Angelica Ross: Being a part of groundbreaking television

"Pose" star Angelica Ross
A transgender woman that always has been “on purpose.”

Even with season one of Pose in the can, the show continues to be one of the most buzzed about shows to have premiered this year. The series had the single largest cast of transgender performers ever on network television, and Angelica Ross’s portrayal of the street savvy and big hearted runway walker Candy Abundance stands out as one of the best. Ross’s portrayal as a transgender woman trying to achieve the “perfect” body showcases the degrees some transgender women will truly go to in order to achieve the “perfect” body to match the woman they are inside.

How does it feel to be part of such an amazing experience? 

Pose star Angelica Ross has found the show to be "on purpose."
“Pose” star Angelica Ross has found the show to be “on purpose.”

Angelica Ross: It feels timely and it feels on purpose. If you ever receive an email from me, my signature on my email says “on purpose, Angelica Ross.” Everything that I have done has been on purpose. Not only with intention and on purpose, but in alignment and on the track of my purpose. This was a show that I passed on several times actually. They were trying to audition so many people from the community. I was sitting here not wanting to audition; I felt that Elektra (Abundance) wasn’t my role, and I felt like Blanca (Evangelista) being a Latina trans person was not for me either. My agent convinced me to do a self tape, and had already been working and talking with production about me. Off of the self tape, I got a callback for the role of Candy. I got the callback and went to New York and auditioned in front of 16 executives including Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, Nina Jacobsen, all of them. It was terrifying, but it was one of those things that within that room, I felt so much love. They were speaking of me like they had really done their homework and already knew of me, and wanted to let me know that they thought. That I was talented.

Ryan sent a message after I did not get the role I auditioned for that I was talented, and he hoped to be able to work with me in the future. I cried about it, of course, but I am a Buddhist, and we have a whole thing about our attitude where we take it into the next thing, and the next thing, and we kind of “polish our mirror” so we can see our circumstances.

We like to be able to see our circumstances and environment very clearly, and we can make it the best in all situations. I knew that if this role was not the one, that was fine, and I then heard from Ryan Murphy months later; they had written Candy specifically for me.

Candy went though a great deal during the first season of Pose. Was her journey in line with many of your own experiences? 

"Pose" star Angelica Ross went through a lot of emotions during filming
“Pose” star Angelica Ross went through a lot of emotions during filming

AR: Absolutely. It was hard to actually film some of it, it was very emotional and I went though a lot of emotions filming it. Then, as a trans person standing I the makeup trailer for two hours as they put the prosthetic hip on me, and before I even had the airbrushed holes and wounds airbrushed on me, it looked perfect. It looked like exactly what I would want added to my body. I went through my own triggering moments of really wanting my body to be that way. To be honest, after that as well, every day after episode four when Candy gets pumped; now Candy has a body. So now every day, I get into the trailer and I put on Candy’s body, and that is body that I wish I had. That fucks with me every time. They will put me in a nice dress, and I will see how well it fits now.

So suffice to say, you have gotten the chance to go on a style journey during this time as well. 

AR: I have to say, I have been fortunate enough to have an amazing stylist myself, Brandon Garr. He has been styling my body in a way that helps me embrace my trans body that is more toned. When I am on the red carpet, I am showing off my midriff. At the GLAAD awards, I wore this August Getty satin pantsuit where I had the suit jacket over my shoulders and this little small bra top and satin pants; I made Marie Claire Best Dressed List, and it was just an affirming moment. As someone who is embarrassed about my body, I am finding ways to still love and dress my body in ways that I am not at odds with it. There are still changes I would like to make. But this whole journey we got through and things like gender dysphoria, I have learned to keep it at bay, and learn to love and work with my body as it is now, and appreciate the changes it will go through in the future.

Happiness now in Buddhism

Do you think you will ever get to a place where you will be happy with the skin you are truly in? 

"Pose" star Angelica Ross says her character, Candy, is driven
“Pose” star Angelica Ross says her character, Candy, is driven

AR: Absolutely. To each their own. It’s a journey. Some people will go through the journey on their own way, and I have reached it without surgery. I say spiritually I have gotten to a place where no future event can make me happy. No surgery is going to make me happy or make me a woman. What I do know is that if I experience happiness now, in Buddhism we practice non-attachment, if I am not attached to that outcome, I experience that now. I will also experience it when I have my surgery. It is something that is moment by moment, that I love my self now. That I will get wrinkles here, get older, get fatter. But I am going to love my

Scene from "Pose"
Scene from “Pose”

body every day.

What do you want people to have been able to take from your portrayal of Candy this season? 

AR: No matter what you say about Candy, she is driven. She is not taking no for an answer. Even if people say that a category is not for you, she is going to go through the process of figuring that out for her. No one is going to tell her “she can’t.” What I really love about the show… in Buddhism, we talk about winning and having a winning life. What I love about the ballroom scene and Pose, and walking and getting the trophies is what it is really about within the community, is because bitch, I want you to win. Don’t go out there looking like that. Ultimately, this environment, our family, these houses, are because we know that we are up against circumstances and odds that are against us. Ultimately, we want to create an environment where everyone can win.

Scene from "Pose"
Scene from “Pose”

Voluptuous, fat, femme, whatever your category is, that you can win that.

I want people to see that with Candy, she was wild all season. I was talking to directors during the season and was like,“are you guys sure?” (laughs) I had a large experience in improv and they knew that. So I only had two lines in the first episode. Even one of them was thrown to me as an ad lib. I want them to know that even though Candy is wild, and we do have these misunderstood girls in our community, you definitely found out why, in the season finale. What Candy did was so crazy. When people really start to talk about it, I hope they understood my choices and why I did certain things. Maybe we have more compassion for those girls that have to fight every day and have that chip on their shoulder.

The design firm TransTech Social Enterprises

You took experiences like both you and Candy had and founded an entire design firm out of it, TransTech Social Enterprises. How did you make such glorious lemonade out of these lemons? 

AR: I did! So many people told me it would not work, and that I was wasting my time. Those girls are too caught up in the life to see. The reality is that I experience all of these things, all of the challenges. What they did not factor in was me, and how I handle challenges. I started TransTech in 2014, and we barely were funded. What has funded us is my drive. We operate on a very thin budget. There are no executives getting paid a high salary. I am the CEO, and I don’t even take a salary. Our budget is streamlined in ways that goes directly to the community. We connect community members directly to jobs. My first year into it, I ended up putting over one hundred thousand dollars directly into our communities pocket. Not into mine, but into theirs.

What I know about TransTech and the blueprint that I have tried to create, is that I, too, was in the whirlwind of a life. I, too, was fired from every job, and marginalized into the adult industry, and then to sex work, and had to figure it out.

And that is how TransTech was born?

Scene from "Pose"
Scene from “Pose”

AR: At the intersection of technology, I figured it out. I figured that I had choices. I had skills that I could develop and I had different things that I could do. And over the course of 10 years I built my own business. Before I entered into the non-profit realm, [I worked for] this organization that was doing this program called the Trans Life Center. They were doing the program, but hired me as a trans person to help run it. Above us though, were all white cis people.

The program did not have the life that it should have had. That is why I ended up quitting that job, and I had already had been running my own company for ten years. I took the experience of running that company. What I learned was the mission behind non-profits of trying to serve our communities. I learned that people could learn something and become their own heroes and stop the savior complex and hero complex that other non-profits feed into. Because we do that for them, that means when I first had my office in Chicago, it was empty in the beginning, even though I paid for the rent.

I am offering space and opportunity, not a stipend, and a bus pass, and a meal. People would ask what we were giving, and it was things like training for gmail so you could step up your administrative skills. So you don’t have to wonder why someone else got the job that you didn’t. It does not have to be these high level of skills, you know?  The conversation about technology needed to come down to the girls that needed it. If they do makeup, they could learn to use a square reader and get a website. They can work around the challenges of being unemployed.

The trans community should not be second class

Do you think that the time has now come that the trans movement can be a forward moving train and not be second class? 

AR: No. I think we must stay vigilant. We cannot celebrate like we have already won. I cannot tell you enough how a little piece of me felt so hurt the moment we won marriage equality. I was at the White House at the last LGBTQ function there. I was in that crowd surrounded by so much privilege and felt a little sadness of many of them they felt the war was over. We saw that so many of the funding dollars that went towards marriage equality were not the funding dollars that went to getting our trans brothers and sisters on board.

I think that what trans people like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock have done is not given full credit. We have different spectrums of trans in the community whose issues are not talked about like women’s are. Although, they are not killed at the rate we are either. There are a lot of conversations that happen, but regardless, the reason why there has been movement in the community is because of trans women. No one was helping us amplify this; we did it ourselves.

Janet created the hashtag #girlslikeus. Laverne is using her spotlight to do advocacy, create documentaries and feeding into the youth. Janet travels and speaks to the youth. We are doing this ourselves. Any moment when it is not popular any more, they will leave us behind. We have to stay vigilant where we are always aware that when there is an erasure happening, or a marginalization happening, not just of us, but we can recognize when it is happening to someone else.

They think we pop out of nowhere. Think of my girlfriend Amiyah Scott on Star. Everyone is going crazy when she came on the scene with Star. What a lot of people don’t know is that she was the girl for the last 15 years that people were looking at because she was the fucking blueprint. She is the look. They don’t realize we have been ready; we have been here. We have been doing this. We have just been waiting for you all to share the spotlight.

Angelica Ross has inspiration from the work she is doing

What inspires you? 

AR: Right now, I am experiencing the most pride. I am proud of the show that I am on. I am proud of the work that I am doing, and I am proud of the work my community is doing. I am proud of those white gay boys who have recognized that they have been problematic, and support their trans and their black brothers and sisters. I am proud to see the conversations break through to where it was nothing, to where we are talking about it.

I am most proud to see that when I look left and right, I am not the only one. I am seeing more and more of my sisters who have worked hard getting what they deserve.