Back in December 2020, Vogue Magazine featured English singer Harry Styles, who made history as the magazine’s first male individual cover star while rocking a breathtaking Gucci gown, accompanied by the headline “Harry Styles makes his own rules.” Many fans and advocates saw this cover to be a step in the right direction toward ending the toxic masculinity at society’s roots. However, actor Billy Porter believes that this cover is three steps back from the direction the movement wants to head in, and he has some words for Vogue about the issue.
Porter is known for being a part of some of the biggest projects in Hollywood. He portrayed the character Behold Chablis in the eighth season of FX’s “American Horror Story: Apocalypse” and won an Emmy Award for his role as Pray Tell in FX’s “Pose.” But he’s not only drawing eyes on the television screen; he’s also grabbing the world’s attention with the gender-fluid style he displays on some of the biggest red carpets. Some of Porter’s most iconic red carpet fashion statements include his appearance at the 91st Annual Academy Awards (where he owned the red carpet in a velvet tuxedo jacket and ball gown) and his unforgettable, show-stopping look from the 2019 Met Gala. In the latter look, he honored the event’s theme, Camp: Notes on Fashion, in a gold fringe bodysuit, headpiece and wings designed by “The Blonds.”
Billy Porter is undeniably a fashion pioneer and advocate for the advancement of nonbinary/gender-fluid artistry in the entertainment industry. Porter faced immense scrutiny for his fashion choices over the years, yet the power of his game-changing style doesn’t go unnoticed by fans, as many expressed their sadness over his absence from the 2021 Met Gala. One supporter took to Twitter to express their sentiment, saying “Met Gala didn’t feel like MET GALA because of these people being absent” and included Porter’s name in the list.
Met Gala didn’t feel like MET GALA because of these people being absent..
Madonna #MetGala2021 #metgala pic.twitter.com/tNMPvP2BIu
— MikNatindim (@mnatindim) September 14, 2021
Another fan praised Porter while jokingly offering a suggestion: “Met gala 2021 should be Billy Porter themed.”
Met gala 2021 should be Billy Porter themed.
— Betsey Goldwasser (@betsey611) January 28, 2020
Despite carving a pathway for others to use fashion as an outlet for self-expression and freedom, Porter still feels that he’s being excluded within the fashion industry. During an interview for The Sunday Times, Porter brought up the monumental December 2020 Vogue Magazine cover and detailed his feelings. Porter told The Sunday Times, “I changed the whole game. I. Personally. Changed. The. Whole. Game. And that is not ego, that is just fact. I was the first one doing it and now everybody is doing it.” Porter continued to drag Vogue Magazine. “I feel like the fashion industry has accepted me because they have to. I’m not necessarily convinced and here is why: I created the conversation and yet Vogue still put Harry Styles, a straight white man in a dress on their cover for the first time.”
Porter meant no ill will when he brought up Harry Styles, and he reiterated that as he questioned Vogue’s choice to use Styles when demonstrating something so groundbreaking: “I’m not dragging Harry Styles, but he is the one you’re going to try and use to represent this new conversation?”
Hurt and appalled by the lack of diverse representation, Porter told The Sunday Times, “Harry doesn’t care, he’s just doing it because it’s a thing to do. This is politics for me. This is my life. I had to fight my entire life to get to the place where I could wear a dress to the Oscars and not be gunned down. All he has to be is white and straight.”
Porter’s mention of Styles inevitably stirred a lot of media attention. However, Porter again made it clear on the Nov. 4 episode of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” that his outrage was with Vogue Magazine and Vogue Magazine only. He did not blame Styles in any way, shape or form. During the interview with Stephen Colbert, Porter took the time to clear the air regarding his statements and issued an apology to the “Watermelon Sugar” singer: “Harry Styles, I apologize to you for having your name in my mouth. It’s not about you, the conversation is not about you.” He lightheartedly joked, “I’m sorry Harry. I didn’t mean no harm. I’m a gay man, we like Harry. He’s cute.”
In his apology to Styles, Porter made sure to send another message to Vogue and the fashion industry. He called them out again, saying, “When you’re ready to have a real conversation call a b–, okay.”
The attention Porter brought to the conversation about the erasure of minority voices in the entertainment industry is significant, and it cannot continue to go unheard by the masses. Porter’s statements come from a clear place of frustration and hurt, and his message shouldn’t be overshadowed by Styles’ name being thrown into the mix of it all. As a queer Black artist in an industry that constantly thrives off the statements and trends set by the Black community, he should be angry. He should be livid. This frustration will not cease unless change is made.
Billy Porter describes his fashion as “being truly authentic to who I am. This is not a game. I have always been this person. If you go back and look at pictures from my youth, I have always been the person that’s expressed myself through clothing.” To Porter, this is so much more than just fabric — it’s his identity. Whether Porter deserved the cover over Styles is up for debate, but the situation opened the dialogue for a much bigger conversation that must occur. Something within the fashion industry must change in order for this movement of self-expression and gender fluidity to elevate.