Billy Porter Wears Many Hats

Billy Porter Wears Many Hats

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Billy Porter’s résumé is as impressive as it is difficult to categorize. His performance in the musical “Kinky Boots” won him a Tony Award and a Grammy, and, recently, he won an Emmy for his character on Ryan Murphy’s FX series “Pose.” Take any style award and he probably deserves that as well: at the 2019 Oscars, he showed up in a gender-bending “tuxedo gown.” In the words of the New Yorker fashion columnist Rachel Syme, his “torso looked like it was smoking a cigar with a brandy, while his skirt … was ready for a gothic Victorian-era coronation.”

Porter sat down for a conversation with Syme at The New Yorker Festival, in October. “I grew up in the black church,” he said, which “is a fashion show every time you show up.” Porter spent much of his early career searching for work that represented him—a black, gay man in show business. Such work was dry in those early days, but it’s a problem he’s left behind. Porter’s just signed a book deal for a memoir, he’ll play the role of the Fairy Godmother in the upcoming live-action adaptation of “Cinderella,” and he’s working on a new album. But Porter sees downsides to his success, and describes being mobbed at dance clubs by admirers. “I am a person who is of the people,” he says. “And when you lose your anonymity inside of celebrity—that scares me.”