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Hailie Sahar on how 'Good Trouble' and 'Pose' tell diverse transgender narratives

We stan a  queen! We stan a  queen! Image: JoJo whilden/fx By Saloni Gajjar2019-07-03 16:13:54 UTC

The newest episode of Freeform’s Good Trouble centers on recurring character Jazmin Martinez’s 30th birthday double quinceañera. It's an emotionally significant event because she skipped it at age 15 since she hadn't transitioned yet. The quinces also acts as a fundraiser for transgender military vets.

Jazmin's portrayer Hailie Sahar was overwhelmingly happy at the opportunity to share this story through her on-screen alter ego. “I decided to be an actor when I was a child, when I didn’t even have the right terminology for what I would identify myself as,” the actress, who is trans herself, told Mashable. "The journey hasn't been easy."

She started without a blueprint for actors like her. “The only trans people I saw while growing up were on Jerry Springer-type shows and it was just derogatory." Her past roles on TV include an episode of Mr. Robot and Transparent before she scored substantial parts in Pose and Good Trouble. 

In the latter, she now gets to be the star of an episode that raises awareness about the hardships faced by her community over time and especially in this climate but also how that hasn't stopped them from thriving. 

It shouldn't come as a surprise that an insightful, diverse, fun drama like Good Trouble is shaping up to tell a pivotal trans narrative that resonates with its audience. The show has tapped into critical issues like LGBTQ identities, Black Lives Matter, gender and race pay gaps, and women in STEM fields in its first season. 

Now in Season 2, an outing like "Doble Quince" marks a significant step in furthering the right kind of trans representation.

Image: ERIC MCCANDLESS/Freeform

Joanna Johnson, who co-created the show with Peter Paige and Bradley Bredeweg, told Mashable that their initial plan was to get to a Jazmin episode in the future but the circumstances encouraged them to go for it now. It was a real team effort. 

"Our director Bradley Bredeweg thought of doing it as a quince and one of our writers Cristian Martinez had the idea to make Jazmin a vet herself," she said. They got consultants and ran their stories by GLAAD to make sure they were telling it in the right way. "It's important to have an inclusive writer's room and organizations and we also spoke with Hailie to incorporate her own ideas." 

"I was just happy that we are in a time where these discussions are happening on TV," Sahar said, referring to her Good Trouble arc but also her series regular role on Pose.

The '80s-set ballroom drama is on an extraordinary endeavor to tell stories we haven’t really seen play out in mainstream entertainment media. Season 2 of Pose premiered this June (a week before Season 2 of Good Trouble), and continues to depict adversities faced by the central protagonists — most of whom are either trans or gay — including discrimination, violence, and the onset of the HIV/AIDS crisis.

Even so, the show is remarkable because it lets characters lead a multi-faceted life filled with love and loss, color and dreariness, and most importantly hope. "Everyone is so humanized so you start to love and root for them. That’s how it should be, it’s a lesson on how we should be viewing each other," Sahar said. 

She plays Lulu, co-mother to the House of Ferocity alongside her best friend Candy (Angelica Ross). Lulu and Candy's sisterhood comes into heavier focus this year as they go through some life-altering times — episode 4 airing on July 9 is, in particular, a game-changer. The role challenges her, Sahar says, but it's why she enjoys it so thoroughly. 

Lulu and Candy are (realistic) sister goals.

Lulu and Candy are (realistic) sister goals.

Image:  Nicole RIvelli/FX

"Ryan Murphy and Tim Burton were my idols when I was younger. Just auditioning for Pose was an unbelievable experience," she added. She was originally up to play Blanca and even Elektra but scored neither of the two roles. "I got the most humbling call a few weeks after to let me know that Ryan enjoyed my work and wanted to create a character around me." 

To play these roles, Sahar pulls from her own struggles while growing up. Her grandfather and father were both pastors which meant she spent a lot of time in church as a child but it was her mother who set the biggest example for her. "She has constantly been the voice and the encouragement I needed," she said. 

At 16, she finally learned what it meant to be transgender when she went to a club and met a fellow trans woman who invited her to a ballroom show like the ones seen on Pose. 

"It was like a gateway for me." Soon after, Sahar began walking in various categories and gained fame, eventually becoming an IRL house mother to the House of Rodeo, an LA chapter of the ballroom scene. 

"It was certainly difficult, being a house mother at such a young age and feeling unsure of who I am. It took me some time but now I feel liberated because I'm living my truth," Sahar said. 

Image: Macall Polay/FX

Good Trouble and Pose are enriching the representation of varied transgender storylines, presenting the world with fleshed out, three-dimensional characters and not just stereotyped caricatures or punchlines. It's a sincere effort to visualize and vocalize life-stories.

Through its characters, the FX drama regularly brings in romance (Angel and Lil Papi!) and laughs (all things Elektra and Pray Tell vs. Candy!). Good Trouble obviously thrives on its steamy love triangles (Callie-Gael-Jaime!) and complex relationships like the one also spotlighted in "Doble Quince" when newly out-of-the-closet Alice deals with her partner Joey's decision to be defined as non-binary. 

Every episode of Pose features spectacular categories, letting those participating show off their modeling, fashion, and dance skills, none more than Sahar, who is also a professional dancer and has learnt ballet. These skills came in handy because Jazmin also gets to do a tantalizing dance on Jennifer Lopez's "El Anillo" during her quinceañera. 

Image: bill inoshita/Freeform

"That number was a no-brainer," Johnson added. "We want to show joy and celebration while also basing our narratives in real dynamics." By not focusing solely on trauma, Good Trouble and Pose find the most heartfelt balance to do just this. 

Sahar is excited for the world to see Lulu's story unfold in Season 2 of Pose, and hopes we see Jazmin again in Good Trouble sooner rather than later. 

"A beautiful thing that has happened is that these two shows have really pushed the envelope. I love hearing from my supporters and fans about how watching it led them to have conversations at home about this subject," she said. "It's just really uplifting." 

Good Trouble Season 2 airs Tuesdays on Freeform; Pose Season 2 airs Tuesdays on FX. 

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