The cast of Pose is filled with vibrant and amazing performances by performers who are telling stories on screen that many of them have lived off screen. For Dominique Jackson, almost every performance she gives as house mother and queen bee Elektra Abundance is derived from her life. From an upbringing across the globe to making her way from Baltimore to New York City (via the house and ball scene that is portrayed weekly on Pose), Jackson has plenty of raw material from which to pull from to make her performances truly come from her real life. I sat down with Dominique just as the cameras were preparing to go up for the second season of Pose and she held absolutely nothing back. In speaking candidly about her the affect of Pose on today’s culture and what it took for her to get to where she is in her career and life today, one things is “abundantly” clear; Dominique Jackson worked too hard to get where she is to not let others learn from it. And Mother is here to teach the children….
Michael Cook: The cast of Pose is extremely close and it seems that you each are truly cheering each other on. Would you say that’s an accurate assessment?
Dominique Jackson: Completely. My cast mates are so wonderful and so talented. If I was not busy, they would be the ones that I am calling up to have for dinner. It’s just awesome to be around such amazing people. It’s so awesome to not feel like it’s a competition of sorts. We are all in the game together and it’s so authentic and so real, I truly love them all.
MC: What is it like to be part of a show like Pose that has truly changed the landscape of not just what people consider LGBT programming, but television as a whole?
D.J.: It feels absolutely validating. It lets me know that I am not this abomination that I thought that I was and that society told me that I had to be. It lets me know that the lives that were lost and my friends that passed away wanting to get to a certain place, I feel like I am carrying that torch for those people. Letting them know that we are now recognized and are able to tell our own stories. It feel like a blessing, a complete and total blessing.
M.C.: You have the largest cast on network television currently to have a this many trans people on one cast. Does that provide a certain amount of validation as well?
D.J.: My faith and spirituality are mine, and I feel that it is a blessing. I worked for this; I went to those interviews and auditions and I was rejected so many times. Many times I would be laughed at at castings and auditions. Other times, I would walk in and they would immediately know I was trans. Being a transparent type of person, I would tell them that I was a trans woman, and from the moment I said that, I would not be seen any longer. When I would attempt to hide it, there would be people there that would out me that were of my own community. When I would go to those interviews where no one knew that I was trans and no one was there to out me, I would feel like I was living a lie and I did not want to live that way.
M.C.:You come from a very different background as a Tobagonian-American transgender woman. What are the stark differences between the trans experience here in the United States as opposed in Trinidad?
D.J.: They are very different and that is exactly why I left. My grandmother had my education planned out for me and my life was basically set up. I was suffering from a great deal of trauma because I was being molested and raped. I realized that in that moment, I had two choices; attempt to get an education and lose my life, or come to the United States and suffer on my own and try to make it knowing that I am living in my truth, When I first left Tobago, it was really just an escape. I was told that a friend had passed away and immediately I knew what had happened; because the person that had been molesting me was most likely doing the same thing with them. From 1990 up until the year 2000, I lived very much not thinking that I would live much longer; every year was a blessing. Being West Indian I did not want to be tested. I was a lost person, but there was something inside me that said you have to face the music and the issues on hand. When the year 2000 came, I decided I was going to make a life for myself, and in order to do that I had to get tested.
I knew it was coming back positive. At that time, I had no idea how people got tested, it was really just all rumors. On a small island that does not talk about HIV/AIDS, there was no one to speak to. I had heard about the demise of several people from my island and met people in the United States, and I watched both the stigma and the progress. I went into working for places that are non-profits like People Of Color in Crisis and would perform at night. I had started off with sex work, but the manipulation and the bargaining and negotiating of my body made me feel horrible and like I had no value. No matter what, I decided that I would do the shows for whatever money they paid, and if it was for no money, it was for the tips. Every time I got on stage it was frustrating though; people would come up to me and tell me I belonged on television and I was supposed to be a model, saying things like “what are you still doing here”?. The reason I was still in those places was because, I did not have a green card yet. That changed on March 21, 2015 when I got my green card in the mail.
M.C.:How quickly did everything change after you received your green card and was able to legally work in the United States?
D.J.: Once it came, I immediately went to Slay (modeling agency) and things just started to develop. All along, something was saying that “its not over for you”. I would hear people talk about the LGBT community and I just knew that it was not time yet. Sometimes I would go to fashion shows and I would be afraid. There were men of color there and they were the ones that would sleep with us at night and kill us in the morning. In my case, I was not the one making advances to them, they would make them towards me. I would tell them and they would be suddenly offended once I disclosed and they would sometimes threaten me. I was fearful but I knew where I wanted to go, so I would stay to myself at those events. I finally got it right though; I got into my current relationship in 1998 and we are now going on twenty one years, and we have been married since 2011.
M.C.: You were in Baltimore for a while, which brought you eventually to the houses and the ball room scene in New York, much of which is the backdrop for Pose. Do you look at the ball and house scene as a scene that helped save you?
D.J.: It didn’t help save me; it DID save me. I come from a matriarchal family, and my father did not really have time for me. Coming here and my family being religious, I told them that I felt that they looked at me differently. The people that you rely on to love and support you, this one disclosure changes everything. I was trying to find myself back then; now in hindsight, I can say that I was actually trying to understand myself. I was asking myself, why I had urges of going into a store and realizing I was comfortable standing in the women’s department and that I belonged there. I would go to a place in Baltimore that was the only gay place that I knew. I would go in and I attended some of the groups with gay men, but there was something missing. I realized that I was not gay; there was something else going on.
M.C.: So it sounds like your emancipation as a trans woman and your acceptance into the ball scene almost happened hand in hand.
D.J.: Absolutely. One night wandering around, I met a guy and in conversation, he scared me into thinking that I would not survive the LGBT community of color without a man on my arm. Eventually a group of people came up the block like they owned the world. They were only wearing jeans and t shirts, but the attitude they had was like they absolutely owned the world! They simply came up to me and said “Hi-you are gonna walk face for us. You can walk runway and you are beautiful” My whole body vibrated; no one had ever told me that before, I thought I was one of the ugliest people on earth. Only recently have I accepted that people think I am attractive. My dearly departed sister Tiffany told me that night “you are my sister and I am not going to let anything happen to you”. They took me away from that man and they invited me to stay at their house; eight of us in a one bedroom apartment! That is where it all started.
M.C.: So the ball scene is truly where you found your voice as well as truly who you are, it is fair to say.
D.J. :Completely. There was a sense of happiness and joy that I had never experienced before. Ballrooms and walking the balls opened me up as a person and showed me it would be the place that would save my life. Eventually people from New York City came down and saw me, and ended up bringing me back to New York City. They fed me, clothed me, and all I had to do was walk a ball. Pose shows that we had to do sex work and those girls were the ones that girls all over the country looked up to; they were living in their truth. Even though we were being looked at as freaks at times, we were able to earn a living without having to do sexual acts and were only dancing in those booths.
M.C.: As you look at your past, where do you see your future. Pose is about to start shooting Season Two.
D.J.: Yes it is, and I am so excited to start! During those times in my past, the ballroom and was the only place I could be free and I could be me. I see now it has cleared a path and given me so much life and energy that I was able to live off of that in those dark times. Now that things have turned around, I am so grateful for those moments I went through; they all made me exactly who I am and the woman you see on screen.
(All photos courtesy of FX)