Billy Porter speaks out on fashion choices amid criticism that men shouldn't wear dresses: 'These people are human, just like you'

Beth Greenfield
Senior Editor

Billy Porter is arguably at the top of his game. After a two-decade rise as a Broadway star — most notably in Angels in America and Kinky Boots (which may soon make its leap to the silver screen) — he’s found success as a recording artist, and as a writer and director. Porter is seemingly EGOT-bound after winning Emmy, Grammy and Tony awards, and he found his most massive fanbase to date after snagging the iconic role of Pray Tell in the FX series Pose — and quickly positioning himself as a red-carpet star who could outdo anyone, whether at the Met Gala or the Oscars. Next up: Season 3 of Pose, and the role of a genderless fairy godmother in an upcoming live-action remake of Cinderella.

Yahoo Lifestyle caught up with the star at one of his more…commercial endeavors — a press event celebrating his partnership with Clorox Scentiva products for spring cleaning — to chat about fashion, pushing boundaries and teaching the children.

Billy Porter has partnered with Clorox Scentiva products for a spring cleaning campaign. (Photo: Jason DeCrow/Invision for Clorox/AP Images)

Yahoo Lifestyle: You’ve positioned yourself as a fashion icon. Why is it an important form of expression for you?

Fashion is exciting for me because it is a form of art and creativity [to an extent] that I don’t think a lot of people in the world ever realize. I’m first-generation post-civil-rights movement, and we were always taught to dress for the job you want, not the one you have … and that has been my life’s mantra. So I always have enjoyed fashion and enjoyed looking good. It’s a surprise to me how effective it has been for me, to sort of push that narrative and crack open that conversation. But I’m very grateful.

Billy Porter at the 92nd Annual Academy Awards in February, wowing in a gown inspired by Kensington Palace. (Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Do you feel pressure to outdo yourself each time you hit a red carpet?

There’s no pressure for me to one-up myself because I am 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. So it’s not a pressure, it’s about being present and showing up the most authentic way that I can possibly be for whatever I’m doing.

Billy Porter at the 2019 Academy Awards in his famous tuxedo gown — the very one he wore on a recent guest appearance on Sesame Street. (Photo: Dan MacMedan/Getty Images)

You showed up that way — wearing your famous Oscars gown — as a recent (and controversial) guest on a not-yet-aired episode of Sesame Street. Why was it important to bring that gender-bending message to the young viewers?

Sesame Street called me and Sesame Street asked for the Oscars gown. And I’m performing with a penguin, Elmo, and one of them fairies, right? We’re talking about friendship. Sesame Street has always been at the forefront of teaching children the morals that their parents aren’t prepared to do. It’s always been there. So me showing up in a dress is actually saying to the children of the world, “There are people who are different. Those people are human, just like you.” That’s the message, that’s it. I am thrilled to be a part of that message, and that’s the only thing I care about.

Billy Porter won the 2019 Met Gala red (pink) carpet. (Photo: Karwai Tang/Getty Images)

You also help spread that message through Pose. How has that role affected your life?

I’m so grateful to have lived long enough to see the day where my story is being told. I lived through the AIDS crisis. I’m 50 years old, I know exactly what that was. So it’s beautiful to be a part of the retelling of that story for a generation that wasn’t there — to be able to live long enough to be the representation, to be the change that I never saw.

Billy Porter with costar Indya Moore at the FX Network's "Pose" Season 2 Premiere on June 05, 2019 in New York City. (Photo: Jim Spellman/WireImage)

We’ve heard rumors of a Kinky Boots movie musical. Would you be a part of that?

Would I be a part of it? No, I’m not gonna be a part of the Tony-award winning, Grammy-award winning role I created, I’m going to let somebody else do that. Yes! They’re trying to make it happen. They better hurry up, cause I ain’t getting no younger. [Laughs]

So what’s your message about spring cleaning?

The one time a year that I get in the trenches and do my own cleaning is spring cleaning because that’s rebirth, that’s when everything blossoms again… and also, the decluttering is a self-care mechanism that I landed on a few years ago and realized my brain is free when my space is decluttered. If I haven’t worn [something in my closet] for a year, I have to donate it. I’m good about that about 80 to 85 percent of the time. It should be one year, but sometimes it’s three…

Finally, what we really need to know: Does Billy Porter actually clean his own toilets?

I do not. That’s the thing I hate the most.

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