Billy Porter: Vogue ‘put Harry Styles, a straight white man, in a dress on their cover’


Billy Porter has kicked down several doors in his fabulous career. We’ve applauded him for his honesty about living with HIV+ or his raw admissions about the abuse he suffered or simply being a role model in the LGBTQ community. And we have definitely applauded his fashion. Not just for being bold enough to break from wearing the traditional tux on the red carpet but for consistently looking amazing in his sartorial choices. Billy knows he’s a fashion icon and that he’s making a statement with his fashion. While speaking to The Sunday Times (which is paywalled), Billy expressed his disappointment with Vogue’s decision to put Harry Styles on the cover wearing a dress. Billy said he has nothing against Harry, but Billy reminded all of us that he did it first.

Billy Porter is addressing an issue he has with Vogue after the publication featured Harry Style in a dress.

Last year, the 27-year-old musician became the first man to land a solo cover of Vogue, where he graced the December 2020 issue in a lace-trimmed dress and tuxedo jacket.

Now, in a new interview with The Sunday Times, the Pose star, 52, says he took issue with how Styles was praised for breaking gender norms, as Porter says he was “the first one doing it.”

“I changed the whole game,” Porter told the publication. “I. Personally. Changed. The. Whole. Game. And that is not ego, that is just fact. I was the first one doing it and now everybody is doing it.”

“I feel like the fashion industry has accepted me because they have to. I’m not necessarily convinced and here is why,” the actor continued. “I created the conversation [about non-binary fashion] and yet Vogue still put Harry Styles, a straight white man, in a dress on their cover for the first time.”

Continuing his conversation with the Times, Porter explained that he is “not dragging” Styles, but asked: “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,” the Pose star continued. “This is politics for me. This is my life. I had to fight my entire life to get to the place where I could wear a dress to the Oscars and not be gunned now. All he has to do is be white and straight.”

[From People]

There isn’t much I can add here. Billy is absolutely right about all of it. There is no question that men’s fashion on the red carpet has become more interesting since Billy Porter took it over. I, also, loved the Harry Styles spread. And Harry has been having fun with fashion and pushing the envelope with accessories too. But Billy not only spearheaded the discussion, he brought it beyond the catwalks and the Met Gala and into the public space. He deserved that cover. Of course it wasn’t Harry’s fault he got the cover over Billy. But, like Billy said, in the editorial, Harry made the whole discussion about how much fun it was to play around in clothes and how he’d, “find myself looking at the women’s clothes thinking they’re amazing.” That isn’t the same work and passion that Billy has devoted his life to. Billy wrote the message, everyone else is just repeating it.

Again, this is not an attack on Harry, whom I adore. This is about something that a black, gay man put his life on the line to achieve that was taken away and given to a popular, straight, white man who received a bunch of credit for being “brave.” And what’s worse is no one else pointed that injustice out. Billy had to be the one to say – “hey, that’s mine,” when we should have said it for him.

Harry Styles covers Vogue



Photo credit: Avalon Red

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

81 Responses to “Billy Porter: Vogue ‘put Harry Styles, a straight white man, in a dress on their cover’”

Comments are Closed

We close comments on older posts to fight comment spam.

  1. Jezz says:

    I completely applauded Billy. But he was not the first, either.

    • Erica says:

      Thank you, no he wasn’t. And I take issue with anyone assuming Harry’s sexuality. He’s never said he was explicitly straight, EVER. Lots of assumptions from Billy.

      • Valentina says:

        Agree with everything that has been said. Harry never commented on his sexuality and Billy shouldn’t assume what he is or isn’t.

      • Maddie says:

        This is true, but while Harry hasn’t spoken about his sexuality, he’s living like a straight, white, cis man. He has (publicly) dated nothing but women and the assumption of straightness helps him *not* get attacked by anti LGBTQ folks, the way Billy, an openly gay black man does.

      • Pilar says:

        No he wasn’t the first but he’s not wrong in stating how race and sexuality affect Styles differently
        And yes we can refrain from labelling Styles but fact remains that he only dates women publicly ( and very conventionally pretty blonde skinny women at that). Like @ maddie says him living his life as a straight white cis gendered man makes him infinitely less threatening than a gay black man.

        Also an artist like Young thug has worn dresses since 2016 on the regular. Hell, even Jaden Smith did it years ago when he was a teenager. LiL Nas x is doing it. So the over the top praising of Styles as a gender bending icon in particular seems related to his privilege. It’s not his fault but we as a society seem to praise white men for the bare minimum.

      • Emma says:

        Bear in mind that a person can be bisexual while dating the opposite sex. It doesn’t take away from you being queer, and it doesn’t mean you are “living as straight,” because there is no such thing for a bisexual person. I’m saying this as someone who is bisexual myself. You don’t stop being who you are as a bisexual person regardless of who you are or aren’t dating. There are lots of complicated and often hurtful reasons why a queer person wouldn’t be public about their sexuality.

      • Pilar says:

        Of course. But that’s not really what this is about. And Harry has never claimed to be queer or bisexual outright. He’s said contradictory things over the years and usually doesn’t answer question about his sexuality. But it’s really not about Harry or how he labels himself he’s just an example of how white cis gendered men doing the bare minimum gets praised and are used as the face of something others at the intersection of race and sexuality have fought for often at risk of their own well being.

      • Horse Marine says:

        Yeah, he kind of rubs me the wrong way here. Me, me, ME.

    • LightPurple says:

      The first name that popped into my mind was Eddie Izzard and she wasn’t the first either. But more power to Billy. He’s fabulous.

    • SM says:

      So he is basically saying that because he puts on a dress everyone else who does that need not do it and allow Billy be the only one? How is that widening a conversation? How is that getting more allies? Also, he was not the one who invented the idea of pushing back on gender roles. Eddies Izzard, Bowie, or, in reverse, Cocco Chanel. And that’s just from the top of my head. Yes, Billy is doing a lot and he is brave but how taking ownership over this is going to help the cause? He is sounding petty and self absorbed. Also, correct me of I am wrong but pushing back against gender roles, includes (but is not exclusive to) pushing against the traditional sterotypes of gender and how men and women are supposed to act and look. In this sense Harry, a straight man (if indeed he is at least judging by his romantic relationships) is doing exactly that. This is important for boys to understand that the boundaries they grow up with are arbtrary and prejudicial which is what is achieved through… yes – putting a man in makeup and a dress. Whether what Billy, all self-rightious, will achieve here is that a celebrity with a base will refrain from doing something like that because Billy will come after them. Good job making this all about himself.

      • Erica says:

        Everything you said, SM. Thank you.

      • LightPurple says:

        George Sand!

      • Kebbie says:

        This comment is everything I couldn’t quite put into words. All of this.

      • Mac says:

        This comment is why Billy needs to keep speaking out.

      • Catt Berlin-George says:

        Yes to @SM. Very well put and 100 percent agree. I was really put off by Porter’s statements here. Also, Harry looks better in a dress than he does.

      • J says:

        Agreed. Sour grapes.

      • NCWoman says:

        That’s not what Billy said, and yes, it’s important for straight-presenting males to push back against gender norms. Harry wouldn’t be a problem if still influential publications like Vogue didn’t still fetishize the actions of white men and women at the expense of people of color who helped blaze the trails. But Vogue still can’t even hire photographers who know how to light black skin, let alone put a gay black man in a dress on the cover. Lil Nas X would have been a good choice if you don’t like Billy, But until publications like Vogue expand the playing field and see forms of beauty that may not be comfortable to a white, straight gaze, the people involved will get blowback, including Harry,

      • Nessa says:

        All of this. Excellent take.

  2. MarcelMarcel says:

    So glad Billy Porter said this. I’m in love with his style. I felt meh over Harry Style’s cover, couldn’t articulate why and Porter did it so eloquently.
    Like I’m okay with straight people mimicking us cuz LGBT+ people are famously stylish ie Frida Kahlo, Oscar Wilde and Josephine Baker. I just wish they actually credit our community when they do so.

  3. Pocket Litter says:

    Not the first by a long shot. Porter putting others down only diminishes him. V poorly done all around.

    • Aeval says:

      Agreed. I’m really surprised he went with this take. And, yes, he is so far from the first it doesn’t even make sense to make such a claim.

  4. Penguin says:

    That’s a little self righteous. Not the first and definitely not the last. He should be happy that being gender nonconforming is becoming more widely accepted (I don’t mean that w any snark)

    • Maddie says:

      “He should be happy that being gender nonconforming is becoming more widely accepted”.

      Wow. You say you don’t mean that with any snark, but this is wholly dismissive and comes across as telling him to shut up and be happy with the crumbs thrown his way.

      • Penguin says:

        So he shouldn’t be happy about it then? I mean it’s gaining acceptance globally w the help of his influence and others. But to say he is the first is ultimately dismissing every man and woman that dare to defy gender constructs in form of apparel that came before him in a far less accepting time. Before he was starring on Pose and given a platform he was in line w normal gender norms but w a flamboyant flair. I’m not saying whatever you said about crumbs but why shouldn’t he be happy that more people are accepting themselves for what they are, and exploring other avenues that would’ve been otherwise mocked by the gender public and embracing their queerness?

      • Maddie says:

        I’m sure he is happy, but I also believes he sees it for what it is: A step in the right direction.

        And when I say crumbs, I mean you saying he should just be happy for opening doors for other people, who now walk through that door and shine in the light while he stands in their shadow.

    • lemontwist says:


      You give yourself away. Declaring someone ‘self-righteous’ and in the same breath ‘reasoning’ that they should “just be happy” with the most minimal progress in cultural acceptance of who they are. You have made yourself clear.

      @Maddie is 100% correct.

    • Tris says:

      I’m happy that Gender non-conforming is becoming more widely accepted! And I think everyone should be, esp those for whom it is a personal issue.
      Not sure why you’re getting piled on here, Penguin!

  5. Alissa says:

    since when was he the first to wear a dress, as a male? that response is complete ego. ugh.

    • Joanne says:

      I get where Billy is coming from and he’s mostly right, but in the end he’s making everything about himself.

  6. Maddie says:

    Billy wasn’t the first, but he’s been very consistent and he’s the one making a point about breaking gender barriers in fashion.

    I’ve seen Harry Styles fans pull up pictues of Kurt Cobain or Dennis Rodman in his wedding dress to disprove Billy’s point, when it’s really not the same.

  7. BaronSamedi says:

    As much as I love Billy I think this is very much a case of ego. It feels like he’s trying to close a door he was instrumental in opening.

    I mean you could frame this discussion as Billy being part of the movement that made it possible for a pretty white guy like Harry to even start acting coy about gender and NOT have his career implode. Billy paved the way for genderbending to go mainstream – it doesn’t get more mainstream than Harry in a dress on the cover of Vogue.

    So what’s the actual problem? That Billy wasn’t asked? That’s asking a lot when comparing their respective profiles.

    I can see an argument for a magazine like Vogue to have a feature on men who blur the lines of fashion like Billy does and including him there. But I don’t agree that this is something Billy can even ‘own’. Fashion is supposed to be fun and expression of creativity. I feel like he could spin this positively as being the inspiration he is instead of asking a crusty institution like Vogue to suddenly be more progressive than they ever were.

    • Concern Fae says:

      Yeah. I read this and thought, Love you Billy, don’t ever stop. The man is fierce and he wouldn’t be where he is if he didn’t have this attitude. It doesn’t mean Vogue is going to stop choosing cover models who appeal to people who are not fashion obsessed (and buy Vogue every month anyway. But good on Billy for pushing.

    • Kebbie says:

      “As much as I love Billy I think this is very much a case of ego. It feels like he’s trying to close a door he was instrumental in opening.”

      Yeah, it’s the gatekeeping I don’t understand. Isn’t the point of being a trailblazer encouraging others to follow? Blazing the trail for others behind you? Does he want an asterisk and footnote every time a man wears a dress giving him credit? He wasn’t the first, but I agree he made it a cultural conversation.

  8. J ferber says:

    He has every right to speak for himself. And he is speaking facts, as far as I am concerned. Vogue should just bow down and give Billy a cover right now. Billy deserves his props.

  9. Amy Bee says:

    I’m with Billy on this one. Even we’ve come a long way in terms of gay rights there’s still a long way to go. A black gay man in a dress is still more threatening than a white straight man in a dress. That’s why Harry got the Vogue cover.

    • Pilar says:

      Yep. And to add there are plenty of younger black men who have worn and do wear dresses. There’s a reason it’s Styles on that cover as opposed to Lil Nas X, Young thug or Jaden Smith.

    • lucy2 says:

      I think you’re right, and Pilar too.
      Maybe his “I was the first” wording isn’t quite correct, but he’s certainly been the face of that fashion trend in recent years, and a huge fashion icon in general, and it’s insane that he hasn’t been on the cover of Vogue.

  10. TabithaD says:

    David Bowie wore a dress on an album cover 50 years ago. Even he may not have been the first.

  11. Yasmin says:

    I think something important to add, for context, is that it wasn’t a Vogue issue about gender boundaries in fashion, where Harry was chosen as the face of the movement.

    Harry was given the cover as part of his album promo, to talk about himself and his album etc, and he chose a dress for the photoshoot which then ended up being the cover photo.

    So I don’t think Harry himself is presenting himself as being at the forefront of any movement, but equally maybe doesn’t understand how for him it’s just dressing up, and for men in the past, especially men of colour, dressing this way was something which risked their careers and even their safety.

    I feel like if you have such a large platform like Harry had in Vogue, rather than just talking about the fun of dressing up, you can use your position to spotlight and amplify other voices of the people who face much more dangerous, real-life consequences for choosing to dress that way.

    • Merricat says:

      I think Harry has said that he wears what he likes, and he likes a lot of different clothing. I don’t think he’s trying to represent anyone but himself. I like that his self-image is not threatened by lace and ruffles; in fact, I’d say it’s a positive thing, a move away from the concept of alpha male. Thank the gods.

  12. antanina says:

    I love Billy but Gaultier has been putting men in dresses since 90s. Galliano did it in 2005. And I think McQueen also has done something similar years ago. So nope, not the pioneer, sorry. Men in dresses have been around for quite some time.

    • LightPurple says:

      Or other women’s clothing. Keith Richards began borrowing blouses and cardigans from Anita Pallenberg back in the 1960s and did an entire tour in one of her beaded cardigans in 1969.

  13. detritus says:

    I think Billy has a point in who we reward for pushing the envelope, especially vis a vis colour and sexuality, but he’s muddling it by claiming he deserves all the praise.

    He’s not even close to the first man who wore a dress, not the first gay black man, either. He might be the most famous gay HIV positive black man which is a huge intersection of burdens to bear, but his ego is getting in the way of his point.

    Prince and Bowie both wore dresses decades ago when the androgynous fashion movement was popular. Bowie’s man who sold the world cover is him in a dress.

  14. Ariel says:

    NOT here for comments being nasty or shady toward Mr. Porter. Yikes.
    Just here to say Billy Porter’s tux-gown at the Oscar’s several years ago was the greatest moment in fashion history. Bar none.

    • Wilma says:

      I pull that outfit up all the time to show people why clothing should have no barriers. It was a fashion highlight for the ages.

    • Esq says:

      You do realize MANY people have been doing it before Billy & stating facts like that isn’t NaStY or ShADe.

      Also, really good of Billy Porter to assume Styles sexuality 👏 👏

      Supporting a gay black man doesn’t mean tearing everyone else down. Learn that.

    • here and kweer says:

      You’re absolutely right. But you know people will take any excuse they can take to come for an hiv+ gay black man and defend their poor defenceless white boy. So transparent lmao

  15. doxie says:

    I’d argue that Jonathan VN has also been a huge contributor toward normalizing non-binary dress.

    • BeeCee says:

      All the power to Billy, but our precious Jonathon Van Ness was definitely wearing dresses on the red carpet before Billy…

  16. Barbie1 says:

    Harry wearing a dress multiple times means he is not straight correct?

    • Merricat says:

      No, incorrect. Harry “wearing a dress multiple times” means he likes dresses.

    • Krystina says:

      Your clothes do not define your sexuality.

      • Sudie says:

        You’re correct, in reality it doesn’t define sexuality but to the general public, it very much does define your sexuality. That’s why I think Harry was brave to be on the cover of Vogue in a dress, same as all the other men, black & white who have worn female clothing. I get where Billy is coming from as he is definitely the face of males wearing dresses now and deserved at least an article in Vogue if not a cover. However, he chose to make the whole statement about himself instead of the movement he helped to flourish.

    • Kebbie says:

      Lol this is like saying you’re not a straight woman because you wear pants.

  17. Krystina says:

    No offense to Billy Porter, but he was most definitely NOT the first one.

  18. FilmTurtle says:

    There’s a difference between a man wearing a dress publicly to be shocking and a man wearing a dress publicly to elevate the conversation. The former is 99% of the men who have done it (even Bowie, who was usually playing a character); the latter is Billy Porter.

    In the interview, Porter was being hyperbolic to make a point. He is a Black gay man, so he has to be over-the-top because otherwise we would not listen to him, whereas the white guy can speak softly and everyone will make room for him. Porter knows as well as anyone about Styles dancing around his sexuality; white guys can get away with teasing like that. Porter doesn’t have that option. Notice how many comments want Porter to justify and explain every single syllable, whereas poor victimized white guy is just accepted at face value. Porter knew exactly what he was doing and saying.

  19. WintryMix says:

    Vogue did not set out to put a man in a dress on the cover, look around, and decide to make Harry Styles that man, in recognition of some imagined contributions to non-binary fashion. Vogue gave their cover to Harry Styles, as part of his promo for his album, and then Harry decided to wear a dress at the photo shoot. As he has multiple times before for other photo shoots. See the difference?

    Also, it’s f*cking rich of Billy Porter, a cis man, to claim any kind of ownership whatsoever over “the conversation” in question. I realize he has a memoir to promote, but still, extremely disappointing. He was publicly supportive of Harry’s Vogue cover when it first came out and Harry was getting absolutely destroyed by conservative commentators, but now he wants to say it wasn’t right and that Harry’s just doing it because it’s trendy? We see you, Billy.

  20. Lunasf17 says:

    He has some good points but Bowie and others of that era were dressing in women’s clothing decades ago (Bowie was also out as bi) and I’m sure it goes back way farther than that. Everyone thinks they’re the first when we are all just copying others. Also I thought Styles was bi or didn’t confirm being straight? Not really my business but younger people tend to be much more flexible with their sexuality and don’t always feel the need to make it a huge pet of their identity.

    • here and kweer says:

      Bowie was not bisexual. That was just gaybaiting during his glam era. He identified as straight and talked about how the “homosexual agenda” in the music industry “forced” him and other men to play gay.

  21. Ivy says:

    While there are absolutely important truths buried in what Porter says, his delivery is so egotistical (and I think comes across as mean spirited). Also, Little Richard, Prince, Bowie, and innumerable others would like a word.

    As someone who is not gay or straight and chooses to not label myself, I have always taken note of the careful way Harry refuses to use labels. I can’t help but bristle a bit at how Porter dismisses him and labels him as straight.

    As for Styles, I have long enjoyed and appreciated how he has chosen to present himself and use fashion. I don’t remotely get the impression it doesn’t matter to him. I’ve also very much appreciated Porter. I think what BOTH men are doing is important, and there are so many ways Porter could have made important and necessary points about representation without being petty.

  22. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    The only reason Billy’s red carpet dress success and ubiquitous acknowledgment skyrocketed with a metaphorical standing ovation is because of everyone who came before him. Five decades of pushing envelopes, turning heads, dropping jaws and fighting norms. Too many to mention.

  23. sherry says:

    Harry was on the cover because he had an album to promote! That’s how it works!

  24. Grant says:

    As a gay man, I say–PREACH! Also, Harry Styles (and so many of his contemporaries) love to gay bait, which isn’t cute either. Stop stealing from our culture and then throwing it in our faces.

    • here and kweer says:

      This! As a bisexual man, I would welcome him if he was bisexual. But I’m 99% sure he’s just a str8 man gaybaiting, as celebrities are wont to do. This isn’t new and it ain’t cute.

  25. Truthiness says:

    Billy was not the first but his voice shouldn’t be silenced and Harry’s Vogue appearance cannot displace him. Harry has an album and movie to plug.

  26. Otaku fairy says:

    A lot of people are mentioning how unfair it is to dismiss someone who may be bisexual as ‘living as a straight person’. How we shouldn’t assume we know everything about a person’s sexuality. I don’t disagree with that (or know the facts about his sexuality), it just seems like it’s happening because it’s Harry. Hopefully women will be just as tolerant and non-violent in the future when young women are coming out, discussing these things and expressing affection for women too. It also brings up the question of whether or not it’s realistic to expect everyone to disclose their sexual orientation before taking on a role. Even if a person isn’t public about that for themselves, sometimes it’s a matter of making things easier for a current or past partner.

  27. Itteh Bitteh says:

    Wow. A lot of comments here from people that otherwise like to sound like they “get it,” but have now outed themselves as really not.

  28. Gigi LaMoore says:

    I just don’t get what it’s all about with this guy. He wasn’t the first and there is so many more things going on in this world, Mr. Porter.

  29. here and kweer says:

    Black gay men get beaten on the streets for wearing dresses. White straight(?) men get to be on Vogue covers. What else is new? People are focusing on Billy and calling him a narcissist because they know he’s right and they don’t want to talk about the actual issue here. LGBT people can’t catch a break and these gaybaiting celebrities get the applause.

    It took a year for Wanda Sykes (out as a lesbian at the time) to be featured on the cover of a gay magazine, while that same magazine had white straight men on the cover every month. Again, this double standard ain’t new.

    • Jules says:

      Exactly. A lot of these comments criticizing Billy, saying there’s plenty of other men who wore dresses cite people who were/are white and/or straight. It is something completely different to wear a dress as a gay Black man than to be Kurt Cobain or Bowie or Styles who do it for fashion. And that’s what Billy is saying. He is not saying that no man before him has ever worn a dress. He is saying that he is one of the first to wear a dress and talk about the politics behind it, to not use it as a fashion accessoire but to make a point.

      And that’s why it is a shame that Harry Styles does not reflect on his privilege and paints it as this fun thing to do. It’s fun for him. It’s something that queer people of color get killed for and giving Harry the spotlight and not someone who can touch on that very important part of privilege when wearing dresses is a fault of Vogue but honestly, if Harry is this open and progressive, he also could have mentioned it. As it is, he seems like a privileged boy who thinks that it’s this easy for everyone.

  30. Gorgonia says:

    Maybe he wasn’t the first to wear a dress and maybe Harry Styles is on the cover of Vogue mainly because he has to promote his album, but personally I’m on Billy’s side. For him it’s not about fashion or fun, for him wearing a dress is the expression of his life experience as a black gay man, as he said, it is politics. Besides, on a lighter note, Billy looks so good and flamboyant I’d put him on every magazine cover in the world.

  31. Bravo! says:

    OK, shame on me for never reading what the Celebitchy editorial comments on the articles they present, because what Hecate said here is gold:

    “This is about something that a black, gay man put his life on the line to achieve that was taken away and given to a popular, straight, white man who received a bunch of credit for being “brave.” And what’s worse is no one else pointed that injustice out. Billy had to be the one to say – “hey, that’s mine,” when we should have said it for him.”

    The Styles stans need to simmer down. It’s 2021. Stanning Harry Styles to the point of coming for a gay HIV+ Black man? Respect yourselves.