Billy Porter, the Emmy Award winner for playing Pray Tell, a character who has HIV in the FX series “Pose” has announced being HIV positive himself. Porter revealed he has been living with HIV for 14 years and finally broke his silence about it in a candid interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
The 51 year old actor told that he was first diagnosed for HIV in 2007 and kept it from everyone including his mother. According to Porter, he kept this a secret because of the shame and religion. He said, “The shame of that time compounded with the shame that had already (accumulated) in my life silenced me, and I have lived with that shame in silence for 14 years. HIV-positive, where I come from, growing up in the Pentecostal church with a very religious family, is God’s punishment.”
He also put light on being the gay man with HIV and how the show “Pose” helped him to say everything he felt through his character, which he used as a “surrogate”.
Porter said, “[Pose was] an opportunity to work through the shame and where I have gotten to in this moment. And the brilliance of Pray Tell and this opportunity was that I was able to say everything that I wanted to say through a surrogate.”
He added, “My compartmentalizing and disassociation muscles are very, very strong, so I had no idea I was being traumatized or triggered. I was just happy that somebody was finally taking me seriously as an actor.”
Porter told he hid it from his mom in order to protect his elderly mother from the religious persecution that she has already experienced once due to his queerness. However, it all changed for him during the pandemic, as quarantining gave him a perspective and he decided to own it.
He recalled when he told his mother, 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,”
Porter added, “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. It had felt like a hand was holding my heart clenched for years — for years — and it’s all gone.”
With the help of medical advancement, Porter has told the world, “This is what HIV-positive looks like now.” He said, “I survived so that I could tell the story. That’s what I’m here for… I’m the vessel, and emotionally that was sufficient — until it wasn’t. It’s time to grow up and move on because shame is destructive — and if not dealt with, it can destroy everything in its path.”