebrated the intersection of Black and LGBTQ people.

Featured soloists perform in ‘Let Freedom Sing.’ (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“It was our way of saying we raise our voice in solidarity with those facing injustice,” Kano says.

But does that get messy at times? Surely not everyone in a choir of this size is on the same page politically, even in a progressive city like D.C., right?

As a nonprofit, the Chorus avoids anything ostensibly political. Kano says the issue did arise when they were invited to sing at a Virginia-based gun-reform event last year. They participated, but carefully.

“So anytime you mentioned guns, it becomes political,” Kano says. “It’s not about whether or not we support the Second Amendment. It’s us standing in solidarity with those who have been victims of gun violence.”

Kano says there’s “a very good chance had this been a non-pandemic year,” they would have been invited to sing at the Biden-Harris inauguration, which she says they “absolutely” would have agreed to.

“We did wonder, though, a few years ago what we would have said if 45 were to ask us,” she says. “We didn’t spend a lot of time on it because we knew that wasn’t gonna happen,” she says with a chuckle.

The holiday shows for the Chorus often involve elaborate costumes, as in this scene in 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Herman says performing at big, pro-LGBTQ “statement”-type events is woven into the Chorus’s history and is understood.

“Every Christmas Eve, we’d sing for the patients at NIH,” he says. “We still do, only then it was primarily AIDS patients. We sang special concerts when the (AIDS) Quilt was first displayed and when there was a March on Washington. We did a lot of community work and outreach at a time when it was really needed.”

Morris-Byam says even today, with so much progress having been made, the Chorus still is needed. He, by the way, calls Kano “one of the most brilliant musicians I’ve ever met.”

“I believe the Chorus is a strong political statement in itself,” he says. “When we’re making a strong, joyful noise, it’s celebrating everything we are, what we can be, and everyone who has gotten us where we are.

The Chorus celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in a performance at Lincoln Theatre in 2019. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

There have been challenges over the years — finding new office space, patching together individual vocal parts for virtual performances — but no warring factions. Kano is, by most accounts, extremely well liked.

The future, Kano says, is bright. She hopes to resume in-person rehearsals in the fall. She spent a big chunk of early lockdown transcribing a Puccini “Gloria Mass” for tenor/bass chorus. She plans to program it with works by Cole Porter eventually.

Ultimately, Kano says, her goals for the Chorus are about making great art.

“Art comes first,” she says. “Because that’s how we deliver our mission. And if we put great art first, it’s going to attract great people. It’s going to both as members and as audience members and patrons, and therefore it’s going to attract great funding, and then all that goes right back into the arts we can further our expansion and our ability to get the mission out.”

Craig Cipollini leads the ‘Grease’ dance auditions in 2010. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)
Continue Reading

a&e features

Billy Porter talks about his HIV diagnosis and keeping secrets

The Tony, Emmy, and Grammy-Award winning actor revealed the secret he’s been keeping for 14 years in the Hollywood Reporter Wednesday



Billy Porter appearing on Tamron Hall's show Wednesday (Screenshot via YouTube)

NEW YORK – Daytime talk show host Tamron Hall welcomed Broadway icon and star of the hit tv show “Pose,” Billy Porter on her show that aired Wednesday. The Tony, Emmy, and Grammy-Award winning actor revealed the secret he’s been keeping for 14 years that was made public in a piece for the Hollywood Reporter published Wednesday.

Porter discusses his HIV diagnosis from over a decade ago which the actor said he felt a sense of shame that compelled him to hide his condition from his castmates, collaborators and even his mother, and the responsibility that now has him speaking out. “The truth is the healing,” Porter said.

“I was on the precipice of obscurity for about a decade or so, but 2007 was the worst of it. By February, I had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. By March, I signed bankruptcy papers. And by June, I was diagnosed HIV-positive,” he wrote. “The shame of that time compounded with the shame that had already [accumulated] in my life silenced me, and I have lived with that shame in silence for 14 years. HIV-positive, where I come from, growing up in the Pentecostal church with a very religious family, is God’s punishment,” the actor wrote.

Continue Reading

a&e features

Final season of ‘Pose’ is must-see TV that matters

Groundbreaking FX drama has left its mark



When the COVID pandemic hit in the early months of 2020, there were certainly more pressing and essential worries for us to grapple with than how it would impact the next season of a TV show. Yet it’s a testament to the power of “Pose” that many among its legion of fans were at least as concerned about the show’s disruption as they were about the possibility of running out of toilet paper.

The powerhouse FX drama — which spotlights the legends, icons and ferocious house mothers of New York’s underground ball culture in the late 1980s — had already made history. Not only did it feature the largest cast of transgender actors in regular roles, it boasted the largest recurring cast of LGBTQ actors ever included in a scripted series. In its first two seasons, the show racked up accolades and honors (including a Primetime Emmy for Billy Porter as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series) while breaking new ground for the inclusion and representation of queer people — and especially transgender people of color — in television, both in front of the camera, and behind it. With the end of its second season in August 2019, fans were hungry for a third — but thanks to COVID, its future was suddenly in question.

So, when word came that the show’s third season would have its debut on May 2, it was the best news since finding out the vaccines were finally going to start rolling out. But it was bittersweet: Along with confirmation of the series’ imminent return came the sad revelation that the new season would also be the last. “Pose” would be coming to an end with a final, seven-episode arc.

As any viewer of show can attest, there were a lot of threads left hanging when last we saw its characters. That means there’s a lot of ground to cover in these last chapters in order to give everyone — characters and audience alike — the closure they deserve.

The show’s official synopsis goes like this: It’s now 1994 and ballroom feels like a distant memory for Blanca, who struggles to balance being a mother with being a present partner to her new love, as well as her latest role as a nurse’s aide. Meanwhile, as AIDS becomes the leading cause of death for Americans ages 25 to 44, Pray Tell contends with unexpected health burdens. Meanwhile, a vicious new upstart house is emerging in the ballroom world, and the members of the House of Evangelista are forced to contend their legacy.

Obviously, there are a lot of details left hidden in that broad overview, and fans are undoubtedly full of questions about what they can expect to see.

Fortunately, the bulk of the show’s main cast convened on Zoom last week (along with show co-creator and Executive Producer Steven Canals and Executive Producer Janet Mock) for a press conference to discuss their “Pose” experience, and while they didn’t exactly give away any spoilers, they definitely dropped some tantalizing hints about what’s in store for audiences in the farewell season.

In truth, most of the discussion was dominated by reminiscences and expressions of mutual appreciation, sure signs that the feeling of family we see onscreen is something that has taken hold off screen, as well. But in between the affectionate banter, the cast and creatives addressed several questions that might be most on viewers’ minds.

Perhaps the most pressing of these — why, after only three seasons, is the critic-and-audience-acclaimed show calling it quits? — was taken on by Canals, who explained:

“I always knew what the beginning and what the end of the narrative would be. And when Ryan Murphy and I first met in September of 2016, we felt really strongly that that particular narrative made sense. And so, while we certainly could have continued to create narrative around these characters and in this world, and we certainly had a conversation in the writers’ room about it … I think we all agreed that it just made sense for us to ‘land the plane,’ if you will, comfortably — as opposed to continuing to give an audience story that just simply didn’t have any real core intention or a real thrust towards specificity.”

Also of interest was the obvious subject of how the parallels between the current pandemic and the AIDS crisis that looms over the show’s narrative might be reflected in the new episodes. While he didn’t hint at any direct connections in “Pose,” Porter used the subject to underscore a theme that has always been one of the show’s most important elements:

“I think the parallels are quite profound. I know that as a Black gay man who lived through the AIDS crisis, I have been dealing with a lot of PTSD during this COVID time. It’s very reminiscent of what it was like then. The best news about that is that I survived. We got through it, and there is another side to it. We can get to the other side.

“I feel like that’s what ‘Pose’ really accomplishes this season, reminding the public that it’s when we come together and when we lead with love [that] we get to the other side.”

Mock elaborated on the theme of resilience by discussing the importance of showing the strength of House mothers like Blanca and Electra (Dominique Jackson), who hold together — and lift up — their entire community:

“It’s that matriarchal power and lineage that I think the ballroom is, and what trans women are to one another, that then feeds everyone else and enables them to shine and have all the things that they want in the world. For me, it is [about] that celebration […] of Black trans women — that they’ve created this space, that they brought everyone else in with them, and that, at the end of the day, they are often the ones most often forgotten.

“I think with this season, I want everyone across the industry, the audience, to realize that. I think it’s essential, and it’s important.”

Mock also talked about the way “Pose” focuses on the small, day-to-day lives of its characters as much as it does the larger-than-life splendor of the ballroom culture in which they participate:

“We wanted to ensure that we show the everyday, mundane moments, as well as the great, grand celebrations. The ballroom is are presentation of what it means to congregate and share testimony and to love on each other, and our show is a celebration of the everyday intimacies. So, for us, while we were plotting these big, grand moments […] we wanted to bring in traditions — weddings, matrimony, all this stuff — that our characters get to engage in. We wanted to be a part of the tradition of that, and all the moments that a family shares together. We wanted to make sure that all of those things were celebrated in this.”

When discussion turned to the unprecedented level of support and collaborative inclusion with which the show’s queer cast were bestowed by Ryan Murphy and the rest of the creative staff — from the presence of trans women like Mock and Co-producer Our Lady J in the writers’ room to the extensive reliance on the insights and talents of real-life members of the ballroom community — Jackson was quick to add that besides giving the show its ferocious authenticity, it gave her an increased recognition of her own worth:

“I will never, ever, ever walk into a space thinking that I need to impress them […] I will never walk into a space being fearful of my identity stopping me from anything. Because of this journey, when I walk into spaces now, my identity is not because I’m an abomination. My identity is a plus. My identity is my value. So, when I walk into spaces now,they need to impress me. You can be the biggest Hollywood director, producer, whatever, but you’re not going to take my story or relay stories that are reflective of my life or my existence and make them into anything you want, because of ‘Pose,’ because of Ryan, because of Steven, because of Janet and Brad [co-creator/executive producer Falchuk), because of Our Lady J, because of my cast members.

“I will never walk into spaces or live a life or an existence thinking that I need to impress anyone.”

Porter concurred, adding:

“There was never, ever a space in my brain to dream what‘Pose’ is, what Pray Tell is. I spent the first 25-plusyears of my career trying to fit into a masculinity construct that society placed on us so I could eat.‘Pose,’ and Pray Tell in particular, really taught me to dream the impossible […] the idea that the little, Black church sissy from Pittsburgh is now in a position of power in Hollywood in a way that never existed before. You can damn sure believe that I will be wielding that power and there will be a difference and a change in how things go from here on out.”

If the cast members themselves have found themselves feeling more empowered thanks to “Pose,” so too have the millions of LGBTQ people — and allies — who have tuned into it since its premiere in 2018. The show is one of those rare entries into the cultural lexicon that simply allows its queer and trans people to live authentic lives, giving long-withheld representation to countless viewers who were able to see themselves reflected back from the screen for perhaps the very first time. It’s that powerful sense of validation provided by “Pose” that keeps it standing tall in an entertainment market now providing so much LGBTQ inclusion that it’s becoming dangerously easy to take it for granted.

Whatever moments of heartbreak, joy, and celebration “Pose” brings us as it plays out its final act — and there are sure to be many — we can all be sure it will leave us with a message expressed through an oft-heard line of dialogue that Mock says she found herself writing “over and over again” during the series’ run:

“You are everything, and you deserve everything this world has to offer.” It’s that nurturing sentiment the “Pose” has been instilling in us from the beginning, like a mother to us all.

And that’s why so many of us can’t wait until the first two episodes of its final season air at 10 p.m. (both Eastern and Pacific), Sunday, May 2, on FX.

The final season of “Pose” will begin to air on FX on Sunday, May 2, at 10 p.m. ET. (Photos courtesy of FX)

Continue Reading

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts