‘Pose’ season 3: Why does Pray Tell’s AIDS quilt square matter so much?
Raise your hand if your money was on Blanca (MJ Rodriguez) dying in the Pose series finale over Pray Tell (Billy Porter). Even if there’s plenty of powerful trans storytellers working on the show, it’s still a Ryan Murphy project, so tragedy was expected as Pose hit season 3.
As we saw in the penultimate episode, Pray Tell’s prognosis is nothing but bad news. We already knew he had lymphoma caused by AIDS, but now he’s going blind, which usually means the end is near for AIDS victims. Pray’s seen it before with his friends, and of course Costas from season one.
His dying wish
Pray has always been the fashionable one, so it’s no surprise his dying wish is Blanca helping him put together a patch for the AIDS quilt. Pose since day one has made it clear Blanca & Pray Tell have each other’s backs, and season 3 is no different. Just now, Blanca also has Pray Tell’s eyes as well.
Towards the end of “Something Old, Something New”, Blanca shows up to Pray’s apartment and shows him a sketch of her idea for the quilt. A mirror ball hands from the P in Pray, and the words “Live, Werk, Pose” sit above Pray’s birth and death year. Of course, we don’t have the death year written yet, but we know it’s coming.
Now younger members of the LGBTQ+ community may be confused why this quilt square is such a big deal. But in 1994, the AIDS Memorial Quilt was the way for victims to let themselves be remembered at a time when the U.S. wanted to pretend like they never existed.
Memorializing those before us
It’s no secret the AIDS crisis of the 80s and 90s was a tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost during that time, a large majority being LGBTQ+ people. Of course, because the disease was seen as something only gay people could get, much of the general public disregarded the disease and its victims in the early years.
So, to grieve and mourn those lives lost, a small group of San Franciscan based LGBTQ+ people wrote the names of those they lost on notecards, and made a wall full of notecard at the San Francisco Federal Building. Many who saw the tribute said the wall of notecards almost looked like a patchwork quilt. There, the AIDS Memorial Quilt was born.
Around the time Pose season 3 takes place, the AIDS Memorial Quilt had over 14,000 squares featuring the names of victims from all fifty states and twenty-eight other countries. Assuming Pray Tell passes away in 1994, his square would’ve been featured on the National Mall in Washington D.C. in October of 1996, and would’ve been seen by over 1.2 million people, including President Clinton and First Lady Hillary.
Using the truth to inspire the future
The AIDS Memorial Quilt was, and still is, first and foremost a memorial. When LGBTQ+ activist Cleve Jones developed the idea for the notecard wall, he was just a man who was hurt by the friends he had lost from the disease. But as the impact of the disease grew larger, so did the quilt and its meaning.
Pray Tell has spent a lot of Pose season 3 talking about his legacy, and being remembered for something worthwhile. By having a square in the ever growing AIDS Memorial Quilt, it may not be the impact he was looking to make, but Pray Tell is doing his part in reminding the world what they lost because of this disease.
Just like the fictional characters of Pose, so many people of ballroom were affected by this disease, whether they personally passed away from it or knew loved ones who did. They may have had their lives cut tragically short, but the AIDS Quilt is a small way their legacy is carried on for years to come.
Bethany such a well-written piece. I have been involved with the AIDS Quilt since 1987. So many friends have left “hints” of what they wanted on their panel. Maybe they would hand you that broach, nothing said, no tears just that knowing look that was a command. Or a friend would ask, ‘Will you ask __________ to write the letter telling about me.’ One friend actually said to me, ” I will haunt your ass if my panel has tacky puff paint on it!”June 4, 2021