Words: Owen Myers; pictures: Taylor Miller
Billy Porter has said that he is “completely free” of shame after opening up about being HIV+ earlier this year. The actor, 51, says he’s lived his whole life in shame. But no more. For this and more he is Attitude’s Man of the Year, supported by Virgin Atlantic at the 2021 Virgin Atlantic Attitude Awards, powered by Jaguar.
Billy wears outfit, by Victoria Hayes, hat by Gigi Burris, earring by Erickson Beamon, rings by Jill Herlands for the Attitude Awards issue. (Photography by Taylor Miller; Fashion: Joseph Kocharian; Stylists: Ty Hunter and Colin Anderson; Hair: Koji Ichikawa at The Club NY; Makeup: Laramie at Home Agency; Professional fashion assistant: Sacha Dance)
“Everything that I have done has been under the cloud and stuck in the quagmire of shame”, Porter says.
“For my whole life. You know, my religious family, God bless them, sent me to a psychologist when I was five years old because I was too much of a sissy. The only thing I know is shame. So, to have that lifted, and to be free from shame, it’s mind-boggling. For the first time, I’m learning how to live for myself.”
The Emmy winner also talked about moving to New York City in 1991, in the midst of the Aids crisis and the fear that gripped the city’s LGBTQ community.
“The only thing we knew was sex equalled death. So, good luck. Horrible. And it’s only now that I’m in a space where I can actually process what we’ve been through. It’s, like, oh, we went through some shit, and I’ve been traumatised. It took a minute for me to understand that.”
Billy wears full look by Victor Lopez, earrings by Erickson Beamon, rings by Jill Herlands (Photography: Taylor Miller)
Dealing with that trauma is the subject of the actor-musician-authors new music, he adds. “It’s about being gay, being out, being authentic in the face of abject hate. Being an ocean of love that extinguishes the world’s hate. It’s modern, it’s contemporary, it’s pop, and the content – get ready for these lyrics, bitches.”
Porter, who admits to often partying hard into the early hours of the following mornings in his twenties (so much so he did on occasion go from the club to a matinée as a working actor on Broadway) is not one shy away from anything (have you seen his red carpet look?!) says that his recently released book, Unprotected, is bound to ruffle a few feathers. Something he’s definitely not bothered by!
“It’s time to speak truth to power. It’s more about liberals with money, who are no different from conservatives. They’ll do anything to keep their money in their pocket, and they need to be called out.”
He continues by saying that he wants the world to see how present he is. Yes, he may be able to turn a lewk on the red carpet, but he’s also switched on to what’s happening in the world arguing, “Being fabulous and being serious are not mutually exclusive. Just because I wear a dress and I’m a man doesn’t mean that I don’t know what is going on.
Billy wears top, trousers and necklace by Victoria Hayes, hat by Gigi Burris, rings by H. Crowne, shoes by Syro (Photography: Taylor Miller)
“And I will not shut up and sing. I will not shut up and dance. I will not shut up and act. I will never shut up. I don’t give a f**k what y’all think about me. Yes, I am a f****t. Yes, I suck d**k. Yes, I’m HIV positive. And I’m a human being on this planet. And you don’t get to take my rights away because of how I live my life.”
Moving on to discuss who he considers his peers, the short answer from Billy is that he has no peers. “I’m the bitch that kicked the door down, so now people that are coming up are able to do it.”
Referring to Lil Nas X, who featured Porter in the video for his hit ‘That’s What I Want’ Billy calls him his “little baby brother.” But Porter isn’t jealous that people like Lil Nas X can be as open as they are today; he celebrates that.
“When I came out in 1997, I would have been that if I had been allowed to. I’m just so thrilled and moved by how far we’ve come.”
This, Porter says, is something we could all be more aware of. That even while there’s a lot of negativity going around, there’s also a lot of positive change. Or as Porter puts it: “S*** has changed. For real. It could not happen before. I know that because I lived it.”
Read the full interview in the Attitude Awards issue, which is out now.