Pose, the acclaimed Ryan Murphy ballroom scene series that places trans and queer talent at the center of their own stories, has been a launchpad for the actress and model Indya Moore. In the FX show, she plays Angel, a transgender sex worker who begins a clandestine relationship with a married man named Stan (played by Murphy mainstay Evan Peters), and an older sister to the rest of the ragtag group of kids in the House of Evangelista, led by House Mother Blanca (played by Mj Rodriguez).
Onscreen, the 23-year-old Bronx-born performer is radiant and real, so much so that it’s hard to believe it’s only her second major role. Now, as Pose prepares to wrap its first season and start preproduction on the newly announced second season, Moore is finding great success in her modeling and acting careers, and though she may be new to television, she’s certainly no stranger to the dynamics of breaking into the normative framework of an industry.
Fresh off a long flight back to New York from Japan, where she was filming an upcoming sci-fi anthology series, Moore spoke about her intentions to use art to normalize natural beauty and unpack the societally imposed standards of desirability for women and femmes, and acknowledged the complexities of achieving those goals as a gender-variant person who can sometimes fit into the stereotypical boxes of feminine gender representation.
What were you working on in Japan for the past few weeks?
Magic Hour. It’s a sci-fi, fantasy, horror anthology series that’s in the works. I’m not going to be the main character for the entire show, but I am for the pilot, and I’m also the executive producer of it. It’s a really dope, awesome project because I’ve always wanted to be involved in action; action and sci-fi are my favorite genres. That’s where I feel like I fit in as a performer the most. And comedy too! [Laughs]
Pose is not without its comedic moments! Especially with your character, Angel; she has such a biting delivery.
I bump into walls with that sometimes, because they don’t want Pose to come off too comedic. Certain choices that I’ll make, they’ll be like, “Let’s go with the less funny one.” But I like to bring that light! Also, people from the Bronx are funny! The pilot of Magic Hour is directed by Che Grayson, who is a queer woman. I’m really excited about something like this being created and directed by a black, queer woman because there’s not a lot of representation of that. I formed my production company, Beetlefruit Media, Inc., to tell my own stories in television and film, as well as to assist other artists in getting their narratives projected out into the universe. It’s not enough to complain about what Hollywood doesn’t provide, and, yes, the industry could do much much better, but sometimes we have to grant ourselves the love and permission to produce for ourselves. We’re more than able.
And to be a part of the largest transgender cast on television is a huge moment. I think Pose is definitely teaching a lot of people about an underrepresented community, but are there other roles that are a bit lighter that you feel you would want to take on?
Oh! I definitely want to show other trans people, and also myself, that I can tell stories and that we’re capable of telling stories that have nothing to do with exploring what the experiences of trans people are. I think that’s what trans people are constantly used for, you know, just telling trans stories. I think Pose is unique in that it’s not just a trans story—it’s about family, it’s about love, it’s about friendship and acceptance and really deconstructing humanity, and the ethical side of that, with how we treat people who are different than us. This is the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, so this is really a big thing that we’re using a gender-variant person to explore what it is to be human. Because this person is learning how to be a human being without any knowledge of gender performance and what they’re supposed to be as a woman. Like, are they a woman? Are they male? As an adult being, they don’t know anything about themselves as far as what binary they’re a part of, so it’s interesting seeing them exploring how to be human before they even get to performing a gender. It’s really deep, and I feel really blessed to be able to help put that together.
How did you start acting and modeling? What’s the origin story there?
A lot of it started from people reaching out to me on Instagram, and some of my artist friends wanting to shoot me. I’d post some of those pictures, and some of my own selfies, and hashtag, and people would notice me and reach out to me. It was kind of a domino effect. I started to see bigger names reach out to me, as well as more independent brands flying out from different places to shoot me. It was really dope seeing how I had clients from Australia and Argentina interested in using me for their catalogs and their brands. That helped me see more of my own potential when it came to modeling, but I also didn’t want whatever I created, as far as modeling was concerned, to be just about me taking pictures. I wanted it to be socially productive, helping to expand how people saw gender-variant humans and people and trans women, especially. I’m more gender nonconforming, but I know people see me as more binary. I do what I can to best represent how people see me, and through the way that I express myself I try within my own art to make it more comfortable for other people to exist within the way they see themselves—more so than what is expected of them, as far as presentation is concerned, from society. For example, I’m really into redefining what body hair looks like on feminine-of-center people. And I’d like to use people’s negative reactions to deconstruct where that comes from, and how problematic that is. The way I create art, I make people question things, and I like to inspire people to question both where it comes from and why I choose to express myself the way I do. But also I try to push to widen what feminine-of-center people feel like we’re allowed to do. A lot of how we carry ourselves in society falls along the line of allowance, and what we feel we have permission to do, and that, in and of itself, is problematic.
Would say you were discovered from Instagram for Pose as well?
Not for Pose. I did an indie film called Saturday Church, and Luka [Kain], who plays the main character, their mom, Lisa, is also their manager. I had my own management going on, but Lisa is a really sweet person, and we stayed in contact, not even just for business reasons but as friends, because we connected, and one day she hits us up about this casting notice with Pose. I ended up showing up to [the casting director] Alexa Fogel’s place, and I was really nervous, but I deconstructed that and then felt better about it. I was like, What do you have to be nervous about? Just be yourself.
I saw your tweet about “pressuring women and femmes” to remove body hair, and unpacking why people would find that desirable in the first place. What made you want to start that conversation online?
There’s so much! A person on Instagram commented a photo of me in a tea bath and said it was disgusting that I had hair under my underarms. I thought about whether my underarm hair would still be policed or judged if it wasn’t sexualized. It’s also weird because the only people who don’t have hair growth patterns on their bodies are children. In our language, how we even refer to children as young men and young women, that’s really problematic because children are children. Children are not men or women. I think associating children with adult categories can kind of appropriate the way people see children, and I think it makes space for pedophiliac tendencies. Deconstructing all of these things about the way human beings exist and the way we see each other, a lot of it has to do with sexualization. That’s another layer, down the line, that I think people need to be more open to deconstructing so that we can see less of the issues that we are seeing that are repugnant in our society today.
When I watch Angel on Pose, there’s a lot of her that feels organic to you. Does your own personality inform how you play the character?
There are a lot of tendencies that I carry that are cultural. Like, I’m from the Bronx, and my mom is Puerto Rican, and my dad is from the Caribbean, so there’s that attitude in there that I can feed on, like, when it comes to the way my mom expresses herself and the way she kind of unapologetically exists. I relate with that even on levels that maybe my mom is not ready for. [Laughs] She was just telling me the other day, “Oh, my gosh, what are you doing! Shave your underarms!” I’m like, “Why?” And she’s like, “Because it looks cleaner.” I just remembered that reminded me of, like, for some reason, skin bleaching. The way we’re expected to shave our bodies almost reminds me of skin bleaching, or the way trans women are expected to want to have surgery or need to have surgery—even though I chose to go for a gender-confirming surgery. But yeah, I think there are so many ways that Angel is very true to herself, and I feel the same way. I know what that’s like, to stand your own ground, to know what you want. Even if I didn’t, I think I would still be able to portray that because there’s enough information about the character for me to empathize and understand what that looks like.
What sort of experiences have you taken from your real life?
There are a lot of experiences that I’ve had that help me to draw from for Angel. Even her New York accent, my mom has a really heavy one. And I find myself having to code switch so much that sometimes I lose my Bronx accent, but I don’t know, I just got Angel. There were also things I’ve learned and related to, as far as “desirability” and “settling for” things you know are not fair to you, but trying to tweak it to go your way at the same time. I identify with all of the layers of Angel, even though there are some things where I feel like she should grow, you know? When I look at her, I feel like there are some things that are kind of selfish about her that she doesn’t know about herself. She got this home where she could’ve been holding house meetings, she could’ve had people staying over at her crib, you know, helping out with more stuff than just showing up to Blanca’s house when she needed to be there, messing with a married man, and stuff like that. But there are desirability issues, and I relate to her having to struggle so much on her own and only having selfish people around her, then finally being under the wing of someone who is more selfless, which kind of reciprocates those selfless parts of her that are generous and loving, and helps bring that out more. But you can still see the remnants of, Okay, this girl has really leaned on herself for a long time, but she’s young and has a lot to learn.
I want to ask you some of these Beauty Notes questions, and like you were saying, there is a lot to deconstruct when it comes to talking about our own individual definitions of beauty and health. The first question I have is: What does a good day start with?
First of all, when you said that, a song by Jamila Woods just popped into my head, “Holy.” She’s like, “Woke up this morning with my mind set on loving me.” Waking up in the morning, the first thing that’s important to do is to start by being grateful for the fact that you exist. I think there are other layers as to why that could be complicated for a lot of people, because there are so many parts of our society that make just existing in general really hard and that affect the way we feel about our own existence when we wake up in the morning. But I think, first and foremost, the thing to set the foundation of your day is loving yourself. I tell myself this as I say it to you, and anyone else who’s reading this in the future, it’s just a reminder of, “Yo, forget about the world’s projections and the list of expectations for everyone else that you’re going to encounter during the day, and think about why you love you and why you deserve to love you.” A lot of that starts with your health, both mentally and physically.
What are some important self-care or health tips that work for you?
Affirming myself and letting myself know that I’m worth loving. From there, I think taking care of my body.
How do you like to take care of your body and physical health?
I run. I like to stretch. I like to eat as well as I can. I made changes to my diet over time, for me, but also to affirm my empathetic responses to eating animals. I’ve always felt kind of weird about it, so I was like, Let me listen to myself. And also, I know it’s not healthy for me, so I cut that out of my diet. And drinking more water! When I eat more healthy, I feel more healthy. I’m able to navigate how I feel better and my thoughts, being on that kind of routine. And also, what’s really affirming for the way that I see myself and my body, when I look in the mirror, is the way eating right affects how I show up in the mirror. I notice I feel better about the way I look, or what expectations are for me to show up as in society.
What’s the biggest beauty myth that should be debunked?
Whew. Okay. I notice that there seem to be recycled presets of how people are supposed to look. They’re recycled through mainstream media, magazines, you know, mainstream stuff and the things we’re exposed to the most. I think the biggest myth in beauty is that we have to copy something else to be beautiful, that we have to look like something else to be acknowledged or feel good about ourselves. That we have to be the things that we admire in other people. I feel like that’s not necessarily true! We deserve to be the things that we grow to admire about ourselves. Beauty is an ongoing journey, it’s not something that you emulate.
What’s your relationship to makeup and cosmetics?
I’m not particular about makeup but when I do wear it I am partial to Fenty. That is what I own. I own it because it is partial to the various colors and shades of black women, it is one of the best cosmetic companies around as far as trying to remove toxins from makeup, and Rihanna is empathetic to the experiences of trans women. I think of makeup as more like a design, decoration, or jewelry. I mean it’s literally paint, it’s art. I don’t prefer to use it as concealing anything because it influences the illusion of standardized perfection. I just want people to feel comfortable with what features they naturally have and to be and feel included in the way our society sees beauty. Projections of beauty should be less of a command or standard and more of a reflection of our natural faces and bodies. I want to normalize being beautiful just the way you are, but I also know that me doing that with myself is not going to help that much because I feel like those beauty standards we were talking about earlier, those categories, to a lot of people, one of the reasons why I am finding success in the modeling industry and other industries where how you look matters is because I fit in to some of those stereotypes. Those look like privileges to me. It’s very hard to use myself as an example, as much as I would love to, because I’m not a browner-toned black woman, my curl pattern is still looser and more appropriate to the gaze of a lot of different people who may be gatekeeping my success. It’s really complicated trying to represent that idea with the privileges that I have, but I hope me talking about it is going to help some of those gatekeepers and people who make access for others see that we have to be more inclusive with the different kinds of beautiful that there are, and stop sanctioning beauty as things that only live up to these standards and categories.
You mentioned that your mom commented on your body hair and the way you present yourself to the world. Did your parents ever give you beauty advice that you do like to follow?
Yeah! “Don’t follow what people think.” There’s so many layers to that because I think my mom was referring to that within her paradigm of understanding how we are supposed to look in general. But, oh, “If that dress don’t fit you right, or the dress you’re supposed to wear as a woman don’t fit you right or you feel like it doesn’t fit you right because of how other people try to make you feel about how you’re dressing, don’t worry about that.” So it’s within those paradigms, but I want to take it further and say you shouldn’t have to wear a dress. You know what I mean? Don’t worry about how people feel you should present yourself as far as not caring how people think. I’m saying this to myself as I say it to you, also. Because this is also a journey that I’m on! Not paying too much mind to how people expect me to show up and express myself.
What about skincare? Any tips?
I generally like to stay away from products that use chemicals. I don’t always have the privilege of being, like, “Oh, I’m not gonna use that makeup, sorry!” The makeup artist might not have [some types] of makeup, and I may not be prepared to let them know what lines of makeup I’m okay with and stuff. I don’t have enough information. I don’t even own makeup! And I always end up losing it! But as far as accentuating your natural skin, I think putting things on your body that you’re made of. For example, witch hazel. I prefer to use that as a toner to smooth out my complexion and close out my pores because it’s natural and there are nutrients in it when you get it organically. I’ll use shea butter to moisturize my skin, or coconut oil. I’ll use African black soap; that’s just an example of natural soap that I’ll use to clean my body. I think, What can I use to enrich and empower the cells on my body to be better at what they’re already doing and programmed to do? With putting things in your body and on your body—because whatever you put on your body goes inside of you anyway—I make sure that those are things that your body can break down.