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Billy Porter brings national tour to D.C. ‘on his own terms’

‘Pose,’ Broadway, and musical star to perform at Warner Theater June 2



Billy Porter, 53, will visit 25 cities across the United States this spring. (Photo courtesy Republic Records)

Actor, musician, writer, and director Billy Porter is embarking on his first-ever music tour this spring. 

Porter, 53, will visit 25 cities across the United States. “The Black Mona Lisa Tour: Volume 1,” tells Porter’s life story through song. 

The show will feature songs from his new album due this fall, “Black Mona Lisa,” and his well-loved hits like “Love Is on the Way” and “Love Yourself.” It also nods to his long Broadway career and role in “Pose.”  

The tour kicked off in Seattle in late April and will end in Mashantucket, Conn., in early June. As part of the tour, Porter will visit his hometown of Pittsburgh and perform at the Warner Theater in Washington, D.C.

The process of crafting his new album was a collaborative one, Porter said. He had a clear vision for the project — to inspire, encourage, and motivate. Porter wants to bring people healing, joy, and peace through the show, and “give the world a big bear hug.” 

“We’ve been in the middle of a very, very intense collective trauma, still in it,” Porter said in an interview with the Washington Blade. “And I believe that it’s inside of the gathering, that’s where the healing lies.”

For example, in the latest song released from his new album, “Fashion,” the idea of fashion is aligned with kindness, love and joy. It’s also about being Porter’s authentic self. 

Porter has defied the rules of fashion in bold and theatrical ways on red carpets, at fashion weeks, and parties. Donning stylish sashaying skirts and sparkly suits, Porter has utilized fashion as a tool for change. Porter wasn’t always at the forefront of this movement, he said. As a kid and in his early career, he refrained from experimentation in fashion because of how much queerness was seen as an impediment. 

But around 2017, the fashion designer Rick Owens, who is known for his gender-fluid designs, inspired Porter.

“It wasn’t until I became part of this revolution of the de-gendering of fashion that I realized it was a thing,” Porter said. “People could be so triggered by what other people chose to wear. I didn’t realize that the gendering of fashion had created such a fracture in our culture.” 

There’s no question Porter inspires many in his way of unapologetically being himself. His own inspiration, he said, is his mother. She’s lived with a degenerative condition for her whole life and now resides in a nursing home. He’s watched her get up every day and be present, despite all of the curveballs life threw at her.  

“She’s my hero. She is the one. If she can show up every day for her life, I don’t have no excuse,” Porter said. 

A changing industry 

Porter tried to go on a music tour before, he said, but the industry wasn’t ready for him. 

“The music business was very homophobic and they kicked my Black gay ass out,” Porter said. “Now, it’s on my own terms.” 

A lot has stayed the same in the music business, but the industry has shifted since Porter’s first album, “Untitled,” came out in 1997. He said he can exist to the fullest extent of who he is and being queer is no longer a full-on liability. 

Career paths in show business aren’t linear, he said. If he could tell his younger self anything after all these years, it’s to keep going, stay in it, and focus on the work.

“I knew I had talent,” Porter said. 

To purchase tickets, visit

Billy Porter (Photo courtesy of Republic Records)


Gender expression is fluid in captivating ‘Paul & Trisha’ doc

Exploring what’s possible when you allow yourself to become who you truly are



Paul Whitehead and Trisha van Cleef in ‘Paul & Trisha.’ (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

Given the polarizing controversies surrounding the subject of gender in today’s world, it might feel as if challenges to the conventional “norms” around the way we understand it were a product of the modern age. They’re not, of course; artists have been exploring the boundaries of gender  – both its presentation and its perception – since long before the language we use to discuss the topic today was ever developed. After all, gender is a universal experience, and isn’t art, ultimately, meant to be about the sharing of universal experiences in a way that bypasses, or at least overcomes, the limitations of language?

We know, we know; debate about the “purpose” of art is almost as fraught with controversy as the one about gender identity, but it’s still undeniable that art has always been the place to find ideas that contradict or question conventional ways of viewing the world. Thanks to the heavy expectation of conformity to society’s comfortable “norms”  in our relationship with gender, it’s inevitable that artists might chafe at such restrictive assumptions enough to challenge them – and few have committed quite so completely to doing so as Paul Whitehead, the focus of “Paul & Trisha: The Art of Fluidity,” a new documentary from filmmaker Fia Perera which enjoyed a successful run on the festival circuit and is now available for pre-order on iTunes and Apple TV ahead of a VOD/streaming release on July 9.

Whitehead, who first gained attention and found success in London’s fertile art-and-fashion scene of the mid 1960s, might not be a household name, but he has worked closely with many people who are. A job as an in-house illustrator at a record company led to his hiring as the first art director for the UK Magazine Time Out, which opened the door for even more prominent commissions for album art – including a series of iconic covers for Genesis, Van der Graaf, Generator, and Peter Hammill, which helped to shape the visual aesthetic of the Progressive Rock movement with his bold, surrealistic pop aesthetic, and worked as an art director for John Lennon for a time. Moving to Los Angeles in 1973, his continuing work in the music industry expanded to encompass a wide variety of commercial art and landed him in the Guinness Book of World Records as painter of the largest indoor mural in the world inside the now-demolished Vegas World Casino in Las Vegas. As a founder of the Eyes and Ears Foundation, he conceived and organized the “Artboard Festival”, which turned a stretch of L.A. roadway into a “drive-through art gallery” with donated billboards painted by participating artists.

Perera’s film catches up with Whitehead in the relatively low-profile city of Ventura, Calif., where the globally renowned visual artist now operates from a combination studio and gallery in a strip mall storefront. Still prolific and producing striking artworks (many of them influenced and inspired by his self-described “closet Hinduism”), the film reveals a man who, far from coming off as elderly, seems ageless; possessed of a rare mix of spiritual insight and worldly wisdom, he is left by the filmmaker to tell his own story by himself, and he embraces the task with the effortless verve of a seasoned raconteur. For roughly the first half of the film, we are treated to the chronicle of his early career provided straight from the source, without “talking head” commentaries or interview footage culled from entertainment news archives, and laced with anecdotes and observations that reveal a clear-headedness, along with a remarkable sense of self-knowledge and an inspiring freedom of thought, that makes his observations feel like deep wisdom. He’s a fascinating host, taking us on a tour of the life he has lived so far, and it’s like spending time with the most interesting guy at the party.

It’s when “Art of Fluidity” introduces its second subject, however, that things really begin to get interesting, because as Whitehead was pushing boundaries as an in-demand artist, he was also pushing boundaries in other parts of his life. Experimenting with his gender identity through cross-dressing since the 1960s, what began tentatively as an “in the bedroom” fetish became a long-term process of self-discovery that resulted in the emergence of “converged artist” Trisha Van Cleef, a feminine manifestation of Whitehead’s persona who has been creating art of her own since 2004. Neither dissociated “alter ego” nor performative character, Trisha might be a conceptual construct, in some ways, but she’s also a very authentic expression of personal gender perception who exists just as definitively as Paul Whitehead. They are, like the seeming opposites of yin and yang, two sides of the same fundamental and united nature.

Naturally, the bold process of redefining one’s personal relationship with gender is not an easy one, and part of what makes Trisha so compelling is the challenge she represents to Paul – and, by extension, the audience – by co-existing with him in his own life. She pushes him to step beyond his fears – such as his concerns about the hostile attitude of the shopkeeper next door and the danger of bullying, brutality, and worse when Trisha goes out in public – and embrace both sides of his nature instead of trying to force himself to be one or the other alone. And while the film doesn’t shy away from addressing the brutal reality about the risk of violence against non-gender-conforming people in our culture, it also highlights what is possible when you choose to allow yourself to become who you truly are.

As a sort of disclaimer, it must be acknowledged that some viewers may take issue with some of Whitehead’s personal beliefs about gender identity, which might not quite mesh with prevailing ideas and could be perceived as “problematic” within certain perspectives. Similarly, the depth of his engagement with Hindu cosmology might be off-putting to audiences geared toward skepticism around any spiritually inspired outlook on the world. However, it’s clear within the larger context of the documentary that both Paul and Trisha speak only for themselves, expressing a personal truth that does not nullify or deny the personal truth of anyone else. Further, one of the facets that gives “Art of Fluidity” its mesmerizing, upbeat charm is the sense that we are watching an ongoing evolution, a work in progress in which an artist is still discovering the way forward. There’s no insinuation that any aspect of Paul or Trisha’s shared life is definitive, rather we come to see them as a united pair, in constant flux, moving through the world together, as one, and becoming more like themselves every step of the way.

That’s something toward which we all would be wise to aspire; the acceptance of all of our parts and the understanding that we are always in the process of becoming something else would certainly go a long way toward making a happier, friendlier world.

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PHOTOS: Pride Rewind

Official Sapphic Queer Dance Party held at The Square



(Washington Blade photo by Emily Hanna)

The Capital Pride Alliance held its “Pride Rewind: Official Sapphic Queer Dance Party” at The Square (1850 K Street, N.W.) on Saturday, June 8.

(Washington Blade photos by Emily Hanna)

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PHOTOS: Pride on the Pier and Fireworks Show

Washington Blade holds annual event at The Wharf



2024 Pride on the Pier (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Washington Blade and the Ladies of LURe held the Pride on the Pier and Fireworks Show at The Wharf on Saturday, June 8. The fireworks were presented by the Leonard-Litz LGBTQ Foundation.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key and Emily Hanna; Wildside Media photos used with permission; @marvimage photo used with permission)

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