Billy Porter, the Emmy-winning actor best known for his role in the in the hit FX series "Pose" revealed Wednesday that he is HIV-positive, and has been quietly living with the diagnosis for the past 14 years.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Porter, 51, said he was first diagnosed in 2007 after getting an HIV test while at the doctor to drain a pimple, but continued to keep his condition under wraps from nearly everyone in his life – including his own mother.
"For a long time, everybody who needed to know, knew — except for my mother," Porter said, adding: "My mother had been through so much already, so much persecution by her religious community because of my queerness, that I just didn’t want her to have to live through their "I told you so’s.'"
"I didn’t want to put her through that," he continued. "I was embarrassed. I was ashamed. 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."
Porter called 2007 the worst year of his life – in February of that year, he announced he was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes; the next month, he signed bankruptcy papers, and in June, he was diagnosed with HIV.
In large part, he told The Hollywood Reporter, his feared being discriminated against or marginalized in an "already discriminatory" industry. "I was trying to have a life and a career, and I wasn't certain I could if the wrong people knew," he said. "So I tried to think about it as little as I could. I tried to block it out."
"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," he said.
In playing the HIV-positive character Pray Tell in "Pose," Porter says, he was able to use his experience as a proxy of sorts: "I was able 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 continued. "I was just happy that somebody was finally taking me seriously as an actor."
"I survived so that I could tell the story," he added. "That’s what I’m here for."
Porter revealed that after a conversation with "Pose" co-creator Ryan Murphy, who encouraged him to "lean in to the joy," he told his mother and the "Pose" cast and crew about his diagnosis.
"I told them the truth because, at a certain point, the truth is the responsible road," he said. "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 s*** to do, and I don’t have any fear about it anymore."
"I told my mother — that was the hurdle for me," he added. "I don’t care what anyone has to say. You’re either with me or simply move out of the way."
Porter celebrated the medical advancements that have helped him live with the virus: "This is what HIV-positive looks like now."
"I’m going to die from something else before I die from that," he added. "My T-cell levels are twice yours because of this medication. I go to the doctor now — as a Black, 51-year-old man, I go to the doctor every three months. That doesn’t happen in my community. We don’t trust doctors. But I go to the doctor, and I know what’s going on in my body. 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," he said. "It’s time. I’ve been living it and being in the shame of it for long enough. And I’m sure this will follow me. I’m sure this is going to be the first thing everybody says, 'HIV-positive blah, blah, blah.' OK. Whatever. It’s not the only thing I am. I’m so much more than that diagnosis. And if you don’t want to work with me because of my status, you’re not worthy of me."