After been newly introduced to audiences globally through his role as Pray Tell on the critically acclaimed, Peabody Award-winning series Pose, actor and singer Billy Porter has revealed that he has been living with HIV for the past 14 years. In a new interview Porter, whose role of Pray Tell also depicts a man living with HIV, reveals that he hid his diagnosis out of shame from friends, coworkers, as well as his mother.
“I was able to say everything that I wanted to say through a surrogate,” he told The Hollywood Reporter, referring to his role as Pray Tell. While he clarified that the rest of te Pose team were unaware of his diagnosis, Porter said he used personal experience to guide his portrayal. In the most recent episode, Pray Tell returned to his hometown to inform his family of his diagnosis in a series of emotional scenes. Much like in Pose, Porter points to the church as one place where that shame stemmed from.
"For a long time, everybody who needed to know, knew — except for my mother," he 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 fuck up." He went on to say that Pose allowed him to work through the shame of living with the disease.
While he initially had promised himself that he would wait until his mother passed to disclose his status to the world, he decided to stop waiting. When he called her and told her, on the last day of filming Pose she was accepting and for Porter, it felt like a release.
Porter will likely tell more of his own story in a smattering of projects expected after Pose: THR reports there's a memoir set to be out later this year, a Ryan Murphy documentary about his life, and more. He will also voice a character in the Proud Family reboot and star as the Fab G in this year's Cinderella reboot. He is also set to release his directorial debut for a feature film.
"But look at me. Yes, I am the statistic, but I’ve transcended it. This is what HIV-positive looks like now. I’m going to die from something else before I die from that. My T-cell levels are twice yours because of this medication," he said. "I’m the healthiest I’ve been in my entire life. So it’s time to let all that go and tell a different story. There’s no more stigma — let’s be done with that. It’s time. I’ve been living it and being in the shame of it for long enough."
In a video released in tandem with the cover story, Porter speaks of being grateful of Pose as well as his own purpose.
"My question was always well why was I spared?" he said. "Why am I living? Well I'm living so I could tell the story. I'm living because I'm the vessel to make sure that everybody knows there was a whole generation who were here and I stand on their shoulders. I can be who I am in this space and in this time and in this world because of the legacy that they left for me."