Billy Porter has decided to tell the world an important part of his story.
“It was 2007, the worst year of my life. I was on the precipice of obscurity for about a decade or so, but 2007 was the worst of it,” Porter said. “By February, I had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. By March, I signed bankruptcy papers. And by June, I was diagnosed HIV-positive.”
The Pose star went on to explain how the diagnosis came as a “fluke.”
“I had a pimple on my butt, and it got larger and larger and harder and harder, and then it started to hurt. One day I was like, ‘I’ve got to get this taken care of,’” he continued. “The queen at the front desk was like, ‘You want an HIV test? They only $10.’ I said, ‘Yeah, yeah, it’s time.’ I got tested every six months, like you were supposed to. So I went in, got the pimple drained and got tested, and then the doctor came back and looked at me. I was like, ‘What?’ He sat down, and I was like, ‘No. Nooo.’ And he said, ‘Your test came back positive.’ Wheeeew.”
Although Porter let almost everyone around him know that he was HIV-positive, he couldn’t bring himself to share it publicly. He felt like the diagnosis was a “punishment” for his sexuality and tried to hide it from the world.
“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 said. “HIV-positive, where I come from, growing up in the Pentecostal church with a very religious family, is God’s punishment.”
Porter used this real-life experience to pour into the character that made him a household name—Pose’s Pray Tell. He said he used Tell as a “surrogate” for his status, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced him to fully process the concept.
“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,” he said after explaining that advancements in medicine have dramatically increased the quality of life for people with HIV. “This is what HIV-positive looks like now.”