‘Pose’ Star and Emmys Nominee Billy Porter Earned His Spot in Hollywood. Now He Wants to Be a ‘Beacon of Hope’

‘Pose’ Star and Emmys Nominee Billy Porter Earned His Spot in Hollywood. Now He Wants to Be a ‘Beacon of Hope’

Difficult” is not a word that one should have to use in connection with an Emmy nomination. Yet, as excited as Billy Porter is feeling about his second best actor nod for FX’s Pose, that is how he described what it’s like to finally feel seen while the establishment continues to deny your colleagues the recognition they deserve.

Despite Porter’s back-to-back nominations—and his victory at last year’s ceremony, which he says “actually changed my life”—the trans women who perform alongside him in FX’s groundbreaking series have been ignored. Again. Even Mj Rodriguez, who gives the show its unflappable spirit as ensemble lead Blanca—and who, as Porter puts it, “carries this show on her back, like Jesus and that cross on the road to Damascus, honey.”

“I have to hold space for all of it at the same time,” Porter told The Daily Beast recently. “Because essentially, as a Black gay man for the last 30 plus years of my life, I have gone unseen. So I know what it looks like. I know what it feels like. I know the pain that comes along with being unseen, with being dismissed, with being ignored. I have lived it until five and a half minutes ago. You know what I mean? It’s like, it’s literally just changed for me.”

The mainstream acclaim Porter has received with his performance as the ballroom MC Pray Tell in Pose has, indeed, been a long time coming. He’s been in the business for more than 30 years, and until recently industry gatekeepers considered his identity as a Black gay man an obstacle to giving him lead roles.

Porter knows better than anyone what awards recognition can mean for people from marginalized groups—the credibility and longevity it can lend an artist. So he’s trying to be a beacon of hope for his co-stars—a sign that they, too, will one day be truly seen.

Throughout both seasons of Pose and beyond, Porter is the kind of performer your eyes can’t help but follow. As Pray Tell, he soars with larger-than-life bravado—until his character crumples under the weight he is forced to carry as a Black gay man living with HIV in the 1980s and early ’90s. In those moments, Porter brings palpable heartbreak, and—especially in Season 2—visceral, righteous rage. In those moments Pray Tell always, always gets back up—like all the indefatigable characters in the series.

Porter credits two people for the mantras that fuel his own drive.

“You know, my mentor, George Wolfe, said, ‘You can’t wait for anybody to give you permission to practice your art,’” Porter said. “‘You have to be doing that all the time, even when nobody’s listening—and most of the time nobody’s listening.’ And that goes in line with my great aunt Dorothy, who used to always say, ‘Stay ready. Stay ready, because if you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.’”

“That’s what the world is seeing,” Porter said. “The world is seeing Billy Porter, who has stayed ready—who has stayed at the ready for three-plus decades.”

Leaning into queerness, leaning into my gayness when there were no jobs on the horizon—when I had to file for bankruptcy, when I was hopping from sofa to sofa.

The result of that practiced readiness is Porter’s knack for seizing every opportunity and medium to send his message—on-screen, in these interviews, and on the red carpet, where his velvet tuxedo-gowns and Egyptian Sun God get-ups subvert all expectations of masculinity.

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