For its December 2020 issue, Vogue featured Harry Styles on its cover wearing a Gucci jacket and dress. The actor-singer also sported belted skirts, a Victorian crinoline, and a lace-trimmed gown for the shoot.
While the cover had conservatives speaking about “bringing back manly men,” some pointed out that cis men wearing “traditional women’s clothing” shouldn’t even be considered revolutionary. Case in point: Billy Porter and his biting statements during his interview with The Sunday Times.
“I changed the whole game. 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,” Porter told The Sunday Times.
“I feel like the fashion industry has accepted me because they have to. I’m not necessarily convinced and here is why. I created the conversation [about nonbinary fashion] and yet Vogue still put Harry Styles, a straight white man, in a dress on their cover for the first time.”
The 52-year-old “Pose” actor’s many fashion moments include ball gowns and flowy capes on red carpets.
Porter compared his experience with Styles’ and claimed that the younger actor doesn’t genuinely care about conversations on gender neutral fashion.
“I’m not dragging Harry Styles, but 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,” said Porter. “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.”
Netizens noted that Porter previously showed support for Harry Styles’ Vogue cover. In an interview on the red carpet of the 2021 Brit Awards, Porter said, “I am seeing change! You know, Harry Styles on the cover of Vogue is change. You’re welcome!”
Porter’s position didn’t sit right with certain netizens who expressed that the American actor appeared to be putting himself in the forefront of gender neutral fashion when he himself is also a cis male.
It’s impossible not to acknowledge Porter’s contributions to queer visibility as a Black gay who has been outspoken about fighting HIV, AIDS, and the stigma that comes with it. He remains an important queer voice in Hollywood. However, his pointed statements come across a bit dismissive of trans icons and restrictive to gender expression.
Although Porter was right to criticize Vogue for its lack of spotlight for queer artists, it’s unfair to be antagonistic towards people who want to experiment with fashion.
In the Vogue interview, Styles did talk about his own style evolution. “The people that I looked up to in music—Prince and David Bowie and Elvis and Freddie Mercury and Elton John—they’re such showmen. As a kid it was completely mind-blowing. Now I’ll put on something that feels really flamboyant, and I don’t feel crazy wearing it,” he said.
“When you take away ‘There’s clothes for men and there’s clothes for women,’ once you remove any barriers, obviously you open up the arena in which you can play… There’s so much joy to be had in playing with clothes. I’ve never really thought too much about what it means—it just becomes this extended part of creating something.”
In an interview with The Guardian, Styles addressed rumors about his sexuality and allegations of queerbaiting. “I want things to look a certain way. Not because it makes me look gay, or it makes me look straight, or it makes me look bisexual, but because I think it looks cool. And more than that, I dunno, I just think sexuality’s something that’s fun. Honestly? I can’t say I’ve given it any more thought than that.”
We do understand where Porter is coming from. There’s a reason why we have to remain wary of overpraising cis heterosexual white men when they wear “feminine” clothing. History has not been kind to the LGBTQIA+ community.
With many queer and gender-nonconforming folk still facing violence for expressing themselves, it is important that they are given the space to lead the conversation on gender neutrality issues. Still, we welcome allies who are taking part in breaking stereotypes.