[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers from “Pose” Episode 3, “Giving and Receiving.”]
Christmas has come early to “Pose.” In fact, it arrived in June for Sunday’s episode, titled “Giving and Receiving,” which follows the yuletide experiences of the families in three different homes: the House of Evangelista, the House of Abundance, and the Bowes’ household.
Christmas movies, episodes, and TV specials have become a genre unto themselves, often appealing to non-Christian and secular viewers. While “Pose” may offer a more unique point of view to audiences unfamiliar with the ‘80s ballroom culture, its storytelling often falls into conventional patterns and tropes, and its Christmas episode is no different.
Series producer Our Lady J wrote “Giving and Receiving” with Janet Mock. “Beyond all of the glamour and glitz of the ballroom scene, ‘Pose’ is about family, and what better way to celebrate a TV family than a very special Christmas episode,” said Our Lady J to IndieWire. “The thing that is unusual about our LGBT Christmas is that it isn’t unusual at all. We celebrate the same values and traditions that most families do around the holidays — generosity, compassion, and love.”
The House of Evangelista has perhaps the most heartfelt and inspiring story. As mother, Blanca (MJ Rodriguez) establishes the traditions of trimming the Christmas tree (although somewhat non-traditional ornaments such as pine-scented car freshness and wrapped condoms can also be seen) and a sit-down dinner with the expanded found family. She also establishes that she will give each of her children one requested gift, within reason.
For Our Lady J, traditions and celebrations aren’t just functions of Christmas storytelling but are essential to balance out the harsh realities and challenges faced by the LGBTQ community.
“Christmas is about tradition, and holding space for tradition creates stability in our lives – something that Blanca knows is key to her children’s survival,” said Our Lady J.
Angel (Indya Moore) doesn’t want a gift, after a childhood incident in which her father hit her for admiring red patent leather pumps seen during a holiday shopping excursion. Even though it’s expected, the moment when Angel (Indya Moore) opens Blanca’s gift and sees the shiny red patent leather is still incredibly moving because it’s a pure and straightforward message: Her biological father may not have loved and accepted her, but her new mother and family do.
An adjacent storyline in which both Pray Tell (Billy Porter) and dance instructor Helena Rogers (Charlayne Woodard) both visit loved ones who have succumbed to the HIV virus at the hospital adds an extra bittersweet weight to the episode. Fortunately, Pray Tell joins the House of Evangelista’s Christmas dinner so that he’s not alone on that day.
“It’s this insistence and craving for stability that helps our characters stay afloat amidst the challenging and tumultuous backdrop of 1980s transphobia, homophobia, racism, HIV/AIDS, and poverty,” said Our Lady J. “In the LGBT community, celebration is more than just blowing off steam – it’s strength-training to prepare you for a world that is set up against you.”
In contrast to the happy and heartwarming House of Evangelista, the other two households struggle to find that Christmas cheer. The House of Abundance is full of arguments and ill-gotten gains when Elektra (Dominque Jackson) enlists her children to steal from Salvation Army charity bucket. But instead of using that to celebrate Christmas at the house, she uses it for a down payment on her gender confirmation surgery instead.
Finally, Stan (Evan Peters) has bought jewelry as gifts for both Angel and his wife Patty (Kate Mara), the latter of whom suspects his infidelity and calls him out on Christmas Day. Therefore, Stan’s holiday celebration is built upon deceiving his family and disappointing Angel, whom he stands up in order to spend time placating his wife. In both cases, these households prove to be unhappy ones because of lying – to family members or to oneself.
“Pose” never comes off as pedantic, though, allowing the storylines to speak for themselves and demonstrating how authenticity and understanding lead to joy. This unabashed hopefulness shines throughout the episode, which is also a love letter to all things Christmas, ranging from Blanca’s sparky Mrs. Claus ensemble to the soundtrack full of tunes like “Santa Baby” and Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”
Our Lady J herself is an avid fan of Christmas specials and movies.
“I think ‘Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special’ is perhaps the most underrated holiday program ever. It’s truly insane and fabulous,” she said, referring to the 1988 special that featured the likes of Grace Jones, Charo, k.d. lang, Little Richard, Cher, Oprah Winfrey, and so many more queer-friendly icons. “And of course, as the biggest Whitney Houston fan in the world, I live for ‘The Preacher’s Wife.’”
”Pose” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on FX.