For 14 years, award-winning actor Billy Porter has kept an intimate detail about himself concealed from his public life. Now, he’s broken his silence. Billy was diagnosed as HIV-positive back in June 2007. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he shared that his decision to hide his diagnosis came out of shame.
“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.”
Billy described 2007 as “the worst year” of his life. In February, he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. In March, he filed for bankruptcy. In June, he received his diagnosis. He had visited a clinic to get a growing pimple looked at. The front-desk person asked if he wanted to take an HIV test. Billy responded yes and after getting the pimple drained, the doctor told him the news.
He decided to keep his diagnosis a secret, even from his own mother. Only the people that “needed to know, knew.” Billy wanted to protect his desire “to have a life and a career.” He feared his status would cause him to be discriminated against in “an already discriminatory profession.”
When he joined FX’s show ‘Pose,’ his HIV-positive character Pray Tell served as his “surrogate” to say “everything” he wanted to.
“My compartmentalizing and disassociation muscles are very, very strong, so I had no idea I was being traumatized or triggered,” Billy said. “I was just happy that somebody was finally taking me seriously as an actor.”
Then, COVID hit. Like most of the world, Billy found himself in quarantine with time and a safe space to “stop and reflect and deal with the trauma” in his life. He started therapy in the last year to deal with a life filled with trauma including “being sexually abused by [his] stepfather from age 7 to 12 and coming out at 16 years old” during the AIDS crisis.
He’s “transcended” beyond being “the statistic” and is done with the stigma and shame surrounding being HIV-positive.
“I’m sure this is going to be the first thing everybody says, ‘HIV-positive blah, blah, blah.’ OK. Whatever. It’s not the only thing I am,” Billy said. “I’m so much more than that diagnosis. And if you don’t want to work with me because of my status, you’re not worthy of me.”
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