'Pose' Writer Janet Mock Talks Working With Ryan Murphy to Create Honest Trans Narratives

Janet Mock
Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage

Janet Mock attends the New York premiere of FX series Pose at Hammerstein Ballroom on May 17, 2018 in New York City. 

Ryan Murphy’s upcoming FX series Pose is already a history-making show, and its first episode hasn’t even aired.

The series, which examines New York City’s ballroom culture of the '80s, along with the height of the Trump luxury era, boasts the largest regular cast of transgender actors in television history, with five trans actors lending their talents to the series.

In order to paint the full picture correctly, Murphy brought in a diverse team to bring the show to fruition. One of those team members was Janet Mock, a writer, actress and transgender activist. Mock was hired to write for the series, adding a needed member of the transgender community to the team.

In an essay for Variety, Mock revealed that when she was initially approached by Murphy to write for the show, she had trepidations. “This issue of whose gaze, whose stories, and whose bodies were in focus and in leadership behind the camera presented me with much caution as I considered the offer to write on Pose,” she wrote. “I would soon learn that Murphy was aware of this issue. That’s why he assembled a team of culturally specific collaborators from the ball community.”

The writer revealed that the original script the show is based on tells the story of Damon, a young dancer who becomes homeless after his family rejects him for being gay and is ultimately taken in by a trans woman named Blanca, who happens to be a mother in the ball scene. “The notion of a trans woman saving a young boy’s life moved me,” Mock wrote. “It was a radical departure from what I had seen on screens.”

Mock continued, saying that in the history of television, transgender individuals were treated as non-people. “When girls like us flitted onto my screen, we were seen through the narrowest lens -- either as points of trauma, treated as freaks, or mere punchlines,” she wrote. “I knew with Pose I would hold the pen, writing narratives that would show the totality of what it meant to be brown and black, to be trans and poor and femme in an era in New York City dictated by a series of ills.”

In her first book, Redefining Realness, Mock detailed what it meant for her to grow up trans and her journey to fully realizing her identity as a transgender woman. The book was the first of its kind, telling the true story of a young trans person, and found its way onto the New York Times bestsellers list.

Mock’s hiring on Pose was also historic -- she was the first trans woman of color to ever be hired as a writer on a television series. She ultimately went on to become a producer of the show and even to direct an episode of the show. “Though the series lives under Murphy’s production banner, he has taken a backseat with Pose, using the series as an opportunity to champion the communities our show represents,” she wrote.

With the stunning news of Pose’s historic casting news, Mock was quick to point out that the five trans women cast on the show are more than their gender identity. “Our leading ladies cannot be defined solely by their trans-ness,” she wrote. “They are, like all of us, whole beings. Their trans-ness may not be the sole focus of our story, but it’s also not sidelined.”

The writer added that the show’s leading women are not cast as “martyrs” or any other stereotypical portrayal of transgender people on television. “In the world I am writing, these women are the heroines I have always been waiting for,” she said. “They are tethered to one another. They support and challenge one another. They love on and dance and laugh and yes, shade one another. This is what sisterhood, family and resilience looks like.”

Pose premieres June 3 on FX. Read Janet Mock’s full essay for Variety here.