POSE is a drama series set in the ballroom culture of New York City, set in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In contrast to the beauty and glamour of the ballroom scene, the performers (mostly poor, non-white, and queer/trans) make their livings through work of varying legality. The second season features a plotline about working as a pro domme.
S02E02 “Worth It”, aired June 18, 2019
One of the characters, Elektra, secretly works as a pro dominatrix at a place called the Hellfire Club. (Note that this is not the actual, no-longer-extant Hellfire Club bar in Manhattan.)
Much like in The L Word, the heaven-like beauty of the ballroom is contrasted with the hell-like atmosphere of the BDSM parlor, an underground space with red lighting on dark walls. As Elektra descends the stairs and strides in, the soundtrack plays the original “Venus in Furs” by The Velvet Underground & Nico.
Elektra walks in like she knows what she’s doing. She walks down a long corridor of red and black lighting, past doors with glimpses of scenes in progress or preparation. She takes out a key, opens up room 13.
There’s already a man on the spanking bench in red underwear. He asks if it is “Mistress Elektra.” She’s wearing a dominatrix outfit under her fur coat. She notes that, “You appear to have helped yourself to my wardrobe.”
Client: “The panties are mine. I just couldn’t resist trying on your heels.”
Elektra: “You like giving your power to women, don’t you? You disgust me!” (whip crack)
Client: “I disgust myself, Mistress.”
Though Elektra tells her to stay where he is, he sneaks some poppers behind her back, which she spots.
Elektra: “I do not do drugs, nor do I approve of them.”
He says this will keep him going all night, and flashes a big wad of cash. This is enough for Elektra to concede.
Later, in the break/locker room with a couple of other sex workers, Elektra counts her money.
Elektra: “Holy shit, I can’t believe I found a career that truly fits me.”
Sex Worker 1: “Business is booming since AIDS.”
Sex Worker 2: “She’s right. Hand jobs replaced blow jobs. No one could pay the bills. Sometimes I feel bad for these guys. Too scared to feel pleasure so they turn to pain.”
Elektra: “I never feel bad for a man.”
In S02E03 “Butterfly/Coccoon” (Aired June 25, 2019), Elektra sees the same client, Paul, again.
He shows her a gas mask modified to slowly deliver amyl nitrate to him. He also does lines of cocaine and complains about being passed over for a promotion. Elektra listens indifferently.
Elektra puts him in a leather suit, and binds him to a suspension sling while wearing the gas mask. Paul asks her to leave him alone until the drug kicks in, about 20 minutes. Elektra complies, saying that he’s still on the clock. [Not what a responsible domme should do.]
After hanging out in the dungeon’s break room, Elektra returns and finds that Paul is dead, choked on his own vomit.
Elektra panics, leaves the corpse in the room, and seeks out fellow ballroom performers Blanca (at home) and Candy (at a strip club) for advice. Blanca urges Elektra to report this to the police and not get in any deeper. Candy says that Elektra will probably get charged with murder and the police will never believe people like them saying it was an accident.
Candy introduces Elektra and Blanca to another trans sex worker, Euphoria. She tells of a client who beat her up, shown in disturbing detail in a flashback. The cops believed what the trick says, not her. In short, the system does not work for people like them.
Elektra tells Blanca, as her “mother” in the drag culture, to stay out of this so she keeps her hands clean.
Candy leads Elektra to a sub-basement cosmetic surgeon. After some arguments and flashing of cash, the surgeon agrees to help dispose of the body.
Back at the Hellfire, Elektra says that they have four hours until the cleaning crew comes. Candy says she knows the client, who was banned from the strip club for smacking girls around. They put the body in a large suitcase and move it to Elektra’s apartment. The surgeon returns with lye and pleather sheeting to mummify the body and leave it in Elektra’s closet.
Elektra insists on saying a prayer over the man’s body, apologizing for what they have to do to survive. “At least no one will know how he died, which I’m sure he would appreciate.”
Blanca and Elektra meet two weeks later in a bar. Blanca says she understands Elektra did what she had to do. Elektra admits that even she’s troubled by knowing there’s a human being in an old trunk in her closet. “He’s mine now. And he will be with me for the rest of my life.”
The preservation and concealment of the body is loosely based on the real life story of Dorian Corey, a drag performer and fashion designer. After Corey’s death, the mummified body of a man was found in her belongings, though the hows and whys of this are a mystery.
S02E07 “Blow”, aired July 30, 2019
Lulu Ferocity, an exotic dancer and part of the ballroom scene, is volun-told to work in an ACT UP project, and meets with Elektra in the break room of the Hellfire Club to ask for financial support. [Is Elektra not bothering to keep this a secret anymore?]
She appeals to Elektra’s ego and vanity, and gets $1,000 of the $2,500 needed. Elektra also gives Lulu the opportunity to earn the rest, symbolized by a fetish outfit.
Lulu puts on the outfit and follows Elektra into the club’s hallway. The soundtrack plays Billy Idol’s “Flesh for Fantasy.” They go into Elektra’s room. There’s already a man (not white) in the stocks. [You’d think Elektra would have learned the hard way not to leave clients in bondage unattended.]
Elektra calls him “Mr. Hosiery.” and introduces him to “Mistress Lucinda.” “She’s twice the mean bitch I am and costs double.” She gives Lulu a paddle. Lulu has already worked as an exotic dancer so she’s not new to sex work. At Elektra’s urging, Lulu hits his pantyhose-clad ass a few times, and giggles, getting into it.
[No mention of Mr. Hosiery agreeing to a second dominant, much less paying a lot more than he anticipated.]
This brings in enough money for the ACT UP project.
S02E09, “Life’s A Beach” aired August 13, 2019
Still working at the Hellfire Club, Elektra is in the break room, complaining about the summer heat and the lack of business. Another dominant points out that this is a seasonal trade, and their clients (generally wealthy) leave the city over the summer. She also reminds Elektra she has a client in her room. Elektra dashes off. [Again?]
Elektra finds that her client, Joe, has been bound and in sensory deprivation for three and a half hours, and wants more isolation.
Joe: “I’m paying to feel the pain of anticipation.”
Elektra: “I’m not leaving you here all night. I don’t have good experiences with leaving people to their own devices.”
He also mentions he has a beach house on Long Island he seldom uses, which gets Elektra’s attention.
Elektra arranges a road trip to Joe’s beach house with Blanca, Lulu and Angel. The four women have the beach house for themselves over the weekend, except for the garage. This is where Joe has been confined in a cage, wearing a rubber gimp suit, a blindfold and ear protectors. The other women are dubious about this, particularly Blanca, but Elektra says they just need make sure he doesn’t dehydrate. Blanca insists they check on him every few hours.
At the end of the weekend, Elektra releases Joe and tells him how luxurious his life is. Not just the house.
Elektra: “You have the luxury of choosing loneliness. For some people, it’s not optional.”
Pose contrasts the beauty and glamour of the ballroom scene with the precarious lives of the people who comprise it. They make their living in various ways, such as Elektra working as a pro domme. Though she makes enough to afford a luxurious apartment, she’s not terribly invested in the profession, and keeps leaving her clients alone. In the second episode, Elektra keeps this work secret, but later on it seems to be known to everybody in her circle of friends, and they don’t judge her for it.
The series emphasizes the community of the ballroom scene, and the families-of-choice called “houses” that comprise it. They provide shared emotional, physical and financial support. The masochistic men Elektra services seek isolation, each alone in their separate room. No mention of a BDSM community.
The series regards masochism as an indulgence of the privileged, which can be exploited for profit by the underprivileged like Elektra and Lulu.