Authenticity is as much a staple for Billy Porter as his creative work. The Emmy, Grammy and Tony award-winning actor and singer made that clear on Tuesday night as he discussed his 2021 memoir “Unprotected” and how he sought to “[heal] trauma through art.”
“I want to make sure that I am… telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and also positioning the storytelling in a way where we can talk about healing,” Porter said. “Especially for Black queer men [and] anybody who can read this book and be freed from whatever is binding them.”
Porter talked with multimedia artist and journalist Jamal Jordan during the Zoom event as part of a series of events hosted by the Family Action Network, an Evanston organization that aims to connect community members through educational discussions. Porter described how, as part of a trailblazing generation for Black queer representation, he is inspired by the work of others, such as rapper Lil Nas X.
“I am so grateful to have lived long enough to see the day when an artist like Lil Nas X is in mainstream culture and shutting it down,” Porter said. “This is what we fought for.”
As an activist, Porter takes care to maintain clear intentions and ensure that his fame and status don’t come in the way of his goals.
“I am in a position of power now, something that never existed for me before,” Porter said. “It is my duty and my responsibility to have an accountable conversation with the world across the board… There’s this idea that permeates our culture that being fabulous and seriousness do not go hand-in-hand. I smashed that.”
Porter is recognized for his iconic red carpet appearances, notably the black and white tuxedo-gown he wore at the 2019 Oscars Red Carpet. There was always an intention behind Porter’s fashion, he says, though his impact surprised him.
“[It’s] a part of my expression as an artist,” Porter said. “It evolved from the confines and the chains of toxic masculinity to the freedom of nonbinary, gender-bending, de-gendering of fashion. I didn’t know that’s what it was going to be!”
While Porter says he’s been told his queerness is a liability, he has transformed it into a method of service and activism.
“I am a political artist,” Porter said. “Every choice you see me make is based off that.”
*Article Thumbnail courtesy of Olivia Abeyta / North By Northwestern