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Actor Billy Porter opens up about HIV positive journey

"This is what HIV-positive looks like now: He says to the world

Actor Billy Porter has shared that he has been living with HIV for 14 years and decided to make the revelation now as he hopes to free himself from “that shame in silence”.

The 51-year-old actor, who made history by winning an Emmy in 2019 for his role as Pray Tell, a character who is HIV-positive, on the acclaimed FX series “Pose”, said he used the part as a “surrogate” to tell his real-life story.

“The truth is the healing. And I hope this frees me. I hope this frees me so that I can experience real, unadulterated joy, so that I can experience peace, so that I can experience intimacy, so that I can have sex without shame. This is for me,” Porter told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview published Wednesday.

He became the first openly gay black man to be nominated and win in any lead acting category at the Primetime Emmys.

“This is what HIV-positive looks like now. I survived so that I could tell the story. That’s what I’m here for. I’m the vessel, and emotionally that was sufficient — until it wasn’t. It’s time to grow up and move on because shame is destructive — and if not dealt with, it can destroy everything in its path,” the screen and stage actor added.

He hit rock bottom in 2007, Porter said, when he was diagnosed with Type II diabetes, filed for bankruptcy and then diagnosed with HIV.

“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,” he continued.

As someone who grew up in the Pentecostal church with a religious family, the shame of being different grew manifold by his HIV diagnosis, Porter said.

And that is why it was difficult for him to tell his mother, who had already been through a lot due to his queer status.

“For a long time, everybody who needed to know, knew — except for my mother. 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.”

But during the coronavirus-induced lockdown with his husband, entrepreneur Adam Smith, in Long Island, forced the actor to confront his fears.

“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,'” he said.

His mother had an inkling that something was wrong, so he “ripped the Band-Aid off” and 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.’ And it’s all true. It’s my own shame,” he said.

After telling his mother, the actor told the truth to the cast and crew of “Pose”.

Porter said he goes to the doctor every three months.

“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.”

The actor currently stars in the third and final season of “Pose” and will next be seen playing a genderless Fairy Godmother in “Cinderella”, starring Camila Cabello in the title role, slated to be released on Amazon Prime in September.

Porter is also writing a memoir and working on a documentary about his life for Netflix.


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