Indya Moore is feeling reflective when we connect over Zoom from their New York apartment, where Moore has spent much of the past year. The 26-year-old is gearing up for a time of change in their life, having said goodbye to a career-making role as Angel Evangelista on the landmark series Pose, which is coming to an end with its third season this summer.
“I think change is really helpful for me right now,” they say, of looking on the positive side of starting a new chapter after this pivotal period. “And it’ll benefit my future because I’m moving into a place where I’m prioritizing and centering myself. I actually haven’t done that [before]. The one thing that I haven’t done is center myself; my joy.”
Moore burst into the collective consciousness in the summer of 2018, when Pose landed. Created by the industry-leading show runner Ryan Murphy, it was the first major TV show in history to feature so many transgender actors. Set in the ball culture of New York City in the late 1980s, Pose was bound for iconic status from inception, but there was a particular magic about Moore’s casting and an urgency to the imagery that came out of the show’s first season. Angel, lying fully clothed on a red bed with Stan Bowes – a married, cisgender man with whom Angel is in a complicated love triangle – while Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill creates an almost misty, cavernous atmosphere around them; Angel on Wall Street in a candy-colored outfit against the gray entrance of Stan’s skyscraper office, where she has surprised him with an impromptu and unwelcome visit; the couple in a diner, where Stan, wearing a beige driving jacket, delivers a searing soliloquy on the fallaciousness and emptiness of his white male middle-class life while elevating Angel for her authenticity and vibrancy. His emotion destabilizes Angel out of the vixen mask she employs as a survival sex worker with hidden dreams in a red halter top and a halo of bouncy, tight corkscrew curls.
Art imitates life as a form of activism in the show, and Moore found it a deeply personal experience to be part of. “I think that our society underplays the level of trauma that trans folks experience as kids… [Pose is] a huge mirror, a reflection for so many of us into our childhood,” they consider. “It was anxiety-inducing in some ways, but it was also really affirming. I think it was cathartic, because reading that script, it was like, ‘Wow, I went through this.’”
Their time on the show has helped them to understand their younger self more, too. “I feel really, deeply connected to my inner child… I don’t know if a lot of our community knows that we get to do that, but I think it’s important to be reminded that we get to be in touch with our inner youth and that place that has been threatened and taken away from us so many times in our lives. Our innocence, our human curiosity, exploring clothing, fashion, toys… These things are so gendered. And, as a result, kids get punished for it and then we’re gaslit and told that we were confused by ourselves, but it’s really the world around us that’s confused.”
Moore credits their childhood growing up in the Bronx as fundamental to the indomitable spirit and defiance that now guide their artistic and political work. “The Bronx is a melting pot. A lot of people from all around the world meet in New York… There’s a lot of survival in the Bronx, and I think it’s a place that has been stigmatized deeply as the less-preferred borough of New York, but [that’s] also idolized as the birthplace of hip-hop.”
“The older I got, the more autonomous I became over FREEDOM, over my expression. [And] the more SAFE I felt, the more VISIBLE I became in my queerness”
A “child of many places”, Moore’s cultural heritage is derived from the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Puerto Rico, and they recount the significance of their identity as a child of the African diaspora with determination to remind people of their indigenous Taino identity, too.
They were raised in a Jehovah’s Witness community – “an isolated experience, right?” Moore says, when they find out we have that in common. “It can be really beautiful. I’m grateful for it in a lot of ways. I think that I came out with particular values and principles, and I feel more privy to care, and I think a lot of that comes from that background. But I also feel socially awkward. I also feel really anxious about the world around me. I also feel super-nervous about impending doom happening any time.”
“If your understanding of HOME is rooted in everything that you’ve gone through as a TRANS person at home, then you start to question LIFE”
“And we were raised to believe that [as queer/trans people] we would be destroyed… to enter a life being told that these are the set of feelings that will lead you to your doom. If you feel this in this way, if you wear these clothes, if you want to do you, if you create a lifestyle for yourself that looks like this, you know [that] you don’t have a right to goodness. The older I got, the more autonomous I became over freedom, over my expression. [And] the more safe I felt, the more visible I became in my queerness.”
After coming out as queer to their family when they were a teenager, Moore went through periods of homelessness and entered foster care. Constantly on the move, they had lived in all five boroughs of New York City by the age of 20. “If your understanding of home is rooted in everything that you’ve gone through as a trans person at home, then you start to question life,” they reflect. “You know, you grow up in this life believing that you may never have safety or peace or that you are undeserving of home… Like, what do I have to do to access that? Imagining home felt like something that was inaccessible to me. [But] I knew that there would be love, that there is community and that there is support.”
Their experience of trauma and survival from such a young age has informed the philanthropic work they are committed to today, such as co-founding TranSanta – a social media-based, gift-giving campaign to fulfill the wishes of trans kids who are homeless or in foster care. Using Cash App to transfer funds to service users as quickly as possible, the organization has removed any of the gatekeeping or the performative hoop-jumping that is often required by trans people in need.
“I guess, [but] it’s just hard,” Moore says, when I comment on the directness of this support to the trans community. “I wanna help everybody, so I just wanted to make myself useful in whatever way that I could. I don’t know if it was the best way that I could have [or] if there were other things that I could have done. I think about that all the time. But I feel pretty content with what I did do.
“These are things that I’ve always cared about. These are things that I put at the forefront of my work always because, before I came into acting and modeling, this was the work that I was interested in already,” they continue. “This is who I was before my art became popular.”
“We tend to LOSE ourselves [in] our survival. And when we have people around us who KNOW us beyond our survival, they can help us to REGROUND when things get really, really hard”
As a figure whose work has brought about such hope in itself, I ask who in turn has inspired Moore. We’re speaking the day after the jury issued a guilty verdict in the George Floyd murder trial, and Moore jumps at the chance to shout out Raquel Willis, the Black trans activist and writer who helped to organize the Black Trans Lives Matter rally in Brooklyn during the uprisings of summer 2020. “She’s been really helpful around helping to organize a community [in New York],” they say. “I’m so grateful for everything she’s done.”
Reading is also where Moore finds some of their influences. We both hold up our copies of All About Love by Black feminist theorist and writer bell hooks to the screen. Moore found out about it through the Childish Gambino song 12:38, and has been intending to digest her work in a more comprehensive manner for a long time. “Bell hooks has come up for me in many different spaces. And I’m like, ‘Who is this person? Who is this woman? I want to get into her’. [She] is actually a pretty brilliant, really beautiful human being.” On the book-club theme, they next hold up Pleasure Activism by Adrienne Maree Brown. “I just feel like she’s one of those people; she is the embodiment of the kind of person that I want to grow into,” Moore enthuses of the author and activist. “I see so much in her of who I hope to be at the end of my evolution. I’m fascinated by how she is able to take on topics around white supremacy, Black joy and Black liberation.”
They are also adamant in letting me know how much they depend on NYC’s Black trans community for intellectual and emotional sustenance. One man in particular, who they cite as emblematic of the love that has guided them and the reason for their politicization, is actor, producer, model and activist Devin Michael Lowe.
“Devin is a brilliant, beautiful person. I was definitely at a point in my life where I was completely floored and in awe of him,” says Moore.
“I love my COMMUNITY. I want us to have what we NEED. I want us to have access to healthcare, security and shelter and LOVE”
“We need community; you need people who love you in this life. You need people around who know you. We tend to lose ourselves [in] our survival. And when we have people around us who know us beyond our survival, they can help us to reground when things get really, really hard,” they say. “I think that was one of my life lessons – that love is important, and then from learning that I understood myself as having the responsibility to love responsibly and to show up for people in the ways that I’ve been shown up for.”
As our Zoom meeting comes to an end, I ask what Moore is hoping for next, having kissed the character of Angel goodbye.
“I just want a life of happiness and peace,” they say. “I love my community. I want us to have what we need. I want us to have access to healthcare, security and shelter and love. Opening up those channels for my people is really important to me. That’s where I’m at.”
The series finale of Pose airs on June 6 on FX Network (US)
First Time with Indya Moore
Our PORTER cover star Indya Moore shares the significant personal moments that have shaped their journey, including the first time they felt pride in who they are and realized they could make a difference in their community