Billy Porter is finally speaking his truth.
The Emmy-winning actor, who plays Pray Tell on FX’s Pose, has come out as HIV-positive in the latest issue of The Hollywood Reporter. Porter revealed he was diagnosed back in 2007, and it was playing Pray — who is HIV-positive on the series — that helped give him the courage to reveal his status to the world.
“I was the generation that was supposed to know better, and it happened anyway,” the actor told THR. “It was 2007, the worst year of my life. I was on the precipice of obscurity for about a decade or so, but 2007 was the worst of it. By February, I had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. By March, I signed bankruptcy papers. And by June, I was diagnosed HIV-positive.”
Porter said he didn’t want to tell his mother that he had HIV and was waiting until she died to go public about his status. “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,” he remembered thinking when he moved her into the Actors Fund Nursing Home five years ago. But she’s still alive — and according to Porter, “she ain’t going anywhere.”
For Porter, portraying Pray in the hit series gave him “an opportunity to work through the shame [of living with HIV]”: “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. 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.”
The 51-year-old actor isn’t letting being positive slow him down. He is the healthiest he has ever been, and he is trying to start a family with his husband, Adam Smith, who he married in 2017.
Porter's HIV shame was connected to his mom and his church: "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'" https://t.co/05J1xfWK3V pic.twitter.com/nAaCShHzkP
— The Hollywood Reporter (@THR) May 19, 2021
“I’m getting ready to play the fairy godmother in Cinderella,” he added. “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. I’m trying to be joyful, and one of the effects of trauma is not being able to feel joy.”
Back in 2019, Porter attended a screening of 5B, a documentary that tells the story of the nurses who worked in the AIDS ward at San Francisco General Hospital in the 1980s. After the screening, Porter told Logo that he had “PTSD” from living through the AIDS epidemic but was using his platform to raise awareness about the disease.
“I think it’s important to use my powers for good,” he shared. “I have a platform. I’ve always had a platform, but its exponentially larger as a result of Pose. It’s what I have to give back. It’s a no-brainer for me.”