Pose actor Billy Porter has revealed that he has been living with HIV for the past 14 years. The 51-year-old Broadway star and award-winning actor spoke his truth in a new essay for The Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday, in which he said he kept his diagnosis a secret out of fear that it "would just be another way for people to discriminate against me."
In the 2,400-word essay, Porter said he was diagnosed as HIV-positive in 2007, which he called "the worst year of [his] life… By February, I had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. By March, I signed bankruptcy papers. And by June, I was diagnosed HIV-positive." He said he received the diagnosis after he went to have a blemish on his skin looked at, and explained that "for a long time, everybody who needed to know, knew — except for my mother." Porter said that "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," and explained that "HIV-positive, where I come from, growing up in the Pentecostal church with a very religious family, is God's punishment."
"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," Porter wrote, adding that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic "has taught me a lot." He went on to say that Pose, the Emmy-winning FX drama on which he plays Pray Tell, an HIV-positive, has allowed him "an opportunity to work through the shame [of HIV] and where I have gotten to in this moment."
"The brilliance of Pray Tell and this opportunity was that I was able to say everything that I wanted to say through a surrogate," he wrote. "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."
Porter said that over the past year he has "started real trauma therapy to begin the process of healing," which has allowed him to start "peeling back all these layers." Writing that "this is what HIV-positive looks like now," Porter said his T-cell count is healthy and he goes to the doctor every three months. He said he feels "the healthiest" he's been his entire life and feels that he's "so much more than that diagnosis." Porter ended the essay by writing in part that "every single solitary dream that I ever had is coming true in this moment, all at the same time."