Billy Porter has opened up for the first time about being diagnosed as HIV-positive in a beautiful and touching chat with The Hollywood Reporter.
Porter said he was diagnosed back in 2007 while vising the doctor to get a pimple checked, of all things.
While everyone in his life who needed to know knew, Porter had until very recently kept his status hidden from so many people including friends, colleagues and, most importantly of all, his mum.
It was only after he went into lockdown during the pandemic that his life slowed down and he was able to reflect and deal with the different kinds of trauma in his life.
“I was the generation that was supposed to know better, and it happened anyway,” Porter said.
“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.”
He went on to explain that he was first able to express his various traumas through his acting career.
In Kinky Boots, for example, he practiced forgiving his father as well as his sexually abusive step-father on stage every day.
“Then came Pose. An opportunity to work through the shame [of HIV] and where I have gotten to in this moment,” he said.
“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.”
In the TV show Pose, Pray Tell was a big emcee in the Ball scene who lost plenty of friends to HIV/AIDS before being diagnosed as HIV positive himself. Not even the producers knew about this parallel between Porter and the character.
But telling his mum was still a hurdle for the actor off-stage.
“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’,” he said.
“I didn’t want to put her through that. 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. […] That was five years ago. She ain’t going anywhere.”
Porter ended up ringing her around the time he got vaccinated earlier this year.
His mum’s response was beautiful: “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 said going public with his diagnosis is helping show the world that HIV is not a death sentence anymore.
“As a Black person, particularly a Black man on this planet, you have to be perfect or you will get killed,” he said.
“But look at me. Yes, I am the statistic, but I’ve transcended it. This is what HIV-positive looks like now.”
He’s also no longer fearful about what this might mean for his career: “If you don’t want to work with me because of my status, you’re not worthy of me.”
You can (and should) read the full story over at The Hollywood Reporter.