Metro Weekly

Billy Porter reveals he’s been living with HIV for 14 years

The award-winning Pose star had feared his status would become "another way for people to discriminate against me"

Billy Porter — Photo: Shavonne Wong

Pose star Billy Porter has revealed that he has been living with HIV for the last 14 years.

The Emmy, Grammy, and Tony Award-winning actor and singer told the Hollywood Reporter that he was first diagnosed in 2007, and “lived with that shame in silence.”

Porter said that he didn’t discuss his diagnosis earlier as it would have become “another way for people to discriminate against me in an already discriminatory profession.”

But the actor said that his work on FX’s critically-acclaimed LGBTQ drama Pose — which chronicles the New York ballroom scene in the 1980s and ’90s — had offered “an opportunity to work through the shame [of HIV] and where I have gotten to in this moment.”

Porter’s character, Pray Tell, is HIV-positive, which allowed Porter to “say everything that I wanted to say through a surrogate.”

“My compartmentalizing and disassociation muscles are very, very strong, so I had no idea I was being traumatized or triggered,” he said. “I was just happy that somebody was finally taking me seriously as an actor.”

Porter said that for a while, “everybody who needed to know” about his status was aware, “except for my mother.”

“I was embarrassed. I was ashamed. I was the statistic that everybody said I would be,” Porter said.

“So I’d made a pact with myself that I would let her die before I told her,” he continued. “That’s what I was waiting for, if I’m being honest. When we moved her into the Actors Fund Nursing Home, I was like, ‘She’s not going to be here long, and then I’ll write my book and come out and she won’t have to live with the embarrassment of having an HIV-positive child.’ That was five years ago. She ain’t going anywhere.”

Porter said that the COVID-19 pandemic gave him time to “sit down and shut the fuck up,” which led to him disclosing his diagnosis to his mother.

According to Porter, she responded: “‘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 added: “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.”

Porter said that he is “so much more than that diagnosis,” and that he is healthy and undetectable.

“This is what HIV-positive looks like now,” Porter said. “I’m going to die from something else before I die from that.”

He added that the truth was “healing,” and hoped that by finally discussing his diagnosis he could “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,” he said. “I have too much shit to do, and I don’t have any fear about it anymore.”

Speaking to Metro Weekly earlier this month, Porter reflected on the end of Pose — which is currently airing its third and final season on FX — and whether we’ll see another show like it anytime soon.

“When I got into this business, Pose was an impossibility. Impossible. Characters that we see, impossible. Never would have happened,” he said. “I spent the first 25 years of my career trying to fit in and make people think I was straight so I could eat. I don’t have to do that anymore. That’s the gift of Pose. That’s the change.”

He added: “Of course, we’re going to see more of it. Yes, we’re going to fucking see more of it. We also have to make sure that we, as artists, are on the front lines, making sure that it continues to happen. We can’t sit back on our heels and wait for somebody else to do it. We gotta do it, and I’m here for it.”

Read MoreBilly Porter on the ending of Pose and what comes next

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