Emmy Nominated Billy Porter on Being a Black Queer Man

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Aug 27, 2020

Actor Billy Porter—who plays “Pray Tell” on the hit FX Networks series “Pose”—is the only cast member who has been nominated for and won an Emmy, which puts him just one award shy of a coveted EGOT. Yet the industry love, which has been nearly three decades in the making, is surreal for Porter who said “as a Black queer man who spent the first 25 years of my career being told my queerness was my liability, to have the flip and turn around for me…is a gift,” during a video interview with told Deadline’s The Actor’s Studio with Pete Hammond.

“I’m so grateful that I’ve lived long enough to see this change in the industry and thereby, in the culture and the world,” Porter said. The uber performer, who has taken home practically every acting award except for an Oscar, shared how he went from singing in the church in Pittsburgh to making his original sixth-grade dream come true—“Coming to Broadway and winning a Tony Award”—after being rocked by Jennifer Holiday’s 1982 “Dreamgirls” Tony performance on the television. 

“All of a sudden I see this woman singing the way I sang at church and onstage and it cracked open a whole space for me that I didn’t even know that I could vibrate in,” Porter said.

Read below for more must-hear quotes from Porter’s interview:

On being a Black queer man:

I’ve always been comfortable onstage. That has never been an issue. What the issue was for me was that in terms of my queerness and the intersection of my Blackness, there were a lot of extra layers that I found myself having to put on before I would walk into the room to try to make other people feel comfortable about my presence on this planet. And it wasn’t until I let all of that go that I became the actor, the artist, the human being that I am today. It wasn’t until I said, you know what, I’m going to take myself out of the masculinity expectation game that other people have, society. My masculinity has been in question from the moment I could comprehend thought and I’m never going to be masculine enough for anybody in this society, so why do I care? I’m going to pull myself out and be completely, 100 percent authentically me and that is when everything shifted.

On learning to lean away from regular:

I look at “Kinky Boots” and it’s’ exactly the thing that for the first 20 years of my life I was running away from—a Black man in heels, in drag, that’s not employable. I ran from that for over 20 years and the minute that I embraced the fact that nobody else could do it like me, that particular thing… It’s like well, yes, I can do all of this, in heels, dancing backwards. Like, none of y’all could do it, so I’m just going to do this. I’m going to lean into the thing that makes me special, as opposed to leaning into something that makes me regular. 

On taking one’s seat at the table:

To be in the space, to be in the room, to have a place at the table [is] because I’ve made my place at the table. I took my seat at the table, nobody gave it to me, nobody offered it to me. Nobody welcomed me. I actually took it. It’s a very powerful space… My hope is that I’m just the beginning. That this space that I occupy will make room for others.

To watch the complete video interview, visit Deadline.