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Angel Bismark Curiel's relationship with Janet Mock helped inform his performance as Pose's Lil Papi

The 25-year-old actor reflects on the importance of "showing up" for the trans community in the Attitude Summer issue.

2021-06-16

Words: Thomas Stichbury; Photography: Adam Washington

Pose star Angel Bismark Curiel opens up about being an ally to the transgender community, and how his real-life relationship with Janet Mock, the show’s director and executive producer and all-round TV trans trailblazer, informed his on-screen romance.

As the ground-breaking LGBTQ+ drama, set inside the heart of New York’s ballroom scene in the 80s and 90s, draws to a close – no, you’re crying! – Angel reflects on how much he has learned from playing fan favourite Lil Papi, and admits that he knew “zero per cent” about this chapter in queer history before taking on the role.

“I was clueless. I grew up in a very cis, very heteronormative life. The only experience or encounters I had with trans, or queer people was always from afar,” the Afro-Dominican star explains in the  Attitude Summer issue, out now to download and to order globally.

Angel Bismark Curiel for the Attitude Summer issue, out now to download and to order globally (Photography: Adam Washington; Styling: Jason Bolden at JSN Studio)

“I’m very grateful to have been able to come on this show and to be given the opportunity to get to know some of the most important people in my life right now.”

25-year-old Curiel – who considers his co-stars, including Mj Rodriguez (aka Blanca), Indya Moore (Angel) and Billy Porter (Pray Tell), to be family – says he discovered “the importance of showing up.”

“I realised that it’s not enough to hold space and be comfortable with trans and queer people, but to make sure that when [I’m] holding space with cisgender, heterosexual folks outside of these spaces that I’m still making sure that there’s no toxicity or any harmful situations that arise, because I know how beautiful and safe this space is," he continues.

Angel, who grew up in Liberty City, Miami, notes that he stepped up to the plate to educate his own friends: “I very much put it all out on the table and say, ‘All right, y’all, we gotta have a conversation, let’s talk, ask questions and I’ll do my best to answer them, and we can go from there. I don’t have all the answers, but I can share what I know.'”

When an uncomfortable situation with an “extremely transphobic” driver arose on a studio set – a different one to Pose – the 25-year-old didn’t hesitate to act, either.

Angel wears tank top by Versace, trousers by Fear of God, watch by Cartier (Photography: Adam Washington; Styling: Jason Bolden at JSN Studio)

“I knew that this was a make-it-or-break-it moment, this was do or die, you had to check this. It’s because of gentlemen like this that trans women end up dead; it’s because of that remark you just said that trans women end up dead,” he recalls.

“I had to hold space with his boss. I had to hold space with him. I had to hold space with my boss, because that was the only way we were gonna say, ‘Hey, it doesn’t matter what show I’m on. It doesn’t matter if I’m Lil Papi on Pose or not, this s**t is not OK and here’s why it’s not OK, and how are we going to fix it? What are we going to do to make sure this gentleman knows this is not OK?’”  

As Pose sashays into its third and final season – due to air in the UK later this year – Angel stresses how “honoured” he is to be a part of one of the series’ most touching and progressive storylines, between Lil Papi and trans model, Angel, played by Moore; after all, a love story between a straight guy and a trans woman is rarely told on television.

“[We’ve] given a love letter to trans women around the world that, hey, love doesn’t have to be this thing in the shadows; it can be this really beautiful thing that the world can embrace, and the world can see,” he beams.

Angel wears shirt by BODE, trousers by Versace, necklace by Mateo New York (Photography: Adam Washington; Styling: Jason Bolden at JSN Studio)

Angel adds that his relationship with Mock, 38, "one hundred per cent" informed his performance.

“I came home to this amazing Black trans woman who was so open and so vulnerable on so many levels, and so willing to share her experiences and open herself up to me so that I can really, really see her in all her emotions," he reflects.

“All that ever did was make me want to take better care and more care of the Black trans women on set, because I had this amazing woman that I want to love on, that I want to take care of, that I want to see grow and see prosper and keep protected and safe in this world that often does not take care of and protect Black trans women.”

Read the full interview in the Attitude Summer issue, out now.

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