Billy Porter Breaks Silence 14-Year After HIV Diagnosis
In the 14 years since, the Emmy-winning star of Pose has told no one about his feelings, fearing marginalization and retaliation in an industry that hasn’t always been kind to him according to an interview by The Hollywood Reporter.
Instead, the 51-year-old, who has cultivated a fervent fan base in recent years on the basis of his talent and authenticity, says he has been using his HIV-positive character on the FX series, as his proxy.
“I was able to say everything that I wanted to say through a surrogate,” he reveals, acknowledging that nobody involved with the show had any idea he was drawing from his own life.
A Netflix documentary about his life, which will keep him in business with Pose co-creator Ryan Murphy; a 2021 take on Cinderella, in which he’ll play the fairy godmother; a directorial debut; a host of new music; and much, much more are in the work.
However, the Broadway-trained actor, who is an Oscar shy of an EGOT, isn’t interested in entering the next phase of his life and career with the shame that’s trailed him for more than a decade.
So, with Murphy by his side for support, and a cadre of documentary cameras hovering above, Porter tells his story. He said:
Having lived through the plague, my question was always, “Why was I spared? Why am I living?. Well, I’m living so that I can tell the story. There’s a whole generation that was here, and I stand on their shoulders. I can be who I am in this space, at this time, because of the legacy that they left for me. So it’s time to put my big boy pants on and talk. I was the generation that was supposed to know better, and it happened anyway. 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. The shame of that time compounded with the shame that had already [accumulated] in my life silenced me, 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.
In 2007, it all came tumbling down.
It was a fluke. I had a pimple on my butt, and it got larger and larger and harder and harder, and then it started to hurt. One day I was like, “I’ve got to get this taken care of,” so I went to the Callen-Lorde clinic and the queen at the front desk was like, “You want an HIV test? They only $10.” I said, “Yeah, yeah, it’s time.” I got tested every six months, like you were supposed to. So I went in, got the pimple drained and got tested, and then the doctor came back and looked at me. I was like, “What?” He sat down, and I was like, “No. Nooo.” And he said, “Your test came back positive.” Wheeeew.
My husband and I rented a house on Long Island because I have a preexisting condition and I can’t be in the middle of it. I have to protect myself, and I have the means to. I’d never been given the luxury to even think about self-care or balance on any level before. It’s like I had to just keep going. COVID created a safe space for me to stop and reflect and deal with the trauma in my life. Now, I’ve been in therapy for a long time. I started when I was 25, and I’ve been going on and off for years. But in the last year, I started real trauma therapy to begin the process of healing. I started peeling back all these layers: having been sent to a psychologist at age 5 because I came out of the womb a big old queen; being sexually abused by my stepfather from the time I was 7 to the time I was 12; coming out at 16 in the middle of the AIDS crisis.
I survived so that I could tell the story. That’s what I’m here for. I’m the vessel, and emotionally that was sufficient — until it wasn’t. Until I got married [in 2017].
One of the most profound realizations that I’ve had as a 51-year-old man who is finally getting my whatever-we’re-calling-this-moment-in-show-business is that I’ve had a lot of time to sit back and observe the lights that came before me and burned out too soon.
I’ve had a lot of time to investigate why, and the answer for me always circled back around to authenticity. So I got up in front of the cast and crew and all of the people who helped to create this space, and I told them the truth because, at a certain point, 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 shit 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.