Read: ‘Pose’ lets in the light
As the series neared its end, it used Pray Tell’s story to address the hypocrisy of Christians who discriminate against queer and trans people, while showing how communities like the one he found in New York can be a sustaining force in the face of bigotry. For a new generation of young LGBTQ people, Pose has served as a pathway to understand—and draw strength from—chapters of queer history that are often overlooked or characterized only as periods of loss. The show has sometimes struggled to reconcile its more outlandish impulses with the mandate to represent queer life authentically. (It’s also attracted backlash from viewers over another onscreen death, the murder of Candy, the young trans sex worker played by Angelica Ross.) But Season 3, in particular, insists on the importance of community, especially as contrasted with the pitfalls of religious communion. Among one another, the characters can do what elders in the series—and many in real life—haven’t been able to in the Church or around loved ones who have rejected them: mourn in public, without shame.
The fourth episode focuses solely on Pray Tell and his past. Titled “Take Me to Church,” it is set almost entirely outside of New York, as he travels to see his family in Pittsburgh and tell them he’s dying, after being diagnosed with AIDS-related lymphoma. That distance from the usual goings-on of the show creates the feel of a pilgrimage, and gives the reaction to Pray Tell’s arrival more weight: Pray Tell’s hyper-religious mother (played by Anna Maria Horsford) and aunts (Janet Hubert and Jackée Harry) respond to his news with a mixture of heartbreak and judgment. He reminds them that he needs their love, not their prayers. “Sometimes I think I wouldn’t even have this disease if it wasn’t for the Church and how y’all treated me,” he says.
A different hometown encounter with a former flame—who’s with his wife and children—underscores just how isolating the Church has been for Pray Tell. Later, when Pray Tell performs with the choir, he’s visibly wrestling with how meaningful that mode of artistic expression can still feel. These scenes echo the personal details Porter shared with The Hollywood Reporter about navigating the Church as a gay Black teen, and how he and his mother quietly suffered “so much persecution by her religious community because of my queerness.” Taken alongside his series-long arc, Pray Tell’s storyline these last few episodes makes a damning critique of the Christians who preach love and acceptance while hurting the queer people in their own lives.
Emphasizing religious imagery and experiences this season, Pose also suggests that spirituality, and faith in general, isn’t dependent on Church membership. In fact, some of the show’s purest moments of fellowship are those that occur in secular venues, among people who have been neglected by the families and institutions who should have been protecting them. Toward the end of Episode 4, when we see Pray Tell return to his chosen family in New York, including the impossibly nurturing House of Evangelista mother, Blanca (Mj Rodriguez), he’s clearly come home.