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Photograph: Courtesy Justin Bettman

Pose star MJ Rodriguez on bringing her experiences to television

Written by
David Goldberg

In celebration of Pride in NYC and FX's fabulously transgressive new series Pose, we're speaking to the five women at the center of the show—Angelica RossHailie SaharMJ RodriguezIndya Moore and Dominique Jackson, along with producer Janet Mock—about their experiences.  Here's our chat with the charming MJ Rodriguez, who plays burgeoning house mother Blanca. 

What is it like working with Janet Mock?
It’s great to see someone just like you who you can relate to. I’ve looked up to Janet Mock for a long time; she was an inspiration for me just as a woman in general, just powerhousing through everything, making shit happen. And that’s only a catapult for me to just go farther and go harder. She’s a great director. She has a wonderful vision for everything; she’s just so eloquent and so poised. They’re putting in a lot of work for a story that needed to be told out there. The story has to be told. People need to see it, and it’s not going to be like no Paris is Burning. That was a documentary that only showed you a glimpse; this is going to give you a lens into what other things happened aside from just the ballroom scene. It’s going to be pretty freaking epic. 

Before this, you were in Rent and Saturday Church. What's it like working in queer spaces?
It’s been amazing. It’s good to be surrounded by people who are part of your community, who understand what needs to happen and what type of movement needs to take place so that things can be pushed forward and minds can be opened.

What's it like working on a production of such a big scale?
I don’t even know how to explain it. This is all so new to me, everything. I’ve done guest spots on TV shows before, but this is on a different level, especially when it comes to speaking for a certain part of the community. I’m just happy, I’m just riding the wave and taking everything as it comes. I’m like a sponge, soaking up everything.

How would you describe Blanca?
Blanca is this rambunctious, hard-headed, but determined and ambitious person. She’s dealing with a lot as far as what she has received from a diagnosis. She's decided to take hold of her life and not let anything hold her down, but instead create a legacy for herself so her existence can live on, even when she’s not here. She’s an innovator. There are some small differences between me and Blanca, but for the most part, there are a lot of similarities. I feel like we’re pretty much the same person.

I think a lot of women back in the ’80s wanted to fight for the generation that’s going to come, and i think that’s what Blanca is, that’s what she’s doing. I am just here as a vessel, so that i can just speak for my ancestors and the women that are not here today.

What has changed for POC trans women since Blanca’s lifetime?

There’s more visibility for all parts of the community, especially the trans community. We need to be in a space where we can be considered normal, whatever normal is, so that we can exist with everyone. I want everyone to come together. I am here for my community automatically as a trans woman. 

Did you have to revisit any hard experiences in playing Blanca?
There have been moments when I was in a specific scene or couple of scenes and thought: "Wow, this is exactly what I went through when I was younger." I have always been someone who has been casted out and had to find my way by myself, and I feel like Blanca had to do that as well. I don’t want to be ostracized, why do I gotta be ostracized? I’m just like you! But there’s been a lot of scenes that have touched upon the pain that I have experienced in my life. I always triumph over it, and the character always triumphs. You feel it and then you let it go and you move forward.

How are you taking in this whole experience? 
For me, I never thought anything like this would happen. I was a girl from Newark New jersey who was fighting to be seen, fighting to fit in and just hustling, trying to make ends meet because I had a dream and somebody took a chance on my dream, and now I’m doing it. I’m ready. I’m not afraid of anyting. What we’re putting out there is exactly what the world needs to see. And they just better get ready.

Photographer: Justin Bettman
Styling: Israel Mejia
Location: Hudson Yards Loft
Special thanks: Aurelia, Onarin, Levi’s, James Chan, IRO, Rachel Antonoff, Dolce & Gabbana, Joanna Lara Constantine, Christian Louboutin 

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