Billy Porter isn’t hiding anymore.
The 51-year-old Pose star opened up to The Hollywood Reporter for a profile where he not only revealed he was living his life as an HIV positive man, but he’d been carrying the secret for more than 14 years.
“For a long time, everybody who needed to know, knew — except for my mother,” Porter said. “I was trying to have a life and a career, and I wasn’t certain I could if the wrong people knew. It would just be another way for people to discriminate against me in an already discriminatory profession. So I tried to think about it as little as I could. I tried to block it out. But quarantine has taught me a lot. Everybody was required to sit down and shut the f*ck up.”
Porter revealed he had tested positive in 2007, a year he calls the worst of his life after filing for bankruptcy and being diagnosed with Type-2 diabetes. In his eyes due to his upbringing in the Pentecostal church, the HIV diagnosis was “God’s punishment.”
“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,” Porter said.
Porter has long continued his career despite the diagnosis. He’s an Oscar shy of becoming an EGOT winner and has continued to trailblaze on stage and screen. When the character of Pray Tell from Pose came to him, he decided to use the character as a vessel for his real life.
“An opportunity to work through the shame [of HIV] and where I have gotten to in this moment,” Porter says of the groundbreaking FX series. “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.”
Of all the people he hid his diagnosis from, co-stars and more, he finally found the space to tell his mother and the freedom it brought him.
“So my sister and I made a plan,” he recalls. “We were going to get vaccinated and we were going to go see Mom. We’d get a room and I’d break the news. Then I woke up on the last day of [shooting] Pose; I was writing in my gratitude journal and my mama popped into my head. I was like, “Let me just call her.” Not two minutes into the conversation, she’s like, “What’s wrong?” I said, “Nothing.” She’s like, “Son, please tell me what’s wrong.” So I ripped the Band-Aid off and I told her. She said, “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 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. And it couldn’t have happened at a better time. 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. I’m trying to be joyful, and one of the effects of trauma is not being able to feel joy.”
Watch Porter’s full revelation with The Hollywood Reporter below.