It goes without saying that Pose has captivated the nation and given some long overdue attention to New York City’s ballroom scene. Besides shining a light on a scene that has given so much to our own culture, it has also put a spotlight on burgeoning superstars like Angelica Ross, M.J. Rodriguez and Dominique Jackson, among others. Dyllón Burnside stormed onto the scene as the resident heartbreaker Ricky, but as the layers of his compelling performance peeled, we saw that Ricky (and Burnside) were much more than a pretty face. I caught up with Burnside (who himself identifies as “queer”) to chat about a truly one of a kind summer, his new single “Silence” and how the current protests and tone of our country awakened the advocate inside him.
Michael Cook: It has been a very surreal year for so many of us. What do you think you have learned the most from this once in a lifetime moment in our country?
Dyllón Burnside: I think the thing that I have learned and one of the things that is the most important to me is that there is a lot of fat in my life that could stand to be trimmed. There is a lot of noise and a lot of things that we do that we feel obligated to do and a lot of parts of our lives that we are hanging onto or that are hanging onto us and we don’t really need it. COVID has sort of taught me to trim the fat and it has taught me to get back to basics.
MC: It sounds like it had taught you that looking out for you is extremely important.
DB: Absolutely. It has reminded me of the importance of caring for yourself above all. Just designing the life that you want to live, independent of work, independent of other people’s opinions of you or how you should live your life. Life is short and this is highlighting that.
MC: Have you found a way to be sure you are able to spend time with the people in your life that you do consider important?
DB: You know, even with COVID, coming to New York, that was a calculated risk that I had to take. I of course, was tested before I came and found out that I was negative and my friends definitely did the same. I had to decide what my life was going to look like. Who are the folks that I want to spend it with and what is it going to take for us to be able to spend time together, even during this time? It might mean we have to get tested first and do our due diligence to make sure that we can be around each other. If may mean we have to stand six feet apart and wear masks. These are the people that I want to spend life with. It can’t just happen on FaceTime and Zoom. People probably have different opinions about this, but for my life I think it was important to make that decision, to do it wisely and to be safe about it. Just like I would do with my family, we have to see each other at some point, so we have to take the precautions and make it work.
MC: This year, we have found that so much of the noise has been quieted with so much amazing music. Your single “Silence” is one of those pieces. Everyone is now getting a chance to hear and see you in a different perspective; What has it been like to release music right now?
DB: It is scary, I am talking about my personal life and the things that are going on in my inner life and being super personal. Putting that on display for people is always a terrifying exercise in vulnerability I also feel that this is the work that I was called to do, so I am empowered by it. People have responded to the song and sent lots of encouraging messages that the song speaks to where they are right now with the feelings of loneliness, anxiety and isolation that they have experienced.
I will say though, I definitely think we are in a moment where everything is super loud; it is really hard to cut through all of that noise. There is so much happening on social media, everyone is posting everything. All of their feelings and thoughts, all day. That is why this summer I took a fast from social media. I just decided to disengage from social media because I needed to find silence for myself. Aside from all of the things happening on the social media space, there is so much happening on the political space. There is COVID and food lines, and protests it is just so much. That is also what the song is about also; it’s called “Silence”, but if you listen to the chorus, you have “all this silence but I still have voices inside my head”. That was sort of what was the thing that really sparked me to write the song. Sitting alone in a quiet apartment and hearing all of this internal noise and being overwhelmed by it
MC: So you were looking for a way to almost quiet the noise it sounds like?
DB: Wanting to have someone come over to help fill the physical external silence so I did not have to deal with the internal noise. I think right now, we have a lot of external noise in our experience and we have to find inner silence. It is an interesting dichotomy that I think the song explores between the inner life and the external stimulants. It is what I was trying to unpack without it being so heavy & keeping it sexy at the same time, but I also wanted to speak about what I was experiencing and what other people are experiencing as well.
MC: You mentioned the protests and what is going on in the country. As a young man of color, what is it like seeing the protests that have emerged around the country and the true shift we have seen in the way people see these issues?
DB: I think that shift is a result of a lot of things. A friend of mine organized a bus ride to DC and that friend pointed out to me recently that he was frustrated, but also encouraged by the fact that we are doing some of the same things that they were doing in the sixties in terms of the fight for civil rights and organizing a bus ride like people were taking the Freedom Rides in the sixties; we are still doing that now for the same reasons? He had a conversation with Rev. Sharpton about this, and that sort of connection to the cvivil rights movement of that time and the direct ties to the civil rights movement of today is unfortunate; unfortunate that we still have two be dealing with the same issues.
While we do employ some of the old strategies that were used then, we have new strategies like hashtags and social media at our disposal that have helped to amplify the voices of marginalized folks, like black and brown citizens, women and trans people. One of the key reasons why people are paying attention now is because of social media and because we are all at home in May when this all seemed to ignite. We couldn’t get away from it. We were all thinking about COVID, but this was something else the media could focus on, and I am glad that they did talk about it. I think that is really a big reason why it is happening right now. I also don’t think it’s an accident; while we are in a global pandemic, the disease of our country is trying to be uprooted. While we are working overtime to find a vaccine for COVID-19, we need to be working overtime to find a vaccine for systemic oppression. Mainly anti-black racism, and the anti-trans and anti queer sentiment in this country.
MC: You being part of something like the show Prideland during Pride month was truly revolutionary. It is taking the kind of show where people see different perspectives and showcasing them a way we have never seen before, but showcasing yourself as well. What is it like being a part of it?
DB: Prideland was a revolutionary experience for me. I never in a million years imagined doing something like that, particularly in the South. Having and being able to have these candid conversations with people like Carmarion Anderson a black trans woman who is a State Director of Alabama’s HRC. Speaking to a white gay pastor in Mississippi, a mom of multiple gay sons who grew up Southern Baptist, being able to have conversations with folks who I have met, and when I say ‘met” I have met their archetypes, like the Sunday Baptist Sunday school teacher. I did not know Miss Mary Jane before Prideland , but I knew many woman like Miss Mary Jane before doing this. I never thought I would get a chance to sit down with a woman like her and talk about what it is like to be queer and to talk about God and Jesus and the Bible in the same conversation. To sit down with a black mayor in a city like Montgomery and take about queer issues. I am thinking that I am going in to advocate for our issues, and then he is as much of an advocate as I am. It really opened my eyes to the fact that even my own perceptions of who people can be can be limited, just as much as folks who are straight and cisgender white respectable folks need to open their minds and have a dialogue I need to do the same. There was definitely learning happening on both sides of the conversation.
MC: People that have turned into Pose to initially see you be a heartbreaker have gotten to really fall in love with the character of Ricky on your own. What has it been like to be a part of a show like Pose that has changed television.
DB: It has completely changed television and I am super grateful to be a part of the whole that is Pose. I am grateful to Ryan Murphy, Janet Mock, Steven Canals, FX and Disney and everyone who works on the show. All of these folks who have believed in me, and believe in Ricky. They are not showing a one dimensional character, they are not showing a one sided depiction of black and brown queer and trans folks. I am just grateful for the opportunity to tell this story and to be able to do it in a nuanced way and to do it with a team that really cared about the storytelling and who care about the lives of the folks that Ricky represents. That character is not about me, it is about all of the folks who identify with Ricky. I just have gotten messages from folks, young and old who talk about how inspired they have been by Ricky, by the way that they have seen a young black queer boy portrayed on television because we have never seen that type of portrayal of a black man on television before. I am just incredibly grateful and super humbled.
MC: How have you stayed creatively motivated and fueled during quarantine?
DB: It is hard it is incredibly hard. I will say, the thing that has been inspiring me has been the movement, That speaks to where I am right now personally. It speaks to the things that are important to me right now, The song “Silence” was written in December of 2019 and it felt important to release now because it was so appropriate, it was what we are all going through. My advice to folks would be to follow their instincts and to follow the call that they feel on their lives right now regarding everything happening in the world. Whatever is important to you, lean into that and that will inform your creativity. Get outside, put your feet in the grass or in the sand and ground yourself.
Season 3 of Pose is currently filming
Follow Dyllón Burnside on Instagram