On Friday, Feb. 28, Associated Student Programs Board (ASPB), QTPOCC Committee, Chicano Student Programs, LGBT Resource Center, HUB Cultural Events, Residence Life, Dance Department and the Highlander Empowerment Referendum co-sponsored Angelica Ross as a guest speaker for the 15th Annual the Queer Trans People of Color Conference (QTPOC).
Although a businesswoman and transgender rights advocate, Ross is best known for her acting role in the film “Her Story,” which is about love between two transgender women. She also has a starring role as Candy Ferocity in the hit FX drama television series “Pose.” Additionally, she is the sole founder of TransTech Social Enterprises, a company whose goal is to find employment in the technology industry for transgender people.
The students lined up near the doors of HUB 302 for the event, which began at 7 p.m. The line for non-conference goers was short and it didn’t take long for students to slowly make their way in. Red admission bracelets were passed out to the students and the first five attendees in line also received purple bracelets, a signal that they would have the opportunity to take a photo with Ross herself. The event was moderated by Dr. Jon Paul Higgins, a speaker, writer and social justice educator who focuses on issues related to gender, race and media.
Geovanny Perez, ASPB’s assistant advisor, stated, “ASPB was asked to collaborate with the conference, since it’s good to support speaking engagements, especially around QTPOC who brought a good message that aligns with our values.”
Ross took the stage and began by speaking about her experience in the show “Pose.” She stated that she was cast in the role simply for being a transgender woman, despite the fact that the character she auditioned had the Latina name Blanca. Candy Ferocity was created for her and characterized as someone who spoke boldly and vocally. Ross attributed this casting change to her authenticity.
Ross stated, “Transitioning (genders) is a master class in authenticity knowing the self and weaknesses.” She believes that this comes from the act of always knowing who you are as a person even when all the makeup and accessories come off. Ross pointed out the frivolity that can come with wealth and that people may lose themselves in.
Ross reflected on the many struggles she’s undergone throughout her life. Her father discouraged her pursuit of theater when she entered college, favoring business instead, saying, “’If you don’t call the shots you’ll never be able to go anywhere.’” Nevertheless, Ross followed her dreams despite the lack of support.
Once she entered the industry her struggles never died; she faced challenges because of her blackness as well. She spoke about the representation of blacks as solely side characters that fall into the best friend role or end up being oversexualized. Ross chose to pretend to be a straight woman for the sake of receiving “pleasantries” when entering the room.
Ross went on to discuss the backlash transgender women receive when they interact with straight men. She wants to be able to interact with them normally, “where they say ‘Hey sister, you’re looking beautiful today,’ because I am still your sister.” She found that hiding behind a straight persona was a disservice to herself and the identity of other transgender people. It was “not showing up fully,” she said.
Ross sees “Pose” as a success in the transgender community. It is an outlet that has managed to affect the wider life of many families as it brings children closer to their parents. Ross describes the show as an outlet for letting transgender people hear the words that they never have had their own families tell them, or as a message to parents to make amends with their children while they still are able to. Ross believes that the show encourages parents to better themselves and become “willing to stop in midst of their ignorance, when they don’t even know what’s next but don’t want … to lose a child.”
Ross spoke about her advocacy work and how TransTech is still something she works to maintain, despite the privileges of beauty and wealth she holds. She spoke about how through authenticity and honesty, she’s learned when it is possible to help others or when it is beyond what she is capable of. She advised the crowd, “Take one person by the hand and that’s enough.”
Ross continued the discussion by sharing relationship advice based on her own experience, commenting on the anti-blackness that she has experienced in many relationships. She believes that people should look into being able to have “more than plastic” relationships with loved ones. She warned the audience, “Relationships can confuse you, hold onto yourself and don’t settle,” encouraging attendees to mindfully seek partners that support them, and that they support back, regardless of race.
The final question that Ross answered from Higgins revealed her place in her future role in “American Horror Story.” She praised all that she has learned from the show’s veterans and mentioned that her character isn’t transgender. She said this highlighted the idea that transgender people don’t have to be confined to transgender roles in television.
Perez noted that the event, “went really well, almost a full house, with good participation from the crowd.” The room was full of energy from the attendees as they cheered and snapped their fingers in agreement with Ross’ words, up until the event ended at 8 p.m.