After three seasons of dazzling ballroom looks, devastating diagnoses, trauma, love, and triumph, Pose is over. The series left its mark on TV with a large ensemble cast of trans women and gay men. These actors gave us characters who told many different stories about LGBTQ+ life for Black and Latin people in the underground ballroom scene during the late ’80s and early ’90s at the height of the AIDS crisis. If someone were to pinpoint the heart and soul of this series, it would certainly be Blanca Evangelista, played by MJ Rodriguez.
Blanca’s story is perhaps the most even-keeled among her found family. She didn’t become a mob-adjacent mogul like Elektra nor a high-fashion model like her daughter Angel. Blanca didn’t experience addiction like Pray Tell, Lulu, and Damon. But she made her own incredible impact on everyone around her, and on viewers while facing her own mountain of socioeconomic challenges as an Afro-Latina trans woman.
Discovering a Diagnosis and Finding Her Dreams
We first met Blanca in 1987 as a 26-year-old living in the House of Abundance. She’s among other trans women of color and gay men, yet she’s ridiculed for not looking “feminine” enough and being unfashionable. Despite this, Blanca recognizes her own worth, speaking up against her house mother Elektra when she blatantly claims one of Blanca’s ideas as her own.
Many viewers may not be able to relate to Blanca’s specific life circumstances. But perhaps we have dealt with some similar issues. The pain of being verbally abused by someone who is supposed to be your friend or like a sibling to you. Cruel judgment about your body because it does not fit into someone’s standards of beauty. Your intellectual property being taken from you during a collaborative process. How do you react to these situations?
It’s not quite so easy for some of us to push back like Blanca. However, we can take a cue from her to know that our ideas, our existence, and our contributions to the world matter. And if there is a way to leave an unhealthy space, then we should do that for our own sake.
This is exactly what Blanca does. She comes to an important crossroads when she discovers that she is HIV-positive. During this time, this diagnosis was rightfully seen as a death sentence due to a lack of understanding about the virus and limited treatment options. Blanca is certainly not rich so her access to needed medications is more difficult. She sits with her friend Pray Tell, an MC at the balls, telling him that this realization is actually a blessing in disguise for her.
“I’m not sad,” Blanca said. “These are tears of joy. I’m relieved. I ain’t never been certain of anything. It’s just been all one day at a time until now. I don’t wanna die. I wanna live.” Blanca’s uncertain life now has one certainty: how she will die. Her response is an incredible balance between pragmatism and optimism. She sees her situation for what it was while still realizing that her life isn’t over until it is over.
The truth is, we don’t know what the future holds for us. There could (or already might be) health diagnoses or something else that could possibly end our lives earlier than we expect. We truly don’t know when we are going to die. So until then, we have to give ourselves permission to live. To love ourselves and others. To find a dream.
And oh does Blanca find the perfect dream for her. She gets her own place, tells Elektra exactly what she thinks about her, and starts her own house to help lost and discarded souls. She soon has her first three kids: fellow Abundance housemate and sex worker Angel, transient bodega shop worker Papi, and recent teenage transplant and dancer Damon. Blanca is only a few years older than they are, but they look to her as their house mother. And, in 1988, she wins the coveted “Mother of the Year” award at the ball.
A Supportive Mother Through Social Injustice
Blanca may not be able to vogue the house down (although MJ can IRL) but she has a special gift. As Elektra told her when they first met, she leads with her heart. She can see greatness in the people she loves and encourages them to become their best selves. Blanca consistently sets the bar for what a parental figure and friend hopes to be. She encourages Damon to pursue his dance dreams against all odds and recognizes Angel’s potential as a model. Angel’s career gives Papi a newfound purpose and way to utilize his street savvy as a talent manager.
They want to give up on themselves at times; however, Blanca is always there with a loving (and rather firm) hand to keep them going. We all know how vital it is to have someone around you who won’t let you give up on yourself. A person who sees you and knows what you are capable of. We are also that person to someone in our own lives, whether we know it or not. Blanca reminds us to hold each other up and keep each other accountable throughout our respective journeys.
Her life is full of injustice yet she’s thinking about future children and making the world a better place for them. Blanca refuses to allow a white gay bar to discriminate against her and brings her house to an AIDS protest. They are both very important issues that, for Blanca, are bigger than snagging a trophy on the ballroom floor. She knows that ball culture is a lifeline for many people but also recognizes that there are other fights that must happen for change to occur.
Depending on our respective privileges, it can be easy to look the other way and pretend something is not happening because it isn’t happening to us. We can dig into the comfort of our safe spaces but, when we step outside of them, that’s where change can truly come. In reality, Blanca should have more than just her fellow community fighting beside her. But that’s a topic for another post.
The Foundation for Found Family
Throughout the series, Blanca carries a lot on her shoulders as the foundation of her family circle. Lulu goes to her first when Candy is missing and Elektra immediately comes to her after a client dies unexpectedly, despite both of them not always being kind to her in the past. And her children’s shenanigans keep her busy. She’s the fixer who wants to make things right. Blanca may get a little too involved at times but she doesn’t do it to her own detriment.
She still maintains her own personal goals and health, opening her own nail business with money she saved for years, taking her medications and Flintstone vitamins, and desiring to find healthy romantic love. At one point, an attractive man approaches her about a date. Blanca accepts but soon discovers that he has an unsavory reputation among the girls. They tell her to simply have an, um, good time with him but she refuses. She wants romance and real love and will not settle for less, even if others think that is what she should do. Again, Blanca shows us that we don’t have to settle. And, even as life gives us more responsibilities, we still need to be a priority to ourselves.
It’s often easier to root for our friends and family, support their dreams, and throw ourselves into giving them what they need. And, sometimes those people are not always easy to love. Children go through rebellion, health diagnoses and medications affect people, and others may not always show up as their most emotionally intelligent selves. (Of course, this is not to say that you have to tolerate abuse of any kind from anyone just because you “have history” or are related to each other.)
But, at some point or another, the people in our lives are not always easy to love and that can be draining, especially if we abandon ourselves in the process of being a present friend, partner, or parent. We, like Blanca, have to remember that we cannot pour from an empty cup and that what we want, need, and desire matter too.
She does get a lot of love in return. Her children and Pray Tell stand by her through her mother’s death and navigating her transphobic siblings. Elektra even comes to her aid, helping Evangelista tear down the House of Ferocity. In fact, Ferocity came about after Blanca set the precedent of moving on and starting a new legendary house. She imprints on Elektra, taking her from a catty ballroom legend to a more benevolent mother and friend.
Approaching Adversity, Accountability, and Apology
Blanca’s the type of influence you’d love to have, especially in terms of her approach to adversity. To say that the social cards are stacked against Blanca is an understatement. Every time she tries to make a stride in the “outside world,” she seems to get quickly knocked down and mistreated. She gets thrown into a men’s holding cell and loses her business because of a transphobic and cruel building owner/landlady.
Despite her best efforts of self-care, her diagnosis progresses to AIDS. Yet somehow she is still able to find light and joy in life, not only through seeing her children thrive but also remaining hopeful about her own future. She realizes that she may never travel the world nor be wealthy; however, her life and impact still matter.
She keeps her heart open towards love and finds a man who is truly the real MVP. Discovering that she met Christopher, a doctor, while working at the hospital caring for AIDS patients is a beautiful realization. Blanca’s original dream/goal was to have her nail salon. When that went up in smoke (literally), it was devastating. But if that hadn’t happened, then she likely wouldn’t have made a new career pivot as an aide to meet her guy.
Christopher loves her to the point that he’s literally willing to help her friends get rid of a body. The best part is, she didn’t have to hide nor change a thing about herself to find love. It may seem impossible during dark times, but finding light, joy, hope, and love is vital. They are what sustains us and remind us that we have value.
Blanca’s family often refers to her as a saint and honestly, she’s pretty close to one most of the time. However, she’s still human and makes mistakes. She unfairly holds Papi and Damon to a different standard than Angel, an interesting subversion to typical parenting philosophies for girls vs. boys. She jumps the gun sometimes on decisions and can be a little too “good” for her own good. Seriously, why did she think Elektra should have called the cops?!
Nevertheless, Blanca is solid at admitting her faults and apologizing to friends and her children. Accountability and apologizing are two major things that too many people, especially in “authoritative” positions (like a parent) don’t do enough. Blanca’s a reminder that we won’t always get it right as a parent, friend, co-worker, or any other role. That’s normal and okay. We can, and should, apologize when we are wrong and work on being better.
A Dream Fulfilled, a Life Worth Celebrating
In the end, Blanca manages to achieve her dreams. Her house may not be on top of ballroom world anymore. But, in 1998, she’s a grandmother now (wild, right?) and leading a new group of ballroom children alongside Ricky, who is now the house father. She is also given an official award to honor her contributions to ballroom. Leaving a mark as a legendary mother? Check. Her kids all went on to do things they would have never done without her guidance. Angel and Papi are living the dream with marriage and a child.
Although we don’t see him, Damon is living in Chicago and teaching dance at his partner’s studio. And Ricky is obviously doing well after Pray Tell’s death devastated him (and everyone else) in 1996. Motherhood achievement? Unlocked. She’s as healthy as she can be, still in love with Christopher, and officially a nurse. Personal goals? She did that.
Farewell to you, Blanca. You brought a great example of how to live fully, love freely, and be a great person, leader, and friend to television. You opened a lot of eyes to your world and showed that no matter who you are, your existence is meaningful. You’re a true gem and we will miss you as though you were our own dear, loving mother. Because, in a way, you were.
Originally published June 7, 2021.