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With Crew Club closing, what’s the future of the gay bathhouse in D.C. and beyond?

Handful of major U.S. cities lack private sex clubs

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Even in 2020, no one the Blade contacted would go on the record to talk about their experiences at the Crew Club, the Washington gay gym and bathhouse that will end its 25-year run next month.

It wasn’t hard finding folks who went — the club near Logan Circle has always been popular. But attribution was hard to pin down.

“I would go occasionally. It was very hit or miss,” one Washington gay man said. “Going on a Saturday night around 2 a.m. could be insane on some nights though. Cute, tipsy out-of-town gays who were cute and fun. I had some crazy times in the sauna and steam room.”

It’s fair to say many gay and bi men in the region will miss the club. Owner DC Allen sold the building mid-2016 to a real estate developer, a deal that’s estimated to have netted them more than twice what they paid for it in 2003, according to city tax records. The 8,000-square-foot, two-story building was assessed at a value of more than $5 million for 2020, according to previous Blade reports. He cited the health of his partner and his own health (they’re 70 and 63 respectively) as the main reason they opted not to seek another location.

“We would not, at this point in time, be able to make our money back and I don’t know how we could retire if we had another business,” he said.

Allen, circumspect in a brief phone interview this week, declined to make any of his 15 employees available for comment.

He said hook-up apps like Scruff and Grindr did impact the business for “the next couple of years” after they took off, but things subsequently improved.

“Some of the more marginalized [gay bathhouses] went out of business, but the rest of us saw a regular amount of business after three-five years,” he said. “There was a correction.”

He said he kept no records on how many of his clientele were locals vs. out-of-towners. Upholding a “very strict policy for our clientele,” was of utmost importance, Allen said.

Skyrocketing real estate costs in major cities are threatening gay bathhouse culture as developers pounce on hot, valuable properties. (iStock photo by fotostorm)

So is the Crew Club’s closing a one-off or is the industry — which has been around in various forms since the Roman Empire — slowly becoming a thing of the past? A Guardian article from 2014 painted a picture of dwindling businesses and an industry that had its heyday in the ’70s. It claimed about 70 were in business at the time, down from about 200 in the disco era, figures current industry insiders say are roughly accurate.

And how likely is it that some other entrepreneur will eventually open another gay bathhouse here with Washington’s astronomical real estate prices and ongoing gentrification? Not to mention the lack of a Council member such as the late Jim Graham (who was gay) to help work through the red tape much as he did by gay businesses, such as Ziegfeld’s/Secrets, that were displaced more than a decade ago by Nationals Stadium?

Glorious Health Club (2120 West Virginia Ave., N.E.) survived the stadium invasion but was shuttered last March by the city for multiple building code violations. Its owners are hoping to open this month pending another inspection.

But it’s not the apps, overall gay mainstreaming or waning Millennial (or Gen Z) interest that is the biggest threat to U.S. gay bathhouses. The biggest issue, one long-time veteran of the industry says, is escalating real estate prices in metro areas that have enough gay population to sustain them.

Dennis Holding came out in 1971 and met Jack Campbell, who he says “pretty much was the founder” of The Club gay bathhouse chain, in 1972 in Cleveland. Holding became an investor that year in a gay bathhouse in Indianapolis (Club Indianapolis), which is still open, and has been in business for 47 years as an investor/partner. Today, he and others are behind gay bathhouses in three cities — Houston (Club Houston), Orlando (Club Orlando) and Miami (Club Aqua Miami). He’s also friendly with many others in the industry and says the situation in Washington, sadly, is not unusual.

“The greatest threat to the business is the cost of real estate and the old age of the owners,” he said by phone this week from his second home in Palm Springs. “What happened in D.C. is they couldn’t find a clear way for the operation to continue without them physically being involved and their capital, the bulk of their net worth was tied up in real estate. … I know of two or three other groups that have closed or seen their operations dwindle in the last five-seven years I guess in which the senior partner passes away and the shares end up sometimes in the hands of non-gay relatives — a sister, a brother, maybe a boyfriend, a boyfriend’s family, whatever, and they don’t quite know how to handle all of it. Their succession plans are very weak.”

Holding (who has his own succession plan in place) says in some cases a straight relative has continued a gay bathhouse business — he mentions a straight owner who formerly had clubs in Dallas, Austin and Milwaukee, who ran them for years but eventually decided to sell to hungry real estate developers rather than modernize or update the clubs.

“Sometimes it’s the right thing to do business wise,” Holding says. “He probably made about $6 million, they built an apartment house or two, and he moves to his hometown in California and has a nice, comfortable life. His kids had no interest in it and his father was about 95. There have been several situations like that where the real estate has just become so valuable.”

Holding says other clubs will likely see the same fate in time.

“I know of an operator who turned down $8 million for his real estate a month ago,” Holding says. “That’s the evil side of it, and it has nothing to do with the business.”

At the height of the app scare about seven years ago, gay bathhouse owners united to form the Men’s Sauna Association (gaybathhousesauna.com) aka the North American Bathhouse Association (NABA). The preferred industry word now, members say, is sauna. Bathhouse sounds seedy and dated, some say.

About 90 percent of gay bathhouses/saunas in the U.S. are members. They joined forces for several reasons — joint bargaining power with suppliers, to provide aid to new businesses getting the run-around from various municipalities not interested in “adult” businesses, to brainstorm how to make the apps work to their advantage and other matters of joint interest.

The industry, overall, is quite strong, says Tom Gatz-Nibbio, NABA executive director. All the major U.S. chains — Clubs (Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Dallas, Columbus), Steamworks (Berkeley, Chicago, Seattle) and Midtowne Spa (Los Angeles, Denver) are members. He says the businesses that are doing the best are the ones whose owners have invested in serious remodeling.

“They’re really the industry leaders,” Gatz-Nibbio says. “The ones who have really stepped up and remodeled to provide a clean, safe environment.”

Holding agrees. He estimates annual U.S. revenue industry wide to be approaching $100 million. Club Houston just finished a major renovation a few months ago.

“Our slogan is ‘good clean fun,’” he says. Cleanliness is critical to the success of the business. And having what I call attractions in the play areas, the dark room — you need to have clever places to play but dirty, dank, smelly — that doesn’t work.”

Gatz-Nibbio scrolls mentally over the country, mentioning markets not yet referenced here. He knows of two in New York City (East Side Club, West Side Club) and says it’s odd there aren’t more in that market. He says private sex parties are more “a thing” there. One closed in Chicago, but another remains. There are two each in Detroit and Las Vegas. Denver, Phoenix, Atlanta and San Diego each have one. Seattle has a Steamworks. One closed in Honolulu. There are none in San Francisco proper (the city outlawed them at the height of the AIDS crisis) but there is one nearby in Berkeley (Steamworks Berkeley) and another in San Jose (The Watergarden). Some exist in unexpected markets — Grand Rapids, Mich., (The Diplomat Club) and Colorado Springs, Colo. (Buddies Private Club).

Washington could soon join Boston and New Orleans as major U.S. cities lacking one. Prohibitive real estate costs, especially anywhere near the French Quarter, have prevented anything from blossoming there, Gatz-Nibbio says.

Holding says the apps turned out to be more of a hiccup than any serious disruption.

“We felt it at first until people started realizing going into a stranger’s home or having a stranger into your home isn’t always the smartest thing to do,” he says. “And people started to wake up to the false advertising. You’re expecting a 6 foot, 2 blonde hunk but the real thing at the door is not that.”

Gatz-Nibbio says some apps are working with the saunas in joint partnerships. Squirt, for example, was at the last NABA convention and is partnering on an initiative.

Gay bathhouse industry professionals at the NABA 2019 National Convention in Orlando last September. (Photo courtesy NABA)

December was a record month for Holding in Houston and Miami. He’s friendly with the owner of Club Dallas, which he says is also booming.

“It might have slowed growth a little, but we never lost money,” he says.
A much bigger scare years ago, of course, was AIDS.

“The day Rock Hudson died, our business fell off about 40, 50 percent,” Holding says.

Working with area health departments, offering testing in the clubs and, of course, later the advances of protease inhibitors helped things rebound.

“We never stopped being profitable,” he says. “We just cut a lot of expenses. We ran with less labor, which was a big factor, we just tightened our belts. I remember the first meeting after we realized we’d just been really walloped, but we just tightened our belts. We had limited profitability, then good profitability within four to five years, I guess.”

Escorting and prostitution were never big problems, Holding says. Most members reported them to staff if they were propositioned. Police usually were happy to work with them.

He says a police squad in Dallas was known to be overzealous in previous years.

“They thought we were just a den of iniquity,” he says with a chuckle. “But it was mainly about drugs. They liked to break down doors and have mass arrests but eventually we convinced them not to be stupid about it and we’d work with them.”

Drugs, he says, are a constant issue. A list of barred patrons is kept for those who violate the policy. Too rigorous a bag or body check at the door deters customers, he says.

In other ways, police liked having the businesses there, he says.

“They like it because if they catch somebody in a park or public place, they can say, ‘Get out of here you asshole, you know there’s a place you can go for that.’ That’s basically been their attitude. It’s not warm and friendly, but they like it that there’s a place in town you can go for that and that’s fine by us. That’s the way it should be.”

Holding never kept records of how many of his clients were semi-local to each business vs. out of town. If local is a 40-mile radius, he guesses the majority are local if for no other reason than the business tends to do well with repeat consumers. It’s an older crowd in the daytime, and owners cater to them.

Not everyone is there for sex, he says. The music and lighting changes after 6 p.m., when the working-age crowd tends to come. Get them in once — for an open house, a guest visit or whatever — and if the club is clean and well run, they’ll be back, he says.

Holding knows of no horror stories of anti-gay city bureaucracies holding up entrepreneurs. He’s never heard of a citizen petition movement against a pending gay bathhouse. A business association his Orlando property was seeking to join many years ago was headed by two lesbians who took issue with the no women policy, but that eventually blew over. He can recall no major pushback from LGBT activist organizations that have sometimes painted heteronormative pictures of gay life to conservative constituents.

Allen says one change he noticed over the years was how credit card use spiked from roughly 20 percent in his early years in business to about 70-80 percent today.

“What that means is people no longer have a fear of being gay, they don’t really care,” Allen says. “That confidence and that freedom is from 40 years of activism.”

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

Veteran choir soldiers undeterred through pandemic with Zoom rehearsals

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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
gmcw.org

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 gmcw.org.

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 gmcw.org.

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)
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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

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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.

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

Groundbreaking FX drama has left its mark

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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)

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