As per his latest interview, Billy Porter opened up about being diagnosed HIV-positive over a decade ago. No longer willing to hide his truth, the Emmy-nominated Pose actor candidly detailed how the societal and personal shame surrounding his status spurred him to keep the condition a secret from his friends, family, castmates, and the world for all this time.
As The Hollywood Reporter’s latest cover story, Porter explained that while on the cusp of obscurity with regards to his career in the entertainment industry, being diagnosed with hereditary Type 2 diabetes, having to sign bankruptcy papers, and then being additionally diagnosed HIV-positive, 2007 was “the worst year of his life.” Heartbreakingly, the star noted, “I was the generation that was supposed to know better, and it happened anyway.”
“The shame of that time compounded with the shame that had already [accumulated] in my life silenced me,” Porter said, “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.”
“For a long time, everybody who needed to know, knew — except for my mother,” the 51-year-old continued later in the piece. Speaking on how the worry he’s carried regarding the impact being openly HIV-positive would have on his career — and how quarantining gave him the perspective he needed to come forward now — he continued, “I was trying to have a life and a career, and I wasn’t certain I could if the wrong people knew. 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. But quarantine has taught me a lot. Everybody was required to sit down and shut the f–k up.”
If you didn’t know, in Pose Porter plays the character Pray Tell, “the Godfather” to a host of LGBTQ+ youth amidst the 1980’s ballroom scene in New York City. Pray Tell is also HIV-positive. When speaking about how he’s been able to heal from some of the traumas he’s experienced in his life through the roles he’s had the opportunities to star in, Porter spoke about what it was like to play a role where the character’s life reflected such a biggest aspect of his own reality — one he’s kept hidden until now. He noted, “Then came Pose. An opportunity to work through the shame [of HIV] 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.”
Despite feeling like Pray Tell was an outlet through which his story could be told, Porter shared that none of his castmates or the crew on the show knew about his diagnosis except Pose’s co-creator Ryan Murphy — who the actor claims knew from season one and encouraged him to drop the shame surrounding his condition and instead “lean into joy.”
As far as the overall reasons why Porter chose to be publicly open about his HIV-positive status now, he explained “…the truth is the responsible road. The truth is the healing. And I hope this frees me. 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. This is for me. I’m doing this for me. I have too much sh*t to do, and I don’t have any fear about it anymore. I told my mother — that was the hurdle for me. I don’t care what anyone has to say. You’re either with me or simply move out of the way.”
“This is what HIV-positive looks like now.”
Read about Porter’s experience coming to terms with his HIV-positive status and why he chose now to share his truth with the world in The Hollywood Reporter’s full cover story here.