At the New Yorker Festival on Saturday, Pose star Billy Porter discussed how racism and homophobia impacted his career, especially early on. According to Porter, he found the music industry to be “hugely, violently homophobic.”
As Deadline was the first to report, the Emmy-winner told interviewer Rachel Syme about signing a deal with A&M Records in the 1980, and how quickly homophobic record execs started to try to push him out. Despite having the talent and drive to succeed, Porter said becoming a successful recording artist “was never about the music.”
“It was about trying to fix myself so other people would feel comfortable around me,” he said.
Homophobia and racism also sidelined his acting career early on, Porter claimed. He told the audience that the industry only wanted three types of Black actors at the time: “James Earl Jones, the patriarch; Denzel Washington, the sex symbol; or genius clown, Eddie Murphy.”
While I think plenty of LGBTQ+ fans would definitely call Porter a sex symbol, he doesn’t fit any of those tiny boxes for straight audiences.
So Porter found himself asking: “Where am I fitting in?” He said, “I became a character actor to hide behind little weight and work so I could eat.” Things got so bad for him that he had to file for bankruptcy after losing his apartment and health insurance, which he went without for 13 years.
Still, Porter continued to believe in himself and kept on fighting for his right to be who he really is.
“We must speak life into ourselves, even when everyone around us is doing the opposite,” the actor said. “I never saw anything that looked like me, and visibility … when we see ourselves reflected back… is so important.”
Eventually, Porter earned a breakout role in Angels in America and then two years later won a Tony for Kinky Boots. The rest is gay history: He recently became the first gay Black man to win an acting Emmy for his role as Pray Tell on Pose.
Thank God, Porter didn’t change himself to fit someone else’s mold. He continues to blaze a vibrant trail for queer people on television, on red carpets, and in interviews like this one. With a flap of his iconic stunning gold wings, he is showing more and more people that they, too, can live their best lives by being fully themselves.
Please keep doing you, Mr. Porter, and we’ll keep loving you for it.