‘Dear Billy: a new day is coming’

Exclusively for Soho House, and in celebration of Pride, multi-award-winning actor and member, Billy Porter, pens a letter to his 20-year-old self on life, love and the prize of authenticity

As told to Otamere Guobadia  Artworks by Luke & Nik   Friday 29 May, 2020   Long read

Dear Billy,

From one gay church sissy to another: do not bow to the pressure to fit into any neat little archetypes, or what the world’s expectations are for you as a Black man. You stand at the beginning of a long and trying road, and you will hear many well-meaning people tell you they see a leading man in you, ‘if only you could butch it up’. But ‘if only’ will never have to come, because there is a stage being prepared for you as you speak: one that is yours to claim if you continue to bring all of yourself wherever you go. 

Listen, your masculinity has been in question since you were five years old. You’re never going to be masculine enough for them. And because of that, they’ll tell you that you don’t deserve to walk this planet. That’s a lie. You deserve whatever you want, simply because you exist. They don’t get to take that away from you. You don’t have to care what they think. It’s your life. You make your own choices and create your own reality for yourself.
A man in profile.
An old photo of a family.
When you make that great migration to New York City, you will find that the world can be a very open place. I need you to remember to keep speaking life into yourself, at any cost. You are what you say you are. So, say what you want. Speak what you want from life into the air and into the universe. Then the universe will conspire to give you exactly what you want. You are a hard worker, and one day that toil and that struggle will be vindicated. Be true. 

In the meantime, change for nobody. The things you dream of in the day and pray for at night are coming. Now listen, it might not happen tomorrow, it might not happen next year. It might not happen in 10 years, 20 years. But you know, as you’ve always known, that it will happen. I hesitate to tell you how long it will take for the world to see you as you deserve to be seen, because it will seem too long. And I’m glad that you don’t know. Perseverance is in your DNA. I don’t know whatever that thing is inside of you that keeps you going. I don’t know why you have it, but you do. And you’re never going to stop. Don’t EVER give up. Don’t ever stop wanting what you want. Don’t ever give up dreaming.

'You will look back on this time of struggle with compassion, because you were the blueprint'

There will be some truly debilitating and discouraging moments. You will stare down the barrel of great difficulties; there will be times when your white friends and contemporaries will be stars, while you spend years unable to even get work. Throw yourself into your art, which will be a salve in your darkest hours. When your options are to keep moving or wither, when you are facing the most dire circumstances each day: choose life and choose love. 

For now, work will be a wonderful way of coping with your trauma. But one day when it’s not, you will know your body, your spirit, your psyche is now ready to dive into the next layer of what healing looks like. A healing that you simply couldn’t have done before. Everything happens in its time. Everything happens the way that it’s supposed to. Even when it’s uncomfortable. Even when it makes us mad. Even when it’s not what we want. Remember to always get up and do something with the life that has been given to you. It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly better than your ancestors had it. It is your duty and responsibility to live the fullest and best life that you could possibly carve out for yourself. Continue to work hard. Do whatever you have to do, to escape your circumstances, to dream beyond them.
A young boy dancing with writing around him.
A collage of a teenager's face.

'Your authenticity is more important than any award, any job, any amount of money and any acceptance from any individual or group'

There is so much progress for the world to make. Be patient, because God, the universe, whatever you believe in or don’t believe in, is preparing you for your higher purpose. This is your ministry. Right now, your gayness is your liability in every single corner of your life. But many years from now, lives will be changed because you chose to tell the truth. Because you simply decided that your truth was more important than anything else. And what a shining truth that is. Move forward in that truth and let the chips fall wherever they may. 

Your authenticity is more important than any award, any job, any amount of money and any acceptance from any individual or group. The conversation should not be about acceptance. It’s not about tolerance. I can’t stand that word ‘tolerance’. Don’t worry if they accept you. You don’t need them to tolerate you, but what you must demand is that they respect your humanity, just as you respect everyone else’s. Tolerate? They can kiss your ass.

Remember yourself, and remember to take care of yourself. There will be angels at every corner, who will lead you and push you in the right direction. Then you’ll have to take it from there. Trust the angels and recognise that that’s what they are.

'It is your duty and responsibility to live the fullest and best life that you could possibly carve out for yourself'

A new day is coming, a success for which there is simply no context. Uncharted territory. You will look back on this time of struggle with compassion, because you were the blueprint. You will make history. You will walk on a red carpet in a dress and change the global conversation around what it is to be a man. You will have your flowers while you yet live. All I can say is that you made it, and it will still take your breath away every day. Years from now, when they call your name at the Emmy Awards – Lead Actor – it will be heady and surreal. A leading man for a new world. But that will just be the beginning, not the end of your work. Believe me, you’ve got stuff to say, and now people want to actually hear it. Those bitches had better get ready, because it’s coming.  

Love, Billy
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