Pose is back and there's a new house on the scene.
FX is back with its much-lauded series Pose, centering around Black and brown queer and trans folks living through the mid 1990s. Season three of the show debuts in 1994 putting us at the nexus of a lot of change happening: this community is sitting at the center of the AIDS epidemic, as well as the crack epidemic. And, following the success of certain members of the community garnering a bit of fame given Madonna's "Vogue" and Paris Is Burning, parts of the ballroom scene have focused more on the competition as sport with cash and trophies as the end goal. And in that arena comes the House of Khan.
Lemar Khan, played by Jason Rodriguez, trots out in the first episode as the season's most obvious villain. Having house hopped from Abundance to Ferocity to Evangelista and then to Wintour, he's struck out on his own. He is now the father of the unruly upstart House of Khan that's out for cash and is taking no prisoners. While we won't spoil too much of the first two episodes for you, they also aren't afraid to get at least a little violent. But like with many things Pose, the house is rooted in truth as there is an actual House of Khan in ballroom that still exists today.
"When we came into the writer's room for season three, I wanted that street, that flavor, that ferociousness to be imbued into Jason's character," executive producer, writer, and director Janet Mock told Out in a press conference ahead of the premiere. Mock had first encountered the House of Khan after being taken to her first ball in 2011 by Ayanna Khan who had told her the house's history. "So I immediately said in the room, we need to have the House of Khan in this and just have Jason come and storm with this amazing cast behind him." And storm he did.
The House of Khan indeed has a standout lineup. It includes Shadow Khan, previously known as Shadow Wintour, who is played by ballroom's Dashaun Lanvin. It also includes Pretentia Khan, who is played by Leyna Bloom, one of the most well-known ballroom faces in the mainstream. Bloom is a history-making model and has recently embarked on a history-making acting career as well. But while a high level of talent was important, the House of Khan was also meant to bring a little chaos onto screen.
"The House of Khan was known for not taking no bullshit," James Khan tells Out. James, who is currently the grandfather of the House of Khan, has been a member of the actual ballroom house since it began in 1987. At the time the name was spelled Khahn taken after the French fashion designer Emmanuel Khahn, but in the early 90s, after some of the founders like Eric Christian Bazaar had left, they restarted the house as Khan, based mostly in Washington D.C. "They learned that from me. I'm the sweetest person you will ever meet but I'm not the easiest person to get along with, especially if I think you were trying to run some bullshit." Bazaar later started the House of Milan to compete with Khan.
"We really didn’t take any shit, like it wouldn’t take long before you get hit upside the head," James says. "But we’re not into that now, things have changed."
The house began, as many early ballroom houses, as simply a group of friends. After continually hanging out together, supporting one another as young queer kids, and attending balls together — "we were just doing what we had to do to survive whether it was crafting or writing [bad] checks" — they decided to take on a name. And much like the onscreen house that has now borrowed their name, they were known to be a tough crew both on and off the floor.
"When I saw the screenshot [calling Jason] the 'father of the unruly House of Khan, I started laughing because you can't hide what it was," James says. Recently retired, he has never seen an episode of Pose or of HBO Max's Legendary but says he isn't bothered by being a point of inspiration.
"I kind of like the idea for some of the young kids to see how it was back then because they really don't know," he says.
The mid 1990s was a different time though, and the house began to change. As Khan began to expand outside of D.C., first to Baltimore then to states like North and South Carolina before New York, they began to develop a new reputation. Pivotal in this was not only ballroom changing at large, but Luna Khan becoming the house's New York City father.
"Luna was always the good girl," James says, noting that Luna, who is an activist as well as a photographer, continues to remain his right hand. "She always kept things calm and did things the right way and it kind of encouraged the turnover. The type of stuff we had in D.C., it wasn't the same type of stuff going on in New York."
Luna's legacy was key in the show's inclusion of Khan.
"To use the name Khan [on the show,] when I reflect on Khan, I remember them storming the Tracks in D.C.," Dominique Jackson, who plays Elektra Evangelista on the show, said in the press conference referencing an infamous brawl at a gay club. "I remember all of that. For me, it was a beautification of something that was kind of, not tainted, but born out of the sense of survival. Born out of the sense of we will survive no matter what, and if you defy us, this is who it is. And when my brother Luna became a part of the House of Khan, it confused me." At the time, she thought why would Luna want to be a part of such violence.
"And then I realized how we have to step in and be those role models," she continued. "And what Luna did was he stepped in as Father Khan was change the narrative, change the conversation, and brought it to something else."
For Rodriguez, Luna was also key in that Luna helped to create the first spaces that Rodriguez encountered ballroom with Vogue Knights. And after hearing the stories of the power of the House of Khan, Rodriguez hoped to give it its just due.
Currently, James says the House of Khan is in a "rebuilding stage" after seeing a massive departure only a few years ago. In 2018 a large cohort of Khans left the house in order to form the House of West. That new house competed on the first season of Legendary and within the scene is known for its standout lineup of vogue performers, many of whom initially made their names as Khans. But, with an event coming up for Memorial Day, which will mark the House of Khan's first big function in some time, James Khan isn't too worried.