Print Edition - 2019-02-28  |  Life & Style

Billy Porter speaks on Oscars gown and social media hate


Feb 28, 2019-

Billy Porter knew what he was in for trouble among some social media users: “People are going to be really uncomfortable with my black ass in a ball gown, but it’s not anybody’s business but mine.” The remark from the Tony-winning stage performer, actor and singer was both prescient and disproven. There was mega-praise for his velvet custom tuxedo look by Christian Siriano and outrage over the notion that an African American man in a dress was a threat to black masculinity.

It was just the conversation Porter had hoped to provoke, not to collect virulent hate but to help move along the idea that we all deserve respect, across racial lines and the gender divide.

“I was ready to create the conversation,” Porter told The Associated Press. “We have to teach people how to treat us, we have to teach people how to love us, to teach people how to respect us, and the only way we do that is to respect ourselves.”

Porter, the black and gay breakout star of the boundary-expanding FX series ‘Pose,’ spent awards season using fashion as political art.

Porter understands where established notions of black masculinity originated, and he understands how toxic they can be. He and his stylist, Sam Ratelle, also realize how rigid gender-driven taboos can be and want to help the walls come down.

“It goes all the way back to the earliest of emasculations, which is slavery, so the only way to sort of overcome that is to be the strongest and the most masculine and the most powerful and now, what has become toxic,” Porter said. “And I don’t think it’s just black people. I think it’s men in general. Every ethnicity has their version of it.”

Porter couldn’t care less about negative comments. “The comments are not my business. What people think about what I’m doing is not my business. I lived that already,” he said. “I’m inside of my authenticity and the whole point is that you have to respect me as much as I respect you. If you don’t like it, go somewhere else. You don’t have to look. It’s not about you. I don’t understand why my putting on a dress causes this much strife in your life.”

Ratelle said he began working with Porter about a year ago.

“He said, ‘I want to be a piece of walking art,’ and we just went from there,” Ratelle said.

Porter said he’s just getting started in terms of pushing along the conversation.

“People are actually listening,” he said. “I hope it opens up a dialogue of healing. I will always continue to do me. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the 49 years that I’ve lived on this planet, is that being authentic is the only version of the story that anybody should be.”

Now that awards season is over, and the fashion week cycle is finishing up in Paris, Porter said he’ll continue to wear whatever he likes, with a great number of designers on board to help with pulls from their lines and custom outfits.

“Pre-Golden Globes it was difficult,” he said of options available to him, considering that he’s not sample size. “After the Golden Globes it has not been difficult. You work with the people who work with you. You walk through the doors that are open. I’m never a beggar.”

Published: 28-02-2019 12:39

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