How Actor Billy Porter Redefined Masculinity At the Oscars Red Carpet
When we think about fashion and how it tends to put people in boxes, our first instinct is to perhaps ponder about how women sometimes unwittingly bear the brunt of high heels, corsets, tummy tuckers and what not. But such stringent ways can also be toxic for men, keeping them from expressing their true selves.
Singer and actor Billy Porter, was clearly not buying any of the gender normative aesthetics of high-profile award shows, as he decided to make his presence felt at the Oscars in an astounding suit dress designed by Christian Siriano. A sharply tailored tuxedo layered a voluminous ball skirt. The classy attire was further accentuated by white ruffles at the wrist, a black bow tie and six-inch black boots which made him feel ‘really grounded’. He asserted, “I’m not a drag queen, I’m a man in a dress.”
Porter explained that he grew up loving fashion, but there always seemed to be a limit to which he could express himself. That when one is black and gay, one’s masculinity is always in question, “I dealt with a lot of homophobia in relation to my clothing choices. [Even] when I had my first working contract at A&M Records, I was silent for a long time. I was trying to fit in to what other people felt I should look like. When I landed a role in Kinky Boots, the experience really grounded me in a way that was so unexpected. Putting on those heels made me feel the most masculine I’ve ever felt in my life. It was empowering to let that part of myself free.”
Right now, the actor’s goal is to challenge expectations about masculinity and be a walking piece of political art every time he is expected to show up. He points out that an actress wearing a pant suit has never garnered an overwhelming response as a man wearing a dress. And he experienced it first hand while wearing a pink cape to the Golden Globes – and that experience changed everything for him
He scathingly stated, “I believe men on the red carpet would love to play more. This industry masquerades itself as inclusive, but actors are afraid to play, because if they show up as something outside of the status quo, they might be received as feminine, and, as a result, they won’t get that masculine job, that superhero job. And that’s the truth. I’ve been confronted with that.”
Porter, who was also hosting the red carpet event, switched to a pair of classy palazzo pants and an embellished black tie for the job. If fashion is an expression of self, the actor’s fierce presence is a testament to reclaiming one’s truest, most authentic self, even at the risk of being the talk of the town.
One can hope that this single choice will empower many young boys and men to embrace their feminine selves, and wear whatever they deem best. We shouldn’t be living in a society, where we need to constantly hide parts of ourselves to fit in.
As Porter rightly added, “People are going to be really uncomfortable with my black ass in a ball gown—but it’s not anybody’s business but mine.”