Pose's Angelica Ross: For International Transgender Day of Visibility, Let's Embrace All Women

Angelica Ross is an actress and advocate who broke out in Ryan Murphy's groundbreaking FX series Pose, on which she plays the inspiring Candy. She made history as the first female transgender actress to secure two series regular roles after being casted for the ninth season of FX's American Horror Story: 1984, and is set to return for the series' not-yet-titled tenth season. When she's not in the spotlight, Ross strives to be a leading figure of success and strength in the movement for transgender and racial equality, serving as the President of Miss Ross, Inc. and founder of TransTech Social Enterprises — a program that helps people lift themselves out of poverty through technical training, digital work designed to create a social impact and bringing economic empowerment to marginalized communities. This is her story, as told to PEOPLE. 

When it comes to human rights, society has mostly been going by a white feminist playbook that doesn't include the experiences of women of color and trans women of color. If I could put one message on a billboard for this International Transgender Day of Visibility, it would be this: embrace all women. 

We can't keep invalidating other people's experiences and not hearing their truths. There is not a thorough understanding of what being transgender actually means. Most people think it's a physical transition, and that's where we have a problem, because it's not just about the physical transition — it's about becoming who you are. For example, if you're trans and non-binary, some people might see that as a "failed transition." Or, if a trans woman doesn't fit into some box of femininity, people will turn it into a joke. They want to laugh at her broad shoulders, or how tall she is and how big her feet are. 

These are all characteristics of cisgender women as well, so transphobia hurts them, too. There's women like Michelle Obama and Serena Williams, who have been the subject of racist jokes about their appearance. That's trans misogyny, a nasty intersection that hurts all women. 

I grew up a big fish in a small pond. I thought my small town was going to kill me with its ignorance and harassment. My cousin would bring people to my job at a mall makeup counter and tell them, "You know that's a man, right?" But in hindsight, I see now that they were waiting for me to show them something different. Now, they proudly claim me as one of their own. When LGBTQ youth are growing up in Racine, Wisconsin, they tell them Angelica Ross came from there. She shook up that town.  

We have to focus on creating an environment where not only are institutions and workplaces safe for trans people, but there are safe people that trans folks can go to for support. The trans community has had so many setbacks, but it has been nice to see the wins that we do have, and oftentimes, those wins are in representation. We're seeing more representation in Hollywood, not just in front of the camera, but also behind the camera with executive producers like Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, Rain Valdez and myself creating content. We're employing other people within our community to help us tell these stories, too.

But Hollywood needs to recognize its tendency to love symbols more than it loves actual change. Hollywood players love to put up a bat signal to the world, announcing, "Look! We have trans people in our cast!" or "We have somebody gay in our movie!" or "We have a Black person here!" Instead of constantly using the same faces and names over and over again, however, producers and directors need to deepen the bench and understand that there are so many more voices and talent that could tap into if they just created the space.

I am the first female transgender actress to be in two series regular roles, but I shy away from headlines that claim I'm the first to do anything. I don't think it's about who did it first — it's about who did it best. I'm always focused on doing my best because that's what is going to keep me booked and busy, that's what's going to keep me in the room. I want to be the best so that other trans people can come after me and have an easier time getting work too. 

There's a line in Pose where my character Candy says, "Don't waste your tears on me, put that energy on a Candy girl out there, beautify her in my stunning image." I want people to take Candy's advice: Don't waste your tears on this fictional character because there are trans women we are losing every day, and you can help stop that violence. You can learn to be a safe space for trans people and hold others accountable in your own circles to make sure they are a safe space, too. We need to see trans people as human beings who are going through their own journey to become who they're supposed to be. 

  • As told to Morgan Smith

To help transgender people, consider learning from or donating to these organizations, which Angelica Ross supports:

  • TransTech Social Enterprises provides education, networking opportunities and jobs to economically empower trans people.
  • The [email protected] Coalition supports transgender and gender nonconforming and intersex (TGI) immigrants in the United States.
  • The Marsha P. Johnson Institute works to raise awareness and protect the rights of Black trans people.

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