Angelica Ross has emerged from the cast of Pose (and her star turn as House of Abundance member Candy Abundance) as scrappy ballroom walker on screen, to trailblazing advocate off screen. Prior to Pose she had created TransTech, which offers tech training to underserved LGBTQ communities, as well as speaking at the White House LGBTQ Tech and Innovation Summit in 2014. As Pose has raised her profile, she has helped herself soar, launching her own podcast Like A Butterfly, and is releasing a book of the same name shortly. As this butterfly spreads her own multi faceted wings, she sat down with me to talk extensively about her emergence from her own cocoon, what it’s like showing the next community the ball culture and why it’s terribly important today, and how the trans community is finally starting to take up the gorgeous space that they deserve.
Michael Cook: The second season of Pose was just announced and you have so much you are doing on your own already, including a new podcast! Like A Butterfly is a change of pace, but after listening to it, so natural!
Angelica Ross: It definitely is. I am someone who does a lot of different things and entertains in a lot of different ways, but the faces of my gift are always spiritual. I am always trying to find a way to give people what I know I am truly there to give them, yet still make it entertaining enough that they will not be bored.
MC: You also have a book coming out, Like A Butterfly: Leaving The Cocoon, and it truly seems that we been seeing your own metamorphosis occur as well, is that fair to say?
AR: What it really came down to was that as a transgender people, we as a community are really trying to reclaim our history. We have been almost erased out of LGBTQ history and the history at large. As we recover that and are recognizing that in different cultures and different places around the world, we have been revered and seen to have spiritual gifts.
Many times, people will talk about trans people and how some claim that they have “the male and female essence”, while others lean towards the butterfly looking to nature and that kind of transformation. One of the chapters is called “Death of A Butterfly” and it talks about how many times we lose trans people because the environment is not ready for them yet, or they have unfortunately landed in the hands of a kid with a magnifying glass or with a glass jar. I am writing this book because I really want trans people to recognize their own power; many trans people are suffering. They are struggling with many different things. When the book is released it is going to be a little challenging for some people, as it is going to have a little bit of a conservative sound to it. I say that it is all a spiritual lesson.
MC: Sometimes it is easier for people to understand the trans experience when they can sit down and read (and re-read) someones gorgeous story and absorb it slowly, don’t you think?
AR: Many times, I feel we are missing the mark, and we have been for so long. We are so caught on the “that used to be a man” or “that used to be a girl” and we are stuck on the physical transformation and we are missing folks like Janet Mock who have overcome huge obstacles as trans people. You can look at them as beautiful people, but people get caught up in the wings of the butterfly and all of the different patters. They miss in stories like Janet Mock’s “Redefining Realness” how she talks about talking about sex work being on the pathway for so many trans women and defining their pathway to womanhood; it’s not always pretty. Many times, as Maya Angelous says, people don’t know how much a butterfly has gone through to achieve that kind of beauty.
MC: Times are shifting and trans people are definitely here. Unfortunately, a segment of our population continues to try to pretend they’re not for one reason or another. Do you still feel that from your perspective?
AR: You know, I have to take a deep breath all the time. As much as we want to stick our heads in the sand, we were all woke up this morning and we were born in this time to respond to what is going on right now. Some of us are choosing not to respond, some are choosing to let others respond, and some of us don’t think our voices are powerful enough. I am really seeing this as a time and opportunity to show up. I am looking at presidential candidates like Marianne Williamson, but I dare people to listen to her for any period of time. When she talks about policy and everything else, it is funny how she is able to harness the ideal place America wants to be when they say “In God We Trust” or “One Nation Under God” in the sense that does not oppress people.
We are in a state of oppressive nature that says people cannot dress a certain way or be who they really are. She has this vision for America that I believe includes people like me. She is saying our country is dealing with a moral rot and we need a transformation. I truly believe that queer and trans people are some of the people who should be at the forefront of this transformation. Who else would know what kind of transformation we have gone through in order to be the creative spirit that we are?
MC: You and your cast have taken the ballroom and house community back on Pose and are telling the story from people who truly understand the origin and what it meant to those that lived it. Do you feel the cultural shift from the inside as well?
AR: It is a mixture of both. Our community has so many wonderful sayings; for example, “getting my life” or “giving me life” and what that really means. It is so emotional when I think about the difference scenes and things that we have done on the show. There is one scene where Candy is getting pumped in the basement of someone’s apartment and when we were between camera set ups, Cecelia, the woman who played the doctor and I had conversation and talked about how real the scene was. All of us have laid on that table. The reality is, some girls have laid on that table and not gotten back up and died from bad silicone or a different situation.
What people don’t see or understand when it comes to this whole journey and becoming the butterflies we become, it’s almost like the way nature works, we are going through a vortex when we transition. We are blessed to come out on the other side all in one piece because it is such a drastic transformation.
When the episodes play back and people are able to watch them, for the girls who are still in the thick of it, just came out of it, and survived it, it breathes life into them. Someone recognizes what this hustle has been about and how much I have sacrificed. Not saying I want you to cry me a river, but give me some respect. That I have worked hard to become who I am standing before you; this is not just me wanting to play in hair and makeup.
MC: One thing that Pose is bringing back to the culture today is the language used in the ball culture. Do you feel that you have helped give the children a bit of an education with that?
AR: For us, hearing people say these things is paying homage to Paris is Burning and that time. Pepper LaBeija and those people created a space.. They decided to create their own spaces to shine, and then from there, it evolved into all of the different categories. What I love so much about Pose is that as much as from the outside looking it, people have their opinions and perspective and think things are “morally corrupt”, but when you get in on the inside and get these peoples stories and see that these are just people trying to figure it out, like all of us are. They are trying to find their lane, find their categories and get their tens. What is wrong with us breathing life into each other and saying “yasss” and giving each other our tens? I’m not walking that category, I can’t walk luscious femme queen body as much as Candy tries, so that isn’t my category. So why don’t I breathe life into the girls that can walk that category and find the ones that I can do. There are so many life mantras coming out of Pose!
MC: Is it ever hard bringing some of the more personal moments of Pose to the screen for you or the rest of the cast?
AR: We have seen so many ugly moments. There is that one moment with Blanca and she is going to her mothers funeral and goes to get the recipe book and her brother throws her up against the wall. There was a moment where for me and so many other people, that was so real. I am tearing up just describing it; it’s a real moment. What Pose does so well is it illustrates how we have no choice but to push on forward and make it beautiful. Pose clearly just shows how people are just trying to make do with what they have and keep a smile on their face. How we make something beautiful out of very tragic situations? For people like Isis King, Janet Mock, Peppermint, Jiggly Caliente or any trans person that you can think of, that is what we do.
MC: I know you can’t say too much, but what can we expect from Season 2 of Pose?
AR: Filming recently started, and during my conversations with the writers in the writers room, I know the Candy is coming back with a vengeance. I think that Candy is going to be a little bit more pulled together this season and I think that she is also going to have to still bump her head a few more times. I honestly love playing characters like that. It helps me to humanize and tell a story; we are all not perfect. I know in my life that there are things that I have had to own, or I have had to make amends for, or I have had to make right. You can’t move forward having a messy life like that, I don’t care who you are. Who treated you wrong? How did you show up? And do you need to make amends for that?
MC: You took your own message and weaved it into your non-profit TransTech Social Enterprises and you completely revolutionized how people are able to look at not just trans people in the business world, but the business world as a whole. Do you think that you will be able to look back on that many years from now and see it as a legacy of yours?
AR: I certainly hope so; I would rather be in Miami sipping a mojito near the beach and living my life (laughs)! However, I believe that I was born in this time to walk this specific path in order to leave a blueprint behind. People get starry eyed and their eyes get acidic, like Rihanna would say. I had to be in the adult industry and I am not ashamed of that, I just don’t like when media takes that information and does whatever they do with it. I have had to find ways to own my story and create a blueprint to hand back to folks in our community. At one moment when I started TransTech, I hit so many roadblocks, people were thinking that I was just doing this for self gratification. I knew that I was not taking a salary or getting paid and that TransTech’s bills were paid before mine. I kept my head down and kept building Trans Tech and the legacy that I want to put across is that, don’t put us into a corner or these “respectability politics” and saying we have to show up in “this way” in order to be respected. We just have to meet people where they are and help them find the lane and the environment that is right for them to respect their gifts and how they express themselves creatively. A lot of time, that can be done through freelance and online work.
MC: Your life has had so many changes and you and the cast of Pose are now Grand Marshalls of New York City Pride this year! With all of the hats that you wear and accomplishments yet to come, what gives you the most pride?
AR: When I see a community doing the work and doing it in such an intersectional & trauma informed way. I hate seeing when we have a whitewashed Pride, I had actually stopped going as I did not see myself reflected in the activities and the parties. Now, I believe that our community has awakened and is starting to make amends for overlooking trans people. For me as a trans woman of color, there was so much shame that I had. To get to a place where all of the things I have experienced, regardless of the choices that I have made, are something to be proud of. You create more visibility and more identities and you get someone like me, with so many different experiences. From military to corporate to being an entrepreneur to Pose; the more I am able to take up space and have the audacity to take up that space as a black trans woman, I am so proud to do so. That means that I am possibly inspiring other trans people to take up their own space.
For all things Angelica Ross, visit: https://missross.com/