Tony Winner Billy Porter Shares His HIV Positive Status Publicly for the First Time: “The Truth Is the Healing”
Billy Porter is a fantastic actor, one award away from an EGOT, and through his role as Pray Tell in FX’s Pose, he has been able to give a voice to many Black queer people living with HIV. In a recent interview with THR, it is revealed that Porter is one of those people himself.
In June of 2007, Porter was diagnosed as HIV-positive. While it may not seem that far away in time, 2007 was not that many years past the HIV/AIDS crisis that took the lives of a generation of people, including Black and Brown gay men that were already at a disadvantage due to the stigma of homosexuality and a lack of access to health care.
Porter is a survivor of that stigma, that pain, and that legacy—a fact that often led him to ask why he was living when so many others weren’t.
“Well, I’m living so that I can tell the story,” he says. “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. So it’s time to put my big boy pants on and talk.”
For Porter, he was of the generation that was supposed to “know better,” a thing many of us feel when we find ourselves caught up in circumstances that people have warned us happens to only a wrong kind of person.
He found a pimple on his backside that was later drained, and he went in to get a test, like he would every six months, that was when he got the results. He said,
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. HIV-positive, where I come from, growing up in the Pentecostal church with a very religious family, is God’s punishment.
Porter shared his status after that with people who needed to know (sans his mother). His mother had been through a lot because of the persecution by her religious community, and he didn’t want her to deal with people saying “I told you so” about his status being another sign of God’s punishment:
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. When we moved her into the Actors Fund Nursing Home, I was like, “She’s not going to be here long, and then I’ll write my book and come out and she won’t have to live with the embarrassment of having an HIV-positive child.” That was five years ago. She ain’t going anywhere.
I can relate to that feeling with my own queerness. I never thought I would tell my father I was bisexual until I finally realized that living in my truth was essential for my mental health and survival.
But it is hard, and when I found out that I had HPV, I thought I was dirty and being punished for having sex—that this was a sign that I was wicked. That Catholicism sticks with you. It wasn’t until I got educated about STIs that it helped end that stigma for me, which made recovery and talking about it that much easier. It does, however, take other people speaking out sometimes to really help you realize what you need to survive this crazy world.
“COVID created a safe space for me to stop and reflect and deal with the trauma in my life,” Porter said. “Now, I’ve been in therapy for a long time. I started when I was 25, and I’ve been going on and off for years. But in the last year, I started real trauma therapy to begin the process of healing. I started peeling back all these layers: having been sent to a psychologist at age 5 because I came out of the womb a big old queen; being sexually abused by my stepfather from the time I was 7 to the time I was 12; coming out at 16 in the middle of the AIDS crisis.”
He continued, “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. I’m doing this for me. I have too much shit to do, and I don’t have any fear about it anymore. I told my mother — that was the hurdle for me. I don’t care what anyone has to say. You’re either with me or simply move out of the way.”
There are so many amazing HIV-positive Black folks out there who have worked to educate people on living their truth, and it is amazing to see Porter among them.
(via The Hollywood Reporter, image: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)
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