In a recent interview The Daily Beast, star of FX's smash hit Pose Ryan Jamaal Swain talks life, love coming out and dealing with his stepfather's anti gay stance growing up.
“I’m getting close to what makes me happy and drives me,” Swain said. “I’ve always known, unconsciously, that I’m here for a reason. Whatever I’m about to do with my life, I want it to impact people.”
Strongly political, Swain will talk today about why he wants Pose to stand as a corrective to the bigotry of the Trump era. He is also recovering from heartbreak, and determined in his artistic ambitions to be as “multi-hyphenate” as possible. He is not so unlike Damon, having endured the aggressive homophobia of a parental figure when he was young. Like Damon, he is scarred, witty, full of ambition, and determined to succeed. He calls himself queer, rather than gay, and thinks LGBT people shouldn’t have to come out.
His voice frequently breaks and tears well as he tells his story. “I’m such a Pisces, very emotional. There are a lot of water signs in my family,” he said.
In the last year, Swain’s life has zoomed “literally from zero to 60 really quickly.” He has gone from having $50 in his pocket and sleeping on a friend’s couch to experiencing TV stardom, having money, and now living in his own place in Harlem. In starring as Damon, Swain is part of a TV show changing LGBT representation on screen—and specifically people of color LGBT representation—in the most radical, entertaining ways.
Like his character Damon, thrown out by his family because of his homosexuality, Swain experienced homophobic abuse while growing up.
When Swain was 12, he would hide his leg and knee pads in the lining of his bed not to go to his football practice.
‘It was becoming excruciating for me to go. Something inside of me was not being fulfilled, and I needed to figure out what that was and how that was,’ he said.
While trying to find himself, Swain ended up doing ballet and tap and going to dance recitals, while also playing football and basketball and ‘doing all the sports any Southern kid does’.
‘I noticed that my stepfather wouldn’t be at my dance recitals, but would be at my football or basketball games. There was a dissonance, and I felt what I was doing was wrong,’ he said.
‘My biological father had left my life at around five or six. This male figure, my stepfather, was supposed to be my god, my knight, my armor. and I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong. As a child, when you don’t have that articulation, the feeling is it’s your fault, rather than something is wrong with the other part of the equation.’
‘Why are you talking like a fag?’
His stepfather would make offensive comments on how he walked and talked, especially if he put on an English accent.
‘Why are you talking like a fag?’ Swain recalled him saying.
‘It was very much homophobic, very hard. A child needs to be told they’re safe, heard, and loved.’
And then the verbal abuse turned into physical abuse. On one occasion, he told his stepfather to stop talking to him in such a derogatory way.
‘We got into an argument. He pushed me. I pushed him back. He pinned me down on the bed. My mom came in and split the whole thing up,’ Swain said.
Swain on the relationship with his parents
Swain’s mother separated from his stepfather when Swain was in college, just when his biological father came back into his life.
The two reconnected and his father ‘is heavily following Pose, and all the articles about me. He read about what my stepfather did, and said how fucked up it was. They haven’t talked about Swain’s homosexuality yet, “but he’s read everything and seen the videos.’
Swain has a great relationship with his mother, ‘one of the craziest, wackiest people in my life’.
‘She has always accepted me. We have always been close. She’ll call me “superstar”, and I say, “Girl, quit calling me that. I’m still your child”. She’s just thrilled for me. She knew I wanted this for a very long time,’ he also said.
‘People shouldn’t need to come out’
Swain identifies as queer and believes there should be no reason why LGBTI people need to come out.
‘As a queer person or LGBTI person, there’s no necessity for you to come out. Straight people don’t have to. It’s not 2005. People don’t have to come out. No announcement is needed. You were born that way. That is you,’ he said.
‘Coming out, the label, is what I have a problem with. I want to reverb and rewire it and remake it to be “inviting-in”, so we invite people into our experience, and into my experience as a queer male.’
He furthermore added: ‘I have never hidden who I am. I hope we get to a time where we don’t have to hide for our own safety. But in “coming out of the closet”, it’s like I have to reveal myself. No. I’ve always been here, now you’re invited into that experience. That’s more powerful, and it comes from a space of unifying different things.’