By Darian Aaron, Contributor GLAAD.org | August 30, 2021 Photo Credit: FX
Full disclosure: I’m a huge fan of POSE. I’ve been on the journey with the show and its groundbreaking characters since it was only industry chatter as a forthcoming series from Ryan Murphy until the very last episode of the final season. The end of POSE was emotional for me. The series provided a national platform for Black and Brown LGBTQ+ people to be seen and heard like never before. But their stories aren’t done. Emmy voters should know what a win would mean for the future of inclusive storytelling and to the lives of countless people whose lived experiences were reflected in POSE.
Billy Porter’s historic Emmy win in 2019 was groundbreaking in showing Black LGBTQ+ people and all artists of color that there are no limits to what we can achieve as our authentic selves. As a cisgender Black gay man, I cheered Billy’s talent and the impact his character had on our community and our allies, to live unabashedly, and to lead with, truth, humor, and fierceness.
A win for Michaela Jaé (Mj) Rodriguez, the first openly trans Afro-Latina to be nominated in the Lead Actress category, would completely shift the narrative of trans women of color as victims of senseless anti-trans violence to victors.
Despite the prevalence of transphobia in America, trans women of color are being embraced by Hollywood, their families, their community, and they are making room for joy. The decision by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences to grant Rodriguez an Emmy nomination is not only a recognition of her talent, but a recognition of her womanhood. I believe Rodriguez’s win will push us further towards realizing what Dr. King called the “beloved community.” A world that acknowledges the humanity of all without discarding a single soul.
The visibility and cultural acceptance of POSE is in alignment with the work we do at Counter Narrative Project (CNP) around narrative shift, narrative change, and narrative justice. At CNP, we believe great storytelling can change hearts and minds and influence policy. As a Gilead COMPASS Initiative grantee, we, too, tackle transphobia, homophobia, racism, and HIV stigma. We envision a world where Black gay men are free. POSE expanded that vision and reach, including Black and Brown queer women, both cis and trans, along with nuanced narratives of people living with HIV into America’s homes. POSE reminded Americans that the desire to belong, to be loved, and to be our authentic selves is universal.
An Emmy win for Rodriguez will resonate throughout the ages; an acknowledgment that trans women are women, and are worthy. Full stop. An Emmy for POSE and its production team will send a powerful signal to Hollywood that this is just the beginning of courageous, creative storytelling about communities like ours that have been overlooked for far too long. It will show networks and studios that we need more characters with HIV who are living and thriving, especially since there are currently none on television following the conclusion of POSE. An Emmy for Billy Porter, months after his announcement that he is living with HIV, reminds the public that the epidemic isn’t over and neither is the chance to live a productive and fruitful life with an HIV diagnosis. HIV is preventable, treatable, survivable and, when treated properly, untransmittable.
No one can say they don’t know a Black gay man after witnessing the star-making turn of Billy Porter. And now, no one can say that they don’t know a trans woman after watching Mj Rodriguez and her talented trans co-stars on POSE. This is the power of diverse representation. Americans should be afforded the privilege of knowing an Emmy-winning trans woman, and the opportunity to celebrate another broken glass ceiling. The cast of POSE, led by Rodriguez and Porter has already cracked it. I’m urging Emmy voters to agree and vote for Mj Rodriguez, Billy Porter, and POSE for Lead Actress, Lead Actor, and Outstanding Drama at this year’s Emmys. A nomination is welcomed recognition, but a win is a major step towards leveling the playing field and rewarding artists who have mastered their craft while providing us a master class in creating art that illuminates, unites, and heals.
Darian Aaron is Communications Director at the Counter Narrative Project [CNP] and Editor-at-Large of The Reckoning in Atlanta. CNP was founded in 2014 to create a political home for Black gay men and our allies, to tell the stories of social change, and amplify the voices of Black gay men to shift the public narrative. CNP stands in the tradition of James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin, Marlon Riggs, and Essex Hemphill. Learn more about this movement: www.thecounternarrative.org