Identity

The Tech Activist Supporting Trans Communities Through Art and Technology

Angelica Ross on Buddhism, Beyoncé, and working to help keep trans sex workers safe.
September 11, 2018, 4:23pm
Photo by Zarita Zevallos. Make-up by T. Cooper at crowdMGMT using ECRU New York.

Angelica Ross is best known as Candy Abundance in the TV series Pose, but she’s also a writer, an activist, and the CEO of TransTech Social Enterprises. Starring in Pose—a show with the largest transgender cast to date—is a dream job for Ross, but she’s equally passionate about TransTech. The Chicago-based company helps queer people in the tech and design industries become financially empowered and provides support via peer coaching, mentorship, and workshops.

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We asked her about the inception of TransTech, the importance of trans writers in Hollywood, and where she finds strength.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Photo by Zarita Zevallos

On the difference between trans- and cis-written trans roles
[In trans-written roles] I never find myself questioning the script, or the line, or the intentions of the characters. In Pose, there are moments that have caught me off guard because they were so authentic and added so many colors to my performance. Having trans writers also ensured that we could tell a story that would relate beyond trans audiences. It made sure that our community and our issues were seen in the most beautiful light.

On her alter ego
Candy Abundance is to Angelica Ross what Sasha Fierce is to Beyoncé. I conjure up Candy whenever I need her brand of confidence. She is smarter than she’s given credit for, and I relate to that—people have underestimated or undervalued me in the past. I relate to Candy’s drive to win. Being on Pose is an affirmation that everything I have dreamt of my whole life was not just a dream. It has become a reality.

On the women who helped her along the way
My journey is full of strong women who have helped me in one way or another. My late Aunt Geneva, who passed away from cancer, used to sing Mary J. Blige songs with me because she knew I loved singing. She fostered that in me. My grandma, whose house I ran away to on more than one occasion, was my refuge. She always stood up for me, no matter how I identified, and made that clear to me and others. My trans mother, Traci Ross, challenged me in ways that brought out strong characteristics that I still rely on today. Janet Mock’s career inspires me; she’s deepened the bench by offering opportunities she knew I was ready to step into. Interestingly, she had no part in me being cast as Candy, and didn’t even tell me she was working on the show until much later, after I was cast. She later told me, “I wanted you to be confident in knowing that you got this part based off your sheer talent. I had nothing to do with that.”

Photo by Zarita Zevallos

Many trans women in different cities are working the streets and susceptible to drugs, harassment, and violence. Technology introduces options.

On how sex work led her into the tech and design industry
Like many of the trans women depicted in Pose, I too was a sex worker. It was then that I discovered that technology could be a form of harm reduction for trans men and women sex workers. Many trans women in different cities are working the streets and susceptible to drugs, harassment, and violence. Technology introduces options. Instead of engaging in physical sex work, you can model online, or do webcam—you’re still engaging with people, but there is no threat of physical violence.

On how spirituality helped her accept her gender identity
I credit my transition to my Buddhist practice 100 percent. I believe that in order to experience what some would call a “successful” transition, we need to realize that it involves a focus on the spiritual transition much more than the physical. Stop struggling. Your truth needs no dissent. Develop a spiritual practice. If you only focus on the physical part of the transition, you will absolutely experience hardships and disappointment. If you base your transition on a spiritual foundation, you will find that you will become more beautiful than you ever imagined, because you will blossom from the inside out.

25 Strong is a new series highlighting people who have broken barriers and changed culture in 2018. Created with Reebok.