Pose actor Billy Porter has shared that he has lived with HIV for 14 years in a powerful new interview.
The 51-year-old actor, who plays queer ballroom MC Pray Tell on the drama, opened up to The Hollywood Reporter about receiving the diagnosis in 2007.
Porter said he received the news during a doctor’s checkup amid what was already “the worst year of his life.”
“By February, I had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. By March, I signed bankruptcy papers. And by June, I was diagnosed HIV-positive,” he said.
“The shame of that time compounded with the shame that had already [accumulated] in my life silenced me.”
In the following years, Porter vowed to only tell those who “needed to know” about his status.
“I was trying to have a life and a career and I wasn’t certain I could if the wrong people knew,” he said.
“It would just be another way for people to discriminate against me in an already discriminatory profession.
“So I tried to think about it as little as I could. I tried to block it out.”
‘Shame is destructive and can destroy everything’
Billy Porter said he used his Pose character Pray Tell – who’s also HIV-positive – to help him “work through the shame” he felt.
“The brilliance of Pray Tell and this opportunity was that I was able to say everything that I wanted to say through a surrogate,” Porter said.
He said he wanted to make it public because “shame is destructive” and “if not dealt with, it can destroy everything in its path.”
Porter explained he initially wanted to keep his HIV status private until after his mother died.
He kept it from her for so many years after she faced “so much persecution” at her Pentecostal church after he came out as gay at age 16.
“I didn’t want to put her through that, I was embarrassed [and] ashamed,” he said.
“I was the statistic that everybody said I would be. So I’d made a pact with myself that I would let her die before I told her. That’s what I was waiting for, if I’m being honest.”
However he decided to “rip the Band-Aid off” and call her on his last days of filming on Pose.
“She said, ‘You’ve been carrying this around for 14 years? Don’t ever do this again. I’m your mother, I love you no matter what. And I know I didn’t understand how to do that early on, but it’s been decades now,'” he said.
“And it’s all true. It’s my own shame. Years of trauma makes a human being skittish.
“But the truth shall set you free. I feel my heart releasing.”
Porter married his husband Adam Smith in 2017, after the couple first met in 2009.
Billy Porter says he is ‘what HIV-positive looks like now’
The 51-year-old also reflected on “living through the plague” and paid tribute to those lost during the AIDS epidemic.
“There’s a whole generation that was here, and I stand on their shoulders,” he said.
“I can be who I am in this space, at this time, because of the legacy that they left for me.”
Now, people living with HIV take anti-retroviral medication to suppress their viral load to undetectable levels.
The medication protects their health and prevents them from transmitting HIV to their sexual partner.
Billy Porter explained to The Hollywood Reporter he is the healthiest he’s ever been.
“Yes, I am the statistic, but I’ve transcended it. This is what HIV-positive looks like now,” he said.
“I’m going to die from something else before I die from that. My T-cell levels are twice yours because of this medication.
“I’m the healthiest I’ve been in my entire life. So it’s time to let all that go and tell a different story.
“There’s no more stigma – let’s be done with that. It’s time. I’ve been living it and being in the shame of it for long enough.”
Porter went on, “The truth is the healing… I hope this frees me so that I can experience real, unadulterated joy, so that I can experience peace, so that I can experience intimacy, so that I can have sex without shame.
“I don’t care what anyone has to say. You’re either with me or simply move out of the way.
“I’m doing this for me. I have too much shit to do, and I don’t have any fear about it anymore.”
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