Culture

Indya Moore Brews a Perfect Cup of Tea

And she spills it, too. In conversation with her Pose co-star Mj Rodriguez, the actress and activist reveals why Kevin Hart needs to take accountability, why representation is mandatory, and why we all need to stand up for LGBTQIA+ visibility.
Reading time 27 minutes

Photography by Aingeru Zorita

Syling by Julian Antetomaso

If actress Indya Moore is any indication of what the future will sound like, then it’s clear the world will be a better, kinder place in the years to come. At just 23 years old, she has lived her life on a roller coaster. Disenfranchised by her family as a teenager for trying to live out her trans identity, Moore flitted through group homes, trying to survive while finding the spirit to advocate. At the onset of her career she landed modeling gigs, including on the NYFW runway, and background work, before hitting it big in TV with a role on Ryan Murphy’s lauded (and Golden Globe-nominated) show, Pose

On the show she plays Angel, a trans sex worker dreaming of a beautiful life, but always thwarted by the hyper-prevalent systems of oppression that beat down dreamers daring to exist inside marginalized groups. Still, Angel keeps going.

Moore can relate: She’s a fighter, too—for herself and for the LGBTQIA+ community—and it’s put her on a path to sure-fire stardom.

In the last couple of years, she’s reconnected with her family and found a tight-knit group of friends in her Pose cast and crew mates. One of those castmates, a “mother” on the show and maternal in her support of Moore, is Mj Rodriguez. The two rising stars, soon-to-be fashion icons, and already best friends got on a call the day after Mj’s 28th birthday party in Los Angeles (where Moore surprised Rodriguez by showing up) to talk about being trans, being seen, love, passion, anger, and hope for a brighter tomorrow.

 

MJ RODRIGUEZ: What's up Indya? Okay, you know I've got a couple of questions for you. Being that Pose has become this huge dynamic groundbreaking show, I want to know some of your thoughts on being nominated for a Golden Globe. What are you feeling right now in this moment?

INDYA MOORE: I'm just excited for what comes next. I'm really excited about the acknowledgment that Pose has received: We got nominated for a Golden Globe, this is incredible. I was speaking to Brad Falchuk at the table and I stressed to him that I felt angry, unexpectedly, that we didn't win. I was really surprised by those emotions because I caught myself off guard for feeling that. In my own mind, we had already won. We won where it mattered most and that was in the minds and the hearts and in the lives and in the spirits of people who were impacted directly; people who were able to conjure up a sturdy sense of self because of Pose. It brought people's families together. It literally made people's lives better.

RODRIGUEZ: If you don't mind me asking, do you think being on the show has helped you work through any of your own experiences as a woman who is transgender?

MOORE: Yeah, it definitely did. I had anxieties about this idea of trans people only being seen as sex workers and sexualized figures, but Pose helped me to understand that sex work for so many trans women is actually a reality—that is what a lot of us are subjected to. We're subjected to just fulfilling the fantasies of men because we don't have an opportunity anywhere else to make a living. That really dawned on me that it was much more than just playing a sex worker. That helped to reverse biases that even I had about sex work just in general. Just seeing trans people hyper-sexualized; LGBTQ people in general. It's a reality that I had to face.

Pose also brought me visibility in ways that I didn't expect and that I'm so proud of. I'm still trying to find my space in it, and figure out how to accept a lot of what I've received because [I ask myself] is it fair? I'm still struggling through survivor's remorse and still trying to understand the dynamic that I'm in and my friends are in and that I'm coming from poverty. All of my friends were poor or struggling to make a living, struggling to pay rent or to even live independently.

I feel like what I can do is to leverage my success to benefit other people, to give other people a voice—with awareness comes responsibility. It's not about the people who don't want to see the truth in what I'm saying. It's about the people who are impacted the most by the truth that I'm talking about.

RODRIGUEZ: Being that you're a trans woman and now an actress in this world, and that it's very, very new for us to be a part of the industry and to be so seen, are you beginning to feel actualized in film and television?

MOORE: It's given me an opportunity to expand in the field. I got signed to William Morris and IMG and I'm trying to use what assets I have in this world not only to book work but to create work for my trans sibling and stuff. I'm writing two films now and I'm really excited to include trans people and include everyone in ways that I think people would be included if we weren't marginalized. I'm just trying to leverage what privileges I've acquired.

RODRIGUEZ: Would you say that's hard to balance both of those at the same time?

MOORE: It's a lot of emotional work for me. It is a little hard. The world is very unfair. I hope that I can be an example of what leveraging privilege looks like as a marginalized person because I feel like there are a lot of people who benefit from systems like capitalism and white supremacy who don't do that.

RODRIGUEZ: I agree 100 percent. I feel like being in a place like this, where the world has been so specific when it comes to us and they've ostracized us, it's wonderful that we can fight and make space for other women like us to just come in. It's amazing to hear that you're writing two films because that's where it all starts. Being that you are a powerhouse when it comes to standing up for yourself and for the community, how do you feel when it comes to emitting so much energy? Do you feel like you become drained or do you have the energy of a fireball, and you just constantly keep going? For me, when I see you I'm just like, she's got it all. She can keep going and there's no stopping until she decides to stop.

MOORE: I do get tired. I do get drained. I feel like my energy isn't finite, but it is something that I have to be careful about because I'm a human being. My mental health, my emotional health, a lot of what I do is emotionally inspired. I'm a very sensitive person and although my sensitivity is what inspires me to stand and to speak the way I do, I have a hypersensitivity to everything. In a sense, that's my superpower, but I am very careful not to allow that to run me down. I realized the more I do stand and the more I do speak, the more people feel entitled to my voice and the way I use it. There are people who will hit me up in my DMs and be like, "Oh, you know, why haven't you spoken about this? You need to bring this up." And I have to dial back a little bit, like you can't be placing these kinds of demands on me—what I do with my voice.

Just because I'm trans and just because I stand as much as I do, doesn't mean I can split myself up in so many different ways, and be this on-demand speakerphone. I'm not. I have to work within my capacities to keep my mental health upstanding and my emotional health upstanding. Although speaking nourishes my spirit, seeing people feel represented and seen nourishes my spirit, it still drains my physical body. It still drains my physical self.

RODRIGUEZ: What are some of the things that you do to maintain your happiness? What are the things that you do that keep your spirit uplifted and your mental health balanced?

MOORE: Before I started acting and before I had this opportunity with Pose, [what] gave me energy was going out and advocating and organizing. I have other demands on my attention and my energy right now.  Because that was my thing, I never had an opportunity to discover what made me happy. I smoked a lot of weed and I would take a lot of time to think, sitting in a state and just thinking and having those meditative points was my spirituality.

I never really had the means to have fun. I didn't really have money like that. I never enjoyed going to clubs. I never enjoyed drinking, I didn't drink for a very long time. I was so busy surviving for so many years, and advocating, that I never really got to discover what I like to do, [or] what fun was. Fun was just seeing the face[s] of my friends. I never really had an opportunity like I do now to understand what actually makes me happy besides being in love.

It's really interesting. I really don't know what restores my energy: Love, love, love, being loved. Love recharges me.

RODRIGUEZ: It's a constant rejuvenation.

MOORE: Really, everything I do is inspired by love, everything. Me waking up in the morning is inspired by love and appreciation. When I'm able to feel that back, when I'm able to be around love, that empowers me. I remember when I didn't feel like I had the love that I needed, I lost my will to live. I was 16 or 17 years old.

I was just so isolated, living in group homes. People [were] picking on me and bullying me [so much], that I lost my will to live. I didn't have any love. There was nothing. I couldn't even focus on being in school because I was so distracted by the emotional necessities that I didn't have.

RODRIGUEZ: Would you say that was a case of you being misunderstood?

MOORE: I am so frequently misunderstood. Even now. People don't believe what they see when it comes to me. It's like they always try to make it seem like it's something else. I feel like I'm very easy to see, but people make it very hard.

RODRIGUEZ: I totally understand that.

MOORE: I lost my will to live and I tried to take my own life. So, love gives me life. Yeah, sorry.

RODRIGUEZ: I love you. Don't be sorry. Let me say this: Every single time I talk to you, I feel like I learn so much from you and I feel like every single time I hang out with you, like you said, and seeing how completely easy it is to see you, but you have to really take time to really see you. I think it's unfair that people don't take the time to see you, because once they do, they will see how beautiful you really are and see how great you really are. I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

MOORE: I'm so glad. You make my heart feel so warm right now. Thank you.

RODRIGUEZ: You got my spirit over here—I'm hot and all happy inside. All right, let me get back to these questions.

MOORE: Mj, you give me so much peace and calm. I have so much fire in me. It's not a destructive fire; it's a fire that's warm. If I feel the wrong way, it can be destructive, but whenever my flame feels too strong, you come through with this mist that is just so calming and you balance me. You're such a balance.

The only thing that I really wanted from you was just to see me. The hardest thing in my life was seeing somebody and them not seeing you, or seeing somebody who doesn't see you and seeing them not see you. As trans people, it's the hardest thing to have to walk the walk with.

RODRIGUEZ: I feel like that's the thing that has been put upon us because of the things that we were born to and the stigma that is placed on us as trans women. We always carry this trauma because of how we’re treated. I've had derogatory things slung at me; I've even had people put their hands on me; I've had that before, and that has closed me off. That's not necessarily because of anyone else, but it's due to them and then I carry that. Then I block myself off to everyone.

You have inspired me to be more fiery and actually be able to speak even more. Honestly, I look at you and I'm like, "Oh, my God. She's doing exactly what I wish I could do." You said something about me being a delicate flower not too long ago. I really appreciated that, because I'm can be so delicate, it's to a fault. People can take advantage of that.

MOORE: I see you and you deserve to be handled with care and gentleness. I always be watching you, girl. Even when we out in the club.

RODRIGUEZ: Girl, I know.

The way I want people to connect to me is not to look up to me—I want people to look at me and to see a little piece of themselves in me, not see somebody that they want to be like. I want them to see somebody that already exists within them.

MOORE: I just want you to know that you should never, ever feel like you feel everyone is placing demands on you, like that you're not doing enough. You are perfect. You get to decide how you extend yourself, and how you don't, at all times. That's something that I have to learn also. I wish people with more power and privilege would take a little bit of the labor that we be holding onto, but I also want to break through all those expectations that the industry places on us to be quiet and pretty.

I want to normalize speaking out and being truthful and honest and just being real and being vulnerable because this is everything that PR tells us not to do. This is everything that media training tells us not to do. It's all to protect an image. The way I want people to connect to me is not to look up to me—I want people to look at me and to see a little piece of themselves in me, not see somebody that they want to be like. I want them to see somebody that already exists within them. That's why it's important for me to be vulnerable or be honest or be imperfect. You know what I mean, and not ride on this wave of perfectionism that people be trying to follow.

RODRIGUEZ: I want to just piggyback off of what you just said because we have to show all aspects of ourselves. I always say, I'm perfectly imperfect. I'm never going to be perfect and I love that you say that. Like you said, you have the fire behind you and you want those people who look up to you, you want them to look at you. I really resonate with that.

MOORE: I want to portray humanity. The only time I want to appear perfect in that way is if I'm acting, if that's a role that I'm taking on, but apart from my work, when I'm sharing my life with the world, getting people to see themselves and connect, want it to be me because I don't ever want to feel pressured.

RODRIGUEZ: How do you say fashion plays into the way people look at us? For me, fashion is something that I live for. It's something that I love. How do you express yourself through fashion?

MOORE: I feel like fashion is art. I feel like everything I wear, everything about me is always going to be a statement, even when I don't mean it to be. Trans bodies, trans people, somebody [Zemena Osena] that was on Docuqueer, put a picture of me in her story and what she said was, me wearing that outfit for Louis Vuitton was so powerful because trans bodies are always under surveillance and scrutiny, especially when we show skin, and that that outfit takes back that power dynamic. I feel like that about fashion. I feel like that about us having the autonomy to express ourselves. I'm non-binary but I don't really talk about it that much. I don't feel like people really are there yet for understanding it, which I don't mind, but I also acknowledge the way people see me as a woman. And because I'm seen as a woman, a cis woman or binary presenting, people are  going to hold me up to those same standards that women are held up to.

RODRIGUEZ: Which you're saying you shouldn't be, right?

MOORE: Which I'm saying women should not be. One way of desexualizing bodies is to not only portray them in a sexual context. That's myself. When I'm wearing little clothes, even if I'm twerking, it's not in a sexual context. It's just not.

RODRIGUEZ: I'm so glad you said that Indya because I feel the same way. When I wear short shorts out, I would always wear them because I wanted to wear them, not because they were a sexualized aspect of what somebody else thinks.

MOORE: Right, not because you were trying to put out a mating call. That’s how people conceptualize femininity—as [something meant to be consumed by] men. That’s why straight men feel offended when gay men or otherwise, present themselves effeminately. Femininity is conceptualized as a mating call, and that’s a problem. Part of me dismantling that [sexualization] is expressing my femininity in ways that are complementary to me, because expressing myself with clothes or without them, especially when I'm expressing myself with little clothes, I'm reversing the power dynamic to me. My body, no matter how much skin I show, is not meant meant for just men to see. My body isn’t meant for men. It's meant for me. It’s my decision. I'm reversing that sense of entitlement from them to me through fashion. I feel like fashion is an incredible platform. It's an incredible way of expressing your own autonomy.

RODRIGUEZ: Right.

MOORE: It should never ever be, like what this guy said about Our Lady J, what's his name? The writer from the LA Times? Kevin Smothers. He put Our Lady J on the worst dressed list. This cis white man put her on the worst dressed list because he didn't like what she wore.

RODRIGUEZ: Also, you know what I've noticed too, opinions are opinion. There were many, many beautiful people that night who gave her praises on her dress that she wore.

MOORE: Everything was so beautiful, but that's what I’m saying. That idea of dressing to impress is like, we should dress to impress ourselves. The first thought that comes to mind when we're looking at dresses to wear is: Ooh, I want it, I want it. I. Me.

That's where it should end. "Dress to Impress" is bullshit. Why is this man deciding who looks good and who doesn't? He's measuring how beautiful someone's outfit is or isn't by what appeals to him.

Anytime somebody wants to mention an LGBTQ or trans person, it's to scrutinize us. It's to exacerbate our vulnerability or to judge us. It's never to acknowledge the violence that we're put through for existing.

RODRIGUEZ: That makes sense. You can actually go deeper into that aspect: most men, when it comes to a red carpet, wear suits. But then you get women who are very extravagant and beautiful, with different types of styles and looks.

MOORE: Men aren't judged and criticized, because how many different kinds of tuxedos can you wear? And why is it that the only time the LA Times wants to mention trans women is to scrutinize us when they don't think that we look good?

The only time they want to mention us is to badmouth us. And this is such a pattern with everyone, from Kevin Hart to the LA Times. Anybody. Anytime somebody wants to mention an LGBTQ or trans person, it's to scrutinize us. It's to exacerbate our vulnerability or to judge us. It's never to acknowledge the violence that we're put through for existing. Like, our innocence is completely void because of how somebody else conceptualizes the way we exist. Our existence is totally up for debate.

RODRIGUEZ: It's very apparent that there's still so much more work to be done. It does seem though that on the whole LGBTQ community is making long strides in the mainstream. To me, and I'm sure to you as well, it seems like there's still growth that is happening. So what do you wish to see for the community in the future and what do you think needs to be done?

MOORE: I want us to be seen as members of the communities that we come from. You know, we come from cis people. A lot of us do. And I want cis people to see us as part of their community. I want my community in the Bronx to see us as their people. I think that'll help de-marginalize us.

RODRIGUEZ: Because it's the start of de-marginalization. It could be that kick starter to it.

MOORE: Yeah! I want to deconstruct body standards, but it's very hard. I feel like for me to do a lot of that work—because people see my body in very cis ways—it’s really hard for me to deconstruct body standards.

RODRIGUEZ: I’m in the same situation. I understand that completely. But I feel that being in the positions that we're in and being that we have the platform, we can open those doors for others. We have to break that down. We have to have people see us as humans first before they see us as anything else.

MOORE: I think people just don't see us as human or deserving. And it's a problem. So that's what I want to see.

RODRIGUEZ: I hear you. This is a personal question for you, for Indya herself. What makes you hopeful?

MOORE: Interviews like this. The opportunities that we have. The people who hear us and listen to us. It makes me hopeful. People like Ryan Murphy. Lena Waithe.

RODRIGUEZ: What about your momma?

MOORE: My momma? Yeah, my mom makes me hopeful. People who acknowledge their power and those who don't have it. FX Network [Laughs] Love. God. My friends. Family. Community. Peace. Integrity. Healthcare. I think being seen, respected, and loved makes me feel hopeful. And seeing people deliver that to others makes me hopeful.

RODRIGUEZ: You know what I hope for you? I hope you have a way to leave a legacy throughout this whole world, girl, 'cause your words are powerful. They are powerful. I hope [your legacy] lasts because they will be the words of hope that will keep people alive, Indya. You have the power to change a lot of hearts and minds. I hope that you have a lasting impression on a lot of these hearts out there who don't understand this.

MOORE: Thank you. At this point, I think the worst thing to feel as a human being is to be rejected by the people that you love. That's the worst feeling that a human being can experience: to feel rejected and unloved, and picked on by the people that you love. Like, for example, black trans women fighting for black people being murdered but not having those same black people acknowledge you and defend you when you're up for scrutiny, because you are [scrutinized] even by your own community members.

RODRIGUEZ: Right.

MOORE: People like Kevin Hart need to take proper accountability and not victimize themsevles. Accountability should look like: "I’m sorry for what I said. And what I mean by that is, dehumanizing LGBTQ people is wrong. We need to stop." We need to unlearn these things that we've learned about LGBT people being harmful. Because the harm that we are saying they are causing, we are actually causing them. We are the very things that we're accusing them of being, and they're not. Accountability is saying "I was ignorant, I hurt a lot of people, and this is something that I normalized with my platform, and I want to reverse that, and I want to let people know that this kind of behavior is not OK. I’ve spoken with GLAAD. I’ve spoken with organizations about LGBTQ people." Proper accountability is understanding why you were wrong, not just being politically correct. It’s about ethical correctness. It’s about communal correctness. Taking proper accountability for your mistakes and allowing your flaws to be a call to action. It's not about apologizing, but it's like acknowledging where you're wrong and making sure that other people who have these socialized behavior traits unlearn them.

Behaviors like that also make me feel hopeful. Acknowledging, for me, internalized transphobia. When I was younger. Having the privilege to have started hormonal replacement therapy at 16 years old, I could leave my trans-ness at home, when a lot of other trans people couldn't do that. I didn't want to be approximated to trans people who didn't have the privilege to live their trans-ness at home because my proximity to people who were visibly trans would mean I would also be ostracized. Acknowledging that ignorance that I had, and unlearning that is proper accountability. Teaching other trans women who have those privileges that that's wrong and that that's horrible is proper accountability. That brings me hope for the future. Like my mom acknowledging where she was wrong.

When I'm speaking to her about how I was harmed growing up by transphobia and how that impacted everything that I went through, in foster care, being sex trafficked, all these things that happened to me as a result of being rejected at home and beaten for existing: Talking about that to my mom and her not just taking up space by feeling bad and me having to comfort her.

Her not doing that and actually taking accountability and comforting me, and giving me love, is proper accountability. Not victimizing yourself for being held accountable for what you did that was wrong, and comforting those that you harmed, is proper accountability.

I think that we need to move more into a place of forgiveness. We should forgive, but it's nobody's business to decide who needs to forgive and when they need to forgive, so we need to stop putting that pressure on people. It's a responsibility on us to be honest about how we are harmed if we are and to not abuse the attention that people receive for being victims.

One more thing I wanted to say was that trans people need to have more visibility in the media. Trans people need to be on talk shows. Whenever marginalized people are showing up in media, it always ends up being about their marginalization—and we need to cut that out. We want to see people living life and not set aside by the way we're oppressed, because that's not how we're defined.

 

TOP PHOTO AND COVER: DRESS SAINT LAURENT BY ANTHONY VACCARELLO. SUNGLASSES MONCLER FOR SIMONE ROCHA // MIDDLE PHOTO: BRA VEX CLOTHING. TIGHTS FALKE. EARRINGS JENNIFER FISHER. 

Credits

Makeup: Tatiana Donaldson using MAC Cosmetics
Hair: Carolyn Riley/De Facto
Producer: Spencer Salley
Photography Assistants: Scott Fitzpatrick, Chris White
Stylist Assistants: Mina Erkli, Emily Drake
Location: Dune Studios

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