Billy Porter reveals he's HIV-positive: 'I'm so much more than that diagnosis'
"I was able to say everything that I wanted to say through a surrogate," he said of his Pose character's similar diagnosis.
The 51-year-old opened up to The Hollywood Reporter in a candid piece about his revelation, in which he explained that he was first diagnosed in 2007 and kept his status from his mother as well as his collaborators on the Emmy-winning FX drama in which he plays Pray Tell, an HIV-positive staple of the queer New York City ballroom scene throughout the late '80s and early '90s.
"[Pose was] 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," Porter told the publication. "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."
He said that he kept his condition a secret since his diagnosis largely because of the "shame" he felt, having grown up in a Pentecostal church with a religious family whom he feared would view his status as "God's punishment."
In an effort to shield his elderly mother from the kind of "persecution by her religious community because of [his] queerness" she'd experienced in the past, he initially decided he'd never tell her about his status, though that changed during the COVID-19 pandemic — quarantining for which gave him perspective to "sit down and shut the f--- up" as he considered real life issues.
"'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,'" Porter recalled his mother saying. "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."
Elsewhere in the story, Porter discussed his outlook on the future, adding that his T-cell count is healthy, he goes to the doctor every three months, he feels "the healthiest" he's been in his entire life, and he feels that he's "so much more than that diagnosis."
"Every single solitary dream that I ever had is coming true in this moment, all at the same time. I'm getting ready to play the fairy godmother in Cinderella. I have new music coming out. I have a memoir coming out. Pose is out. I'm directing my first film. And I'm trying to be present," he said. "I'm trying to be joyful, and one of the effects of trauma is not being able to feel joy."
Read Porter's full story in THR.
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