Angelica Ross knows how to command a room. Not by force, but by projecting the kind of confidence and ease you just don’t see in most people. It’s a graceful, more subtle, brand of star power all too uncommon in the modern era of social media-driven celebrity.
Fittingly, Ross will soon become a familiar face as a series regular in Ryan Murphy’s upcoming FX show, Pose—a show all about folks who made their own space when they weren’t being given any, then set about commanding it. New York City in the ’80s is the backdrop for the series, which tells the story of the transgender people and people of color who created—and thrived in—the underground world of ball culture, drag, and voguing.
Documentarian Jennie Livingston’s seminal work, Paris is Burning, serves as a time capsule for this influential moment in LGBTQ+ history. “These felt like people who were so familiar to me, but I didn’t know any of them,” says Ross, of seeing the film for the first time, “and yet some of them felt like my grandmothers, my sisters.” The balls Livingston depicted were celebrations of expression, with extravagant costumes, and what Ross describes as “space for fantasy.” During the day, attendees often lived on the fringes, but when they entered the ball they were offered a chance to take center stage, to strut on self-made runways, and to do it all unapologetically.
Ross feels blessed to be able to tell these stories, but those sentiments are underpinned by a sense of responsibility, too. They’re “stories that have been whitewashed over history,” she says. “Stories have been retold with white characters at the forefront, when it was trans people, and people of color, who threw that first heel at Stonewall.”
Ross’s activism wasn’t born under the spotlight of her new role, either. She founded her own nonprofit, TransTech Social Enterprises, back in 2014 after experiencing firsthand the difficulties of finding and keeping work as a trans person. Teaching herself digital skills such as coding allowed Ross to create her own opportunities and to transition at her own pace, away from workplace scrutiny. “It didn’t matter what I looked like or what I sounded like,” she says, “as long as I could do the work.”
With TransTech, Ross is now able to provide a resource for the trans community to develop their own skills. But everything from the nonprofit work to her job in front of the camera comes back to one central purpose: to help trans people rediscover their value.