Billy Porter breaks down his issue with Harry Styles’ Vogue cover: ‘Using my community’

On the left, Billy Porter. On the right, Harry Styles on Vogue in 2020.

Pose actor and Tony award-winning musical theatre star Billy Porter has explained his issue with Harry Styles wearing a dress on the cover of Vogue.

Back in 2020, former One Direction star Styles sent the internet into a spiral after appearing on the cover of Vogue in a lace-trimmed Gucci dress. He was the first man to ever appear solo on the magazine’s cover.

Elsewhere in his Vogue photoshoot, he posed in kilted skirts and crinoline dresses, with Styles’ fans praising the singer for pushing rigid gender boundaries in fashion.

Yet one person who wasn’t best pleased about the shoot was fellow musician and actor Billy Porter. Less than two years earlier, he had turned up at the 2019 Oscars in a black velvet tuxedo gown, designed by Christian Siriano. 

In Porter’s words, he “was the first one doing it and now everybody is doing it”.

Speaking to The Sunday Times in October 2021, Porter fumed: “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.”

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Porter’s comments drew fierce condemnation both from Harry Styles fans, but also from those who criticised him as a cisgender man for suggesting he had spearheaded genderfluid fashion.

“Billy Porter thinking he, a cisgender male, created the conversation about non-binary fashion is BIPOC trans erasure at its finest,” one social media user wrote at the time.

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While Porter urged that he wasn’t “dragging” Styles, he explained that he didn’t agree that the “Watermelon Sugar” singer was the right person for the Vogue shoot.

“He is the one you’re going to try and use to represent this new conversation? He doesn’t care, he’s just doing it because it’s the thing to do,” Porter said.

“This is politics for me. This is my life. I had to fight my entire life to get to the place where I would wear a dress to the Oscars and not be gunned down.”

Billy Porter in tux dress 91st Annual Academy Awards.
Billy Porter on the 2019 Oscars red carpet. (Frazer Harrison/Getty)

While the veteran, 53-year-old performer went on to apologise to Styles by sending him a bunch of flowers and stating that “the conversation is not about [him]”, Porter has now further clarified why he was so riled up in the first place.

In a new interview with British newspaper The Telegraph, Porter explained that he was irked by the cover as Vogue editor Anna Wintour had previously asked him how the magazine could “do better”.

Months before the cover was released, Porter had spoken to Wintour during a Q&A with the magazine’s staff.

“That b***h said to me at the end, ‘How can we do better?’ And I was so taken off guard that I didn’t say what I should have said,” he revealed.

He explained that, if he had not been so surprised by the question, he would have asked Wintour to “uplift the voices of the leaders of this de-gendering fashion movement”.

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“It’s not Harry Styles’s fault that he happens to be white and cute and straight and fit into the infrastructure that way,” Porter continued.

“That’s why he’s on the cover. Non-binary blah blah blah blah. No. It doesn’t feel good to me. You’re using my community – or your people are using my community – to elevate you. You haven’t had to sacrifice anything.”

Earlier this week, Porter revealed that he has had to “sell [his] house” due to the ongoing actors strike in Hollywood.

“I have to sell my house,” he admitted to the Evening Standard. “Yeah, because we’re on strike. And I don’t know when we’re gonna go back [to work]. The life of an artist, until you make f**k-you money – which I haven’t yet – is still cheque-to-cheque.

“I was supposed to be in a new movie and on a new television show starting in September. None of that is happening.”

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