Billy Porter is an icon. In the theatre community Billy Porter was the name on everyone’s lips when he played Lola in ‘Kinky Boots’ (along with winning the Tony award for Best Actor in a Musical in 2013, he also won a Drama Desk award and a Grammy award). If you didn’t know him from back then, you’ve definitely seen him lately on the hit shows ‘Pose’ and ‘American Horror Story’ – or in viral Twitter threads. He’s made his mark as a fashion mogul, combining unapologetic Blackness with unapologetic gayness. Read more to find out seven lessons in confidence he’s taught us.
Don’t Be Afraid to Be Loud Being Black in a society that hates Blackness is difficult. Being LGBT+ in a society that only cares about cishet individual is also difficult. But being both? That’s something society desperately wants you to hide. Instead of letting the world silence you, make the world know that you’re refusing to shut up. “It’s not just ‘shut up and sing.’ Really, it’s just ‘shut up.’ It’s institutionalized silencing, and people want to act like it’s normal. No! We did that already. We’re not doing it again, not without a fight. At least, I’m not. Visibility matters. We continue to be marginalized if we stay in the shadows and act like our truth isn’t important to be told.” [x]
If You Try, You Can’t Lose Failure is something everyone experiences, and during his long career, Billy Porter has had his fair share of them. However, instead of seeing these failed attempts as a negative thing about yourself, why not think of them as something to grow on? “[My early music career] was the best thing that ever happened to me, because at the end of the day, I failed – and I put ‘failed’ in quotes, because nothing is really a failure if you learn something from it.” [x]
R-E-S-P-E-C-T It’s so easy to walk out in the world and realize that people will never accept you for who you are. Maybe you’ve experienced this from family or in a religious space. That doesn’t mean you aren’t a human being who’s worthy of respect & Billy Porter doesn’t want you to forget that. Even though we live in a world where we have to shout for people to realize that Black lives matter, we can still take comfort in and be proud of our humanity. “This conversation is about authenticity. It's about the acceptance and the honoring of people's humanity, even when you don't get it or understand it. You know, I don't need acceptance, I don't need tolerance, but what we demand is your respect for our humanity. The end.” [x]
Confidence Doesn’t Only Feel Good, it Looks Good If Billy Porter wasn’t confident, there’s absolutely no way he’d be able to pull off the extravagant and fabulous outfits he steps out in. When you learn to be confident, you get something that elevates the already gorgeous you. “Self confidence is THE BEST outfit U can wear today!“ [x]
This is Your Time Billy Porter is a solid three decades into his career. It hasn’t been easy for him. In fact, he went through a thirteen-year period in his career where while he was doing work here and there, he wasn’t involved in a single Broadway project. As things began to change, it became more and more clear to the world that a man like Porter is someone to celebrate. We’ve all experienced moments where we were pushed to the background. But it doesn’t have to be permanent. Maybe yesterday wasn’t ready for you. That doesn’t mean today isn’t. Or tomorrow won’t be. Own that and you can own the world. “I want to keep changing the world. It’s possible. The black gay lead is ready. It’s time.” [x]
Wearing What You Want is Powerful Within the last century, rules about what women and men are allowed to wear has changed. Being a woman and wearing pants is accepted in most societies. But being a man and wearing a dress or skirt is seen as a confusing and weak thing to do. Billy Porter decides that he doesn’t have to play buy those rules – and neither do you. Wearing what you want can be empowering, even though there might be people who tell you otherwise. “I wanted to create a space where we can have a dialogue about the masculine and the feminine and everything in between. ...I've never felt more power than when I finally released all the stuff that was put on me from the outside and stepped into Lola in ‘Kinky Boots’. I never felt more powerful. I never felt more masculine.” [x]
Love is The Answer Loving yourself is easier said than done. As a gay man who grew up during the AIDS epidemic, Billy is no stranger to the difficulty of self-acceptance. But if you don’t love yourself, how can you be confident? Along with rejecting internalized homophobia, Billy Porter has rejected the idea that moving forward can be done without love. Along with loving ourselves, Billy challenges us to show love as we connect to others. How do we teach people how to hear us that embraces them and not makes them feel alienated? The focus is love. That’s what’s in the room, and it doesn’t matter what life you live outside of there. We’re talking about us right here, right now.
No matter who you are, how you identify, and how you present yourself, know that confidence is something that you can gain. It’s not something you have to apologize for. And if Billy Porter says you can do it, you better believe you can.