“When You’re Born Camp”: A Talk with Billy Porter
Updated: Aug 13, 2020
Article by Paige Venturi
Throughout the summer, Sunday at The Met holds events and talks in conjunction to current exhibits being displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on New York City’s Upper Eastside. I had the honor of attending a talk this past Sunday from the one-and-only Billy Porter: actor, singer, Tony/Grammy award winner, and most recently, high-fashion star.
This talk was centered around Porter’s upbringing as a queer, black man from Pittsburgh whose family was rooted in the church.
“The first thing they take away from you when you’re gay is the church,” Porter said of his current relationship with religion.
He explained his battle with his own spirituality when he felt like he lost some of his connection with god after coming out, and had to rediscover his own meaning of the deity in various ways throughout his life; primarily through gospel music.
“Religion is man-made, spirituality is divine,” he said in an almost profound manner, “and my spirituality is not up to legislation!” Invoking a whistle, laughing, and a round of thunderous applause from us in the audience (myself very much included).
Church was an influence in multiple parts of his life, fashion included, as he compared Sunday morning sermons to a fashion show of sorts.
A community apex for Camp.
His love of fashion and drama was supported by after-school and weekend programs that Porter said he never would’ve survived without. This passion to make art blossomed at the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts magnet school (CAPA) and he never turned back.
“I had to leave to survive,” Porter said of his hometown environment and growing up to influence others.
“I’m not doing this for you. I have a plan. I have my own plan and it does not involve Banana Republic.”
Silence is death. Porter said that those in his position of influence have to speak up and be represented; gone are the days where someone will do it for you.
“Say it,” he commanded. “Say it out loud so you can own that energy and it can come back to you.”
At this point the crowd was clapping at nearly every word the man said, and me… Damn, I just tried not to cry, folks.
Then what everyone was dying to hear about.
That look. You know the one.
When asked how he represented Camp, Porter’s answer was as close to perfect as any answer could possibly get: “Well when you’re born Camp…”
And that was it. No more needed to be said. Again. Laughter and applause. I think I screamed.
Giving Ryan Murphy– one of the writers of the FX series Pose on which Porter is a star– the credit for his look, he cited Diana Ross’s film Mahogany as the inspiration for his Egyptian Met Gala look. Really I should say ~lewk~.
While Murphy wanted him to try and attempt five (5!) outfits from the movie, Porter — and I quote– said he didn’t want to work that hard they settled on the Egyptian look based on drawings of the ancient sun god.
And it was all in authenticity that he had to be carried in on a caravan of glistening men, I swear: the sun god wasn’t allowed to walk.
Porter remembered a conversation days before the gala with Murphy explaining how he needed to be carried up the iconic pink steps somehow and some way, and he simply laughed.
“I said, if you get Miss Wintour to let me be carried, trust and believe, I will be carried!”
While Porter was born Camp (there’s no dispute), Camp was born again for new generations on those steps. And she’s not going anywhere, sweetie.
Just like Billy.
Photos courtesy of Vanity Fair and The Miami Herald