Book Review: “Unprotected”, by Billy Porter

UNPROTECTED
A brief
By Billy Porter

At the end of his 2005 live album, “At the Corner of Broadway and Soul”, Billy Porter covered the song “Sunday” from the musical “Sunday in the Park With George”. But this is not an ordinary interpretation. Porter reshapes the Sondheim standard into a catchy gospel hymn and shouts at the end, “God bless you all. Pay your checks and go!

Winner of an Emmy for playing Pray Tell in the hot living room drama “Pose”, and a Tony and Grammy winner for his role in the Broadway musical “Kinky Boots”, Porter built his career by mixing theatrical excellence, gospel grandeur and reading for crass reality, throughout the astonishing instrument of his voice. This combination is perfectly translated in Porter’s new memoir, “Unprotected,” which chronicles his lifelong struggle to heal the deep wounds buried under the glow of his charismatic presence.

Porter grew up in the Pittsburgh‘s Hill district, where he attended a black Pentecostal homophobic church that nonetheless fueled in him a devotion to performance. As he writes about his early years, Porter recounts the darkness and light of his youth, detailing his upbringing with a chatty, arched flair, as when he describes seeing “The Wiz” for the first time on the same day. that a lesbian teacher introduced him to the concept of a musical.

Porter’s talents took him to great heights – he made his Broadway debut in “Miss Saigon” at the age of 21 – but the actor discovered that both in church and on scene, he was being kissed for what he could do with his voice while being rejected simultaneously. for who he was: a black gay man.

In “Unprotected,” Porter’s voice on the page matches his compelling vocal instrument perfectly. He does not hold back, never shying away from raw emotionality, but avoiding histrionics. He writes bluntly about not being accepted by his church, as well as his quest to heal years of sexual abuse his stepfather committed during his pre-teens. In a toned chapter, he recalls confronting his mother about the abuse, weaving horror and rage with cautious empathy for a woman who, he says, lacked the tools to protect him. Elsewhere he reflects on the ups and downs of his career, such as finding himself homeless and bankrupt after his early successes, most notably as Teen Angel in “Grease”, left him lost in the wilderness he nicknames. memorably its “Millennium Coon Show” era.

It’s not just a memory, saints; it is a testimony. He tells a story and he spills the tea and he works through deep wounds in pursuit of a clearer path to full personality experience. “Here I am all these decades later, at the peak of my life and career – covered in all my personal traumas,” he says at the start of the book.

Some stories we would like Porter to focus on. Her marriage and recent professional successes, for example, parade in a blur of bold names and viral moments. But in “Unprotected,” Porter achieves a higher goal than simply providing a happy forever. “My art is my vocation, my goal, dare I say my ministry,” he wrote.

For the multi-trait artist, coming out of pain means identifying with more than his broken parts. Embracing his wholeness, his flaws and all, Porter positions himself atop an altar, as we remembered in the recent video of Lil Nas X’s “This Is What I Want”, and simultaneously at the foot of it, like a lost soul running down the aisle of a church in search of transcendence or hope or salvation or healing on an extraordinary Sunday.

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