Billy Porter broke his silence on living with HIV, revealing that he had told virtually no one about his status out of fear and shame for almost 14 years.
“Years of trauma makes a human being skittish. But the truth shall set you free. I feel my heart releasing. It had felt like a hand was holding my heart clenched for years – for years – and it’s all gone,” the award-winning “Pose” star told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview published Wednesday.
Porter, 51, won an Emmy award for his role as Pray Tell, an HIV-positive emcee in the 80’s and 90’s New York City ballroom scene at the height of the first HIV outbreak. In his interview, he described the fear of discrimination he felt as a Black, gay, HIV-positive man in the entertainment industry in the early days of his career.
“It wasn’t a fear that [my status] was going to come out or that somebody was going to expose me; it was just the shame that it had happened in the first place,” said Porter. “And as a Black person, particularly a Black man on this planet, you have to be perfect or you will get killed.”
He also discussed his struggle revealing the truth to his mother and dealing with the shame that stemmed from his family’s religious background, saying that he was embarrassed of being “the statistic that everybody said I would be.” He made a pact to himself that he would let his mother die before coming out as HIV-positive.
Porter broke that pact on the last day of filming Pose, when he called his mother and told her that he was HIV-positive. His sister had already known and had been helping him plan a time to reveal the truth. He revealed it to his mother after she had noticed something was off.
In response, Porter’s mother 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.”
“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,” said Porter.