After revealing that he is HIV-positive, Billy Porter spilled all on “Tamron Hall.” As previously reported the Grammy, Emmy, and Tony-winning actor revealed this week that he’s been living in shame for 14 years after his diagnosis and he planned to keep it hidden forever from his mother.
Now bravely stepping out, Billy Porter joined Tamron for his first television interview about his status and candidly opened up about the moment he found out he was HIV-positive and how playing his character “Pray Tell” in “Pose” helped him work through his trauma.
Porter on revealing he is HIV-positive:
“2007 we’ll start there, the backstory…was one of the worst years of my life. I say I was on the precipice of obscurity and wasn’t working a lot in showbusiness. February of that year, I was diagnosed with diabetes. Type two, hereditary, it’s in my family. By March I was filing bankruptcy papers and by June of that year, 2007, I was diagnosed HIV-positive.”
Porter on the moment he tested positive for HIV:
“So I had a pimple on my butt. It just came on my butt, a regular pimple. A week it got bigger. Another week, it got harder. You know, then all of a sudden it felt like it was infected and I couldn’t really sit on my right side and I had to maneuver and so I didn’t have medical insurance at the time. And I went to the Callen-Lorde LGBTQ clinic, and the man at the desk said, ‘Well, do you want to get an HIV test?’ And it was like, ‘oh, yeah, yeah, it’s about six months. ( I’d do it every six months.) Yes, of course.’ And so I got the test. And the doctor looked at my butt and then I was waiting for about 20 minutes and then the doctor came out with that look. I knew exactly what he was about to say. I responded, just as I had, just as I did in season one, episode four of ‘Pose’ when they tell Pray Tell.”
Porter on the shame he felt becoming a statistic after testing positive and hiding his diagnosis for 14 years:
“The shame engulfed me. I had stomach issues for 14 years and nobody could figure out what or why. You know, my stomach just felt like it was always in knots. You know, it felt like there was a hand on my heart, squeezing every day, all day. Every morning, I would wake up with dread, and try to find my way to work through it. Shame is a destroyer. It destroys everything.”
Porter on the will to survive after his diagnosis and maintaining his spirituality:
“Gay men of a certain age. I’m 51. I would say those who are mid to late 40s on up, who survived the plague, I often wondered in the survivor’s guilt mode of what comes with that, for not just me, but for many. Why did I survive? You know, like, what’s the point? Because there’s something in the survival that is greater than me. And then ‘Pose’ happened and I said, okay God, universe, she, them, they, whatever we call the force. I understand because I was left here to tell the story to remind the world that we were here. We’ve always been here. We’re still here and we’re not ever going anywhere. That’s powerful and in this space, and in this moment, playing Pray Tell on television, playing a character whose life parallels mine. He missed the antiretroviral drugs by one year. Pray Tell missed them and passed on, but Billy didn’t. And look at God. Look at me, the God that’s in me and I say God, because we have to start speaking in the right terms. The first thing that’s taken away from us, as LGBTQ people from everybody is our spirituality is God. God hates fags. No, he doesn’t stop it. I can’t do it, and I won’t do it anymore.”
Porter on holding the diagnosis from his mother for 14 years:
“I will just go to the example of when I told her. When I finally told her I was HIV-positive, which was maybe a month and a half to two months ago since 2007, I told her and she said, ‘Son, I love you. I will always love you. I have always loved you. none of this matters. I just want to know that you’re healthy.’ I was like, I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been. I’m a black man that has to go to the doctor every three months. Like I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been. But…the thing she said to me was, ‘stop doing this son. Please stop doing this. I know that I didn’t know how to be the mother that you needed me to be at the beginning of this journey, but it has been decades now. I need you to stop this.’ When asked what his mother wanted him to stop Porter shared, “Stop withholding from her she said, ‘you spent four 10 years with this by yourself for no reason.’ That is what being a Christian means, that is what it is.”
On the struggles of growing up queer in the church and overcoming the trauma of sexual assault at age twelve:
“Well, I can remember two specific times, first was in kindergarten. I was sent to a psychologist every Wednesday after kindergarten, after kindergarten because I was a sissy and everybody was afraid of that. Afraid of my mannerisms. ‘Oh he wants to play with dolls. Oh he wants to play Jacks. Something’s wrong with him. He needs to be fixed.’ That’s the beginning of the messaging that you’re getting when you’re five years old. Within a year my mother had met and married my stepfather who proceeded to sexually molest me from the time I was seven to the time I was 12. And to me, but these are my man lessons, right? And then I’m sitting around the dining room table and the first account of HIV comes across and they start talking about homosexual, homosexual, homosexual, and then everybody at the church that’s talking about homosexual, the abomination you’re going to hell, you’re going to this…AIDS is God’s punishment and I’m like, wait, what is homosexual? And I actually looked it up and I realized, oh shoot I’ve been engaging in homosexual acts. So not only am I going to hell but I’m going to die of AIDS doing it. This is 12 years old.”