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Pose’s Johnny Sibilly on the Ballroom Scene, Representation, and Style

Johnny Sibilly hasn’t won an Emmy — yet. The actor, who plays Costas Perez on FX’s Pose, hasn’t been nominated, either (yet), but he is currently under Emmy consideration, and in his eyes, that’s a special honor unto itself.

“For the network to say, ‘We believe in you enough to submit you [for an Emmy nomination],’ I mean, that’s all you can ask for as an actor. It feels so validating. Especially because I’m playing the role of a queer, Dominican man who is dying of AIDS, and that is so important to me. Getting to play the role alone feels like a win.”

Pose, the history-making television show about New York City’s underground ball culture — a show that “features the largest cast of transgender actors in series regular roles,” as well as “the largest recurring cast of LGBTQ actors ever for a scripted series” — returned to FX for its Second Season. Just a few days before the June 11 launch and a few days after the season premiere, Bonobos sat down with this star-on-the-rise. Hold the “yet.” Johnny Sibilly’s here.

So much of storytelling is about using style to tell that story — especially with your characters. How do you use style to tell your story?

My favorite thing is getting ready for something. I sometimes even shop in the women’s section just to create something different. I do love a masculine look, but with a silk top, or a flow-y shirt, but then I love a polo and a fitted pant. I love to be able to play on the spectrum of both fashion and gender.   

Growing up, everyone was like, “You have to pick. What’s your style, are you a prep? Are you a—?” And I remember I was like, “No, one day I want to wear a jersey. And one day I want to wear a polo with puka shells,” which I definitely did, often. Someone called me a chameleon once as an insult, and I was like, “Oh my God, I don’t know who I am.” Now I’m like: No, I’m a conglomerate of different things and experiences that I’ve had.

There’s so much style within the ballroom scene that Pose portrays. Can we talk about that, about what it was like being surrounded by it on set, and its history?

The history is so important. My best friend, Trace Lysette, she’s actually from the ballroom culture, ballroom scene. What a lot of people don’t realize is that ballroom culture has been at the forefront of so many cultural revolutions in terms of style, and dance, and speech. Like the fact that we all say, “work”; Vogueing, the style of dance — it comes from [ballroom culture].

A lot of these people in the ballroom scene, you don’t realize that over the years, they’ve been hairstylists, stylists, choreographers to the most famous people in the world, but they’re always in the background. What’s so great about a show like Pose is that they’re giving those people who have been “style whisperers” the opportunity to be in the forefront of fashion and entertainment.

These are people on the margins, and have been for so many years, but they take whatever they can and they make it into something. So they can’t afford [a designer gown], but they’re going to give you a silhouette and make it look like [a designer gown], and they’re going to sell it like that. That’s why ballroom’s so special, because it plays to the kid in all of us. It’s like: you’re not there yet, but that doesn’t mean to say you can’t act like you are.

Thanks to the show, and the videos you make and share across social media, you have this great platform. How do you hope to use your voice and platform for good?

[By] using my platform to just exist in a space where people like me don’t often exist; making sure younger people know that you don’t have to wait as long [to come out], and everyone’s journey is different. That’s also important to honor as well: not everyone is going to come out right away, but knowing and being that kind of picture for — especially for black and brown, Latino kids, who oftentimes are very scared because of their family dynamic and the way we’re all raised — to see me. And to just be like, “Oh, she can do it, I can do it.”

Also, I do a lot of the characters especially for the gay community to realize it’s okay to not take ourselves seriously, to poke fun at ourselves and to enjoy our humor. Because I feel a lot of times we fight to be respected and to be honored in the society that we live in, but it’s also important to just have fun and to know that we’re special and goofy AF.

Do you have anything else that you’d like to share with us?

Tune in to Pose Season Two. Put your money where your mouth is. Support queer, black, brown, trans…all the people on the margins.

Trevor’s a great place [to donate/get involved]. I’m currently working with Trevor Project [on their] Face Your Fears campaign. To be part of the Trevor Project, which reaches out to youth who are struggling to come out, or [who are] dealing with the demons they have, that means something.

Also, Google smaller organizations specifically to deal with whatever you fall in line with. There are resources that you can give money to that need it more so than the bigger corporations that are getting million dollar funding.

I listened to Dominique [Jackson] at the Pose screening and she said, “It’s nice that you see us kiki-ing and having a good time, but you must remember that there are still black trans women out there who are being murdered just for existing. And while watching Pose is important, supporting and being an [ally] to the community is even more important.”

Pose Season 2 airs Tuesday nights on FX. Click here for episodes and more info. Pose Season 1 is currently streaming live on Netflix. Follow Johnny Sibilly on Instagram @JohnnySibilly.

Amelia Diamond is a writer and creative consultant. Follow her on Instagram, @amilli0naire.

Photos by Liam Goslett