One day in 2016, the actor Dyllón Burnside was working on a play in West Virginia when he received a phone call from his agent. FX was developing a new series called Pose, and they thought he should audition for it. The show was a big deal. Not only was it co-created by Ryan Murphy – of TV mega-hits Nip Tuck, Glee and American Horror Story – but the prolific producer had a reputation for taking actors from one project to next. In other words, it was the kind of opportunity many actors would kill for. But Burnside wasn’t sure.
“I was actually really afraid of auditioning for Pose,” says the actor. “It’s always been my dream to be a leading man and, identifying as queer, I recognise that my identity may present some issues with my aspirations. There are plenty of queer leading men, but very few who are Black, openly queer and who are leading men in the way that I want to be. So I was really afraid to audition for it.”
Hollywood might be more welcoming of LGBTQ+ characters than ever, but even now their presence is often pushed to the edge of the frame – the sassy best friend, the bitchy assistant – rather than front and centre. And while there are a handful of leading men who are openly queer, as for those who are also Black? You can’t help but feel Burnside’s concerns were well placed.
“A lot of the time queer folks and trans folks aren’t afforded the opportunities that they deserve,” he says. “We still see straight men being rewarded and awarded for playing queer roles in a way that – aside from Billy Porter – we really haven’t seen to be the case for queer Black men.”
There was also the fact that although the show had Murphy on board, it wasn’t exactly a surefire hit. Set in the relatively obscure New York ballroom scene of the late ’80s and early ’90s, its cast was heavy on Black and Latino LGBTQ+ actors, many of them still fresh in their careers. The series also had little intention of shying away from storylines addressing trans- and homophobia, as well as the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which disproportionately ravaged the community...
Dyllón wears Etro and Tod's on the cover of Man About Town's AW21 issue.