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Here's the True Stories Behind Pray Tell's Shocking 'Pose' Childhood

Pray Tell in Take Me to Church episode

*This post contains spoilers from Pose season three episode four.

Since it began, Pose has interwoven actual histories into its narratives. Everything from the museum robbery in season one to various political actions, the show has sourced real-life inspiration to spark current-day dialogue. That habit has continued into the third and final season.

Four the fourth episode of Pose season three, Billy Porter's Pray Tell returns to his hometown of Pittsburgh. In an episode titled "Take Me to Church," he is diagnosed with lymphoma but isn't able to get chemotherapy because he has HIV. As a result, he travels home to tell his family and is confronted by his past.

While in Pittsburgh, Pray Tell meets Norm Lewis's Pastor Vernon. Vernon is married to Pray Tell's childhood best friend Ebony and the pair have three children together. But, as Pray Tell points out, the two were childhood lovers and Vernon chose the church over him. 

"Writing these Pray/Vernon scenes allowed me to let go of a lot of pain," series co-creator and episode writer Steven Canals wrote to Twitter during the airing. "I sure did have a love that decided that living a straight life was more important [than] living an honest one with me. And to write these [scenes] and release that pain? It was healing." Janet Mock directed the episode. 

But it seems that wasn't the only point of inspiration. There's some stunning (read iconic) casting for the episode: Ledisi, B.Slade, Jackee Harry, and Janet Hubert. But one of those cameos, Anne Maria Horsford, who plays Pray Tell's mother Charlene, is rife with emotion. In it, Pray Tell confronts Charlene over the abuse he suffered at the hands of her second husband, his stepfather. But the story ran similar to Porter's own past.

At seven years old, Porter was sexually abused by his stepfather for about four years. He wrote about the molestation he suffered in a 2018 op-ed for Out. In the letter, Porter wrote that he eventually told his mother, in order to protect his sister from the same fate. While Porter believes she believed him, she did nothing.

"In my mother’s defense, where would she go — a disabled woman who couldn’t get a job, with two mouths to feed?" he wrote. "I told her to stay. I would save myself. What else were we gonna do?" Eventually, Porter left home and only returned to see his stepfather again after he had a heart attack.

On Pose, Pray Tell was also sexaully abused by a stepfather. When he told his mother, she similarly did nothing as she said she needed the stepfather in order to help provide for the family. In the end, both were able to state their own truths and reconcile over what happened.

RELATED | Pose Star Billy Porter Reveals Past Sexual Abuse in Searing Op-Ed

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