I saw Paris is Burning for the first time as a college freshman, and one of the things from Jennie Livingston’s 1990 documentary about New York’s 1980s ballroom scene that has always stuck with me is the undercurrent of longing that seemed to emanate from some of the Black and brown trans women featured onscreen. I’m thinking specifically of the images of Octavia St. Laurent drifting through a luxury department store and surrounded by cisgender white women at a model casting. Moments like these frame women like Octavia as outsiders, their faces pressed to the glass separating them from a world of glamour that is at the same time being aggressively sold to them.
Those images stand in stark contrast to the ones from last night’s glittering red carpet premiere of the third and final season of Pose. The FX drama was the first series to hold an in-person event like this in 2021, and it’s hard to think of a more appropriate show to herald the return of glamour in the post-vaccine era—or a cast more deserving of the spotlight.
The show’s cast and producers, including Mj Rodriguez, Indya Moore, Dominque Jackson, and Janet Mock shone on the step-and-repeat like the stars they are. In many ways, the event represented the shattering of the barriers that were meant to keep women like Octavia St. Laurent out of the spotlight. The thought that the pandemic, along with everything else it has taken from us, could have potentially denied these trans women of color their moment of triumph, the opportunity to bask in the achievement that Pose represents, is almost too much to contemplate.
Of course, that achievement isn’t without its flaws. In her opening remarks, executive producer Mock took the opportunity to call out the show’s pay inequities. “Why am I making $40,000 an episode, huh? Do you know who the f*ck I am?” she demanded, according to Variety.
Despite the necessary airing of those dispiriting truths about the way the industry continues to undervalue trans women of color, the photos from last night’s event still mean something more than most red carpet pics. They’re more than just flashy, fabulous images of celebrities looking gorgeous. They’re revolutionary images. At a time when Republican lawmakers are attempting to erase transgender people’s existence, to nip a generation of trans youth in the bud by denying them gender-affirming healthcare, when trans women of color continue to be routinely slaughtered, it is no small thing to see Mock, Rodriguez, Jackson, and their colleagues boldly owning their place in the world.
One of the enduring lessons of Paris is Burning, and of Pose, is that those in power do not have a monopoly on glamour. Anyone who is so inclined can create their own—that’s what ballroom culture is all about. You don’t have to wait for anyone to bestow glamour upon you; you can seize it. And in seizing it, claiming it for yourself, calling it your own, you also seize power. Glamour, as the singer and performer Justin Vivian Bond is fond of saying, is resistance. It is the act of asserting your own self-worth. The women on that red carpet last night were performing a revolutionary act of resistance. I’m so grateful that they got the chance.