From the incomparable Emmy, Grammy, and Tony Award winner, a powerful and revealing autobiography about race, sexuality, art, and healing.
It’s easy to be yourself when who and what you are is in vogue. But growing up Black and gay in America has never been easy. Before Billy Porter was slaying red carpets and giving an iconic Emmy-winning performance in the celebrated TV show Pose; before he was the groundbreaking Tony and Grammy Award-winning star of Broadway’s Kinky Boots; and before he was an acclaimed recording artist, actor, playwright, director, and all-around legend, Porter was a young boy in Pittsburgh who was seen as different, who didn’t fit in. At five years old, Porter was sent to therapy to “fix” his effeminacy. He was endlessly bullied at school, sexually abused by his stepfather, and criticized at his church. Porter came of age in a world where simply being himself was a constant struggle.
Billy Porter’s Unprotected is the life story of a singular artist and survivor in his own words. It is the story of a boy whose talent and courage opened doors for him, but only a crack. It is the story of a teenager discovering himself, learning his voice and his craft amidst deep trauma. And it is the story of a young man whose unbreakable determination led him through countless hard times to where he is now; a proud icon who refuses to back down or hide. Porter is a multitalented, multifaceted treasure at the top of his game, and Unprotected is a resonant, inspirational story of trauma and healing, shot through with his singular voice.
The Sexy Nerd's Review. . .
I finished off my Black History Month of February by reading a book I’ve been so excited to delve into, the memoir of Billy Porter. We both hail from the same City of Pittsburgh and he stomped on the same grounds in which I had and still do from time to time. To say he’s made quite a name for himself is truly an understatement. He lives unapologetically Billy Porter, but it took many years of life’s hard lessons and traumatic experiences to get him there. Billy’s struggles as an artist mirror so many other entertainers you’ve come across and read about throughout time. He’s not different in that sense, but he’s one of those people that you can’t sum up his life in a few words or place his experiences in some type of box you’d check off. No, Billy was the first in many rights and respects and with that comes a huge amount of responsibility that he later learns in the latter years of his life.
I always give any author the respect they’re due for having written their book. When it comes to memoirs, I’m extremely careful not to judge an individual’s personal experiences because what right does anyone have to tell you that what you felt isn’t what you felt, however, having said that, I have to say I had a few issues with this memoir. I’ve read hundreds of them throughout my lifetime. I can usually spot bullshit a mile away and I can also spot the sincerity of an author’s words. Having said that, fellow Nerds also know that I’m very technical when it comes to reading. I will fact check as much as possible what a person is saying which brings me to why I’m stating this in my review. Although I enjoyed Billy Porter’s memoir, there were some sections that gave me pause. Let me see if I can better explain in my review.
When he started mentioning the Hill District, of which I’m from, and its alleged history of the popular 80’s police drama, Hill Street Blues, loosely based, I smiled to myself. I, too, use that fact for my writing material, so I get why he mentioned it. However, while learning about a younger Billy Porter growing up in Lawrenceville, right over the hill from the Hill District, some of his landmarks and humble beginnings caused me to rack my brain because I’m not quite sure what he was referring? For instance, when he talks about the first time he was beat up for being what he referred to as a “sissy,” he details walking to a school off of Wylie Avenue and seeing the metal bars of a fence as that castle in the sky. I was a bit perplexed by the comment. I stopped reading and immediately began going over every elementary school in the Hill District and for the life of me, I could not find this school he referred to. The only elementary school near or around Wylie Avenue is Vann Elementary and there’s nothing about the school that would remind you of a ‘big castle in the sky.’
Billy goes into great detail about the physical abuse he received at the hands of his stepfather, which sort of brings me to another issue I had. I do not in any way support anyone to abuse a child in any shape, form or fashion, but I became confused as to if Billy was suggesting that because of the abuse he suffered at the hands of his stepfather was due, in part, to why he’s gay? Or did he mean that because he was being taken advantage he didn’t realize that what they were doing were wrong? What child is supposed to understand sex at seven years old anyways? I bring up this fact because if the children of the elementary school he went to in the Hill District tortured him and caused him harm because they knew he was “different,” according to Billy’s own words, then he always knew he was gay and his stepfather didn’t aid in his homosexuality. I got the expressed feeling that Billy was somehow faulting his stepfather for why he is the way he is? As far as the trauma he experienced, his stepfather 100% is at fault for that, but I don’t believe he caused Billy to become gay. Do you understand my confusion? For me, I found some of the continuity of his own story to not jell with his own thoughts. It was as if the timeline of his stories didn’t add up to me. I experienced this a great deal in the very beginning of his book.
I enjoyed his telling of going to Carnegie Mellon University and speaking about CAPA and taking the Port Authority buses to get around the City of Pittsburgh. For him to come from a small town and blow up into such a huge megastar is an understatement. I’m truly proud of his accomplishments and how far he has come. When I first learned of his Tony win for Kinky Boots and the news reporters here in Pittsburgh kept saying, “Pittsburgh’s own, Billy Porter.” I didn’t even know of this man until that happened and to discover he was from my city was just an added plus. I can tell from his experiences he is extremely flamboyant and eccentric, which I happen to delight in. I love the fact that he’s different and brings a little extra to the art world. I also realize that Billy is often criticized for this fact too. Most of all, Billy loves herself some Billy Porter! A diva let you know this through every page, and rightly so, she’s proud of her own accomplishments as well.
Overall, Nerds, this was a decent memoir. There were times I felt he went on and on about things that I didn’t find of interest and he name dropped quite a bit. I think he did that because he wasn’t able to properly thank all those who have helped him through his career when receiving his awards throughout the years. What better way to thank anyone than to have their name in print? He definitely did that in his memoir.
The Sexy Nerd gives, Unprotected, four protected stars. If you enjoy Billy Porter’s work and watching him on the Red Carpet slay the bitches, as he’d say, then you will undoubtedly enjoy his memoir. This wasn’t a bad read at all and had some very humorous moments, especially when Billy speaks in “her” language. WERK! (wink, wink!) Until next time, Nerds, you know what to do! Those who slay stay oooookay! (snap!)
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