It’s a pretty cool show. The documentary “Paris is Burning” serves as a useful introduction, if you have a chance to see it.
The synopsis: It follows the day and night life of black and Puerto Rican gay and transgendered folks who are hooked into the 1980s ball scene of NYC. (For the completely unintiatied, the vogue dance made popular by Madonna was born from this scene.) The main character is a newly minted “house mother”–a “house” being a self-selected assemblage of runaways and cast-offs who are "adopted by a mother figure who is called Mother. Over each episode, the importance of the house mother becomes clearer and clearer. She doesn’t just provide material support (providing shelter for the family, all of whom have been abandoned by their biological families), but she helps usher the newly transitioned person she takes under her wing into her womanhood–helping her with her style and giving her the self-confidence she needs to go out into the world (via the vehicle of the competitive ball scene).
The show contrasts the diva Elektra against the saint Blanca, the new house mother who feels the clock running out on her life and who wants to leave a legacy before she checks out. Elektra is definitely the kind of villain who is fun to hate. She fulfills every stereotype of the petty, theatrical drag queen, but then you get to learn about her more and you realize there’s a real person under all that (wonderfully applied) make-up. Blanca will never be as glam as Elektra, but it doesn’t matter because she is a FAR better mother. There is love in her house, while Elektra’s is full of (entertaining) snark and cattiness. And also low-level criminal activity.
All the main characters who are transgendered are played by transgendered actresses. This blew me away, not gonna lie. The show definitely highlights the pain of not being able to pass and the vacillating awe and jealousy at those who can. And also the privilege of those who can. Elektra uses her high-class beauty to intimidate her rivals. The ball itself exacerbates the pain, since transgendered participants will often compete on “realness”, getting “read” if they dare to compete if they look like dudes in drag. It is interesting how the ball scene both creates a sense of belongingness–giving society’s cast-offs a safe place to be themselves–while also entrenching the bigotry that transgendered folks (MtF, at least) face when they are unable to pass. Pray Tell–the ball MC–issues such scathing commentary that I don’t know how anyone has the guts to step out under those spotlights. But it’s almost like a rite of initiation–a “coming out” ball, of sorts. Once you do it enough times, you get the confidence you need to do the damn thing in the greater world. I love it.
I can’t be the only one here binge-watching this show, right?