On what feels like a Monday like any other, actress Angelica Ross of Pose and American Horror Story fame is living like it’s the weekend. She’s away on vacation in Costa Rica, living her best single life and loving on herself in anticipation of what, or who, is to come.
“I’m really focused on just connecting with myself and making sure that I am able to show up for whatever relationship that’s going to come next,” she tells ESSENCE. “Just healed and centered and all those good things. You just always want to be able to bring your best self into relationships.”
The actress says she enjoying the time of recharging, as suitors have already been expressing their interest through the Bumble app. The last time she was able to spend time like this on herself, she had just called off an engagement. She chose herself over her then-fiancé, a white Italian man who wanted her to keep her identity as a Black trans woman a secret and whose parents didn’t approve. She spent eight years as a single woman after that relationship, and it helped Ross see some things about herself that needed to change.
“I myself had internalized some anti-blackness. And some of it was tangled in with the fact that being a Black trans woman, I grew up fearing Black men,” she says. “From my bullies in childhood, to the disapproving male figures throughout my life, to walking the ‘hood and hearing, ‘oh, hell nah!’ or this homophobic rhetoric. I didn’t know I was doing it, but I was unconsciously avoiding them.”
She’s since changed her outlook, shifting from “fear to love.” Choosing to love fearlessly, these days, Ross says her heart is seeking a Black man. Nevertheless, she’s open to what God, the universe, and Bumble bring her way, and from there, she’s taking the lead.
“The men that I run into, especially my dating experience now, on an app like Bumble, I get to choose first. I get to make the first move,” she says. “What I’m doing is I assess. Are you a safe space for me to even talk to and disclose? Because on my Bumble profile, you can select your gender and I’m able to put that I’m a trans woman. And sometimes I put that up front and sometimes I don’t. And the reason is because I’ve had two different experiences. Shat I’ve known to be true is that yes, it can cut to the chase when you disclose up front. But it can also, if you’re in person, put you in a dangerous situation. That’s why we trans people know when to disclose in person.”
She adds, “But when it comes to the apps and things like that, what I know is I don’t owe you that either upfront. How about, ‘How was your day?’ How about, am I even interested to go into that conversation with you? So I love that I’m able to take back my power in dating and relationships and love by not waiting to be chosen.”
We talked to Ross about her quest for love on Bumble, what she’s looking for in a mate, what she won’t accept, and how her idea of a fairytale ending has changed.
ESSENCE: How has dating changed for you now that you’re a public figure? What kind of responses do you find that you’re getting when you’re dating through apps like Bumble?
Angelica Ross: I have to say that it has definitely been a much more enjoyable experience. What’s happening is, I’m getting love from men who consider themselves to be straight cishet men. And regardless if it’s for a date or whatever the case is, many times it’s, ‘Oh man, I really love you on that show.’ Or, ‘Thank you for doing all the work you do with Black Lives Matter’ or what have you. I will get people who actually do know the work that I do and are familiar with it in a way that they actually are genuinely excited for the encounter. And funny thing, some of those end up leading to dates, because what they realize is, this is just a woman I’m fascinated about.
What traits are you looking for in a romantic partner?
I absolutely need to have a man with direction. It’s actually a conversation that I’ve been having with guys that I’ve been seeing. I’m a woman of a certain age. And I’ve had to guide myself and navigate a very treacherous world for trans people, for marginalized folks, for people of color and what have you. But I have got direction in my life. And so what they get is that I can’t give you the wheel, not not even for a moment, if you don’t have direction in your life. I’m not following you. So I need to see a man who seems like he has direction in his life, and it’s even better if it’s spiritual direction. I have spiritual direction. So that’s why when I do the things that I do, as much as it hurts my human heart sometimes, my soul is right. Everything is right within. So at the end of the day, I’m enjoying the fruits of my labor. I am enjoying the dance of life, but I am not focused on worldly things. So I want to know that me and you coming together is more than us looking good together. Is there purpose in our union? Is there purpose in us coming together? If it ain’t, I don’t want it.
What’s the deal breaker for you?
As far as deal breakers are concerned, unconsciousness is a deal breaker. When you know better, you do better. We are well forward in the conversation around consciousness, and somebody who is unconscious can harm you. Can hurt you. It’s absolutely possible if they’re unconscious, they’re unconsciously hurting themselves and the people around them every day. So I don’t want to include myself in that.
Another full-on deal breaker is stagnation. If you don’t have direction, you should be seeking it. So, if you’re stagnant, I’m growing all the time. All my growth is going to do is upset you.
What also is a deal breaker is a subscription to patriarchy and/or any kind of hotep-itry lite or full on. We all know about gender roles. But here’s the thing, I’m a woman who claims all parts of myself. And I love my femininity. I love how my femininity bounces off the right man. So I love being able to do things and use my feminine wiles in ways that I know my man wants, whether that is cooking or doing certain things. I might order Uber Eats before he gets there and hide the evidence. I can totally understand what it means to do that, but let’s not get trapped in patriarchal roles. There’s no need for it. If you want to be that kind of man, be that, but just know that I’m not going to hold you hostage to some ideal of what a man is supposed to be. And all I’m asking is don’t hold me hostage here.
What is the biggest lesson you’d say you’ve learned from past relationships that informs how you go about looking for love in the present?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that we are all mirrors that reflect one another. My ex-fiancé who I was with for those eight years, he met me when I was discarded from society, from my family, on back pages of the internet and in the margins of the streets and escorting. He met me during this time. And I had to pray that he could see the real me through my circumstances. But what I learned in that moment, is I needed to see myself clearly. And so this man ended up unintentionally showing me myself.
I felt we were always on thin ice, because his family didn’t approve and all these things. I felt I was always waiting for him to make a decision. And then I had an aha moment. And it was, b—h you’re a grown-a– woman. How is it you up here sitting and waiting on somebody to make a decision when you can make one?
Everything I thought he was, the strength I thought he had, I had more. The value for myself and for betting on myself and what I can do and pull up out of myself, was greater than what I could have betted on myself, staying with him. …So that’s the greatest lesson I learned. Relationships are a reflection. It’s not about controlling someone else, changing someone else. It’s about changing yourself, evolving and letting the person’s reflection of you give you another angle that you didn’t see before. That gives you a clear understanding of how you show up and then do better.
And what is your ideal fairy tale ending when it comes to finding love? Are you just looking to have fun in the meantime?
I had my fun. I went through that. For me, I am focused on finding a partner. But I realize that my picture of what a partner is has completely changed. I no longer have the Cinderella fairy tale. I wanted marriage. I might still want marriage. I don’t know. But I know I do good all by myself. So if I do get married, there will be a prenup. Absolutely will be a prenup.
But, I’ve left the door open to say never say never. And on my Bumble profile, it’s open to both men and women. Here’s the thing, I have better conversations on that app with women. I have been welcoming to that energy, but it just has not happened. But I’m open. My heart is open. And I’m so grateful to be at this place in my life as a Black trans woman to not be sullied by the struggles and the trauma and the grief and the fear and all the things that could keep me from love. To be open and ready is a blessing.