Living with HIV has been a difficult road for Billy Porter.
On Wednesday, the “Pose” star appeared on “The Tamron Hall Show” to talk on TV for the first time about his revelation that he had tested positive for the virus 14 years ago.
“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 show business. February of that year, I was diagnosed with diabetes. Type two, hereditary, it’s in my family,” Porter recalled. “By March I was filing bankruptcy papers and by June of that year, 2007, I was diagnosed HIV-positive.”
Sharing how he came to be diagnosed, the actor said, “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 also opened up about why he kept his diagnosis private for so many years.
“The shame engulfed me,” he explained. “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.”
Thankfully, the actor found a strong will to survive, and to live as many others do with the virus.
“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,” he said. “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.”
He continued, “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 also talked about revealing his diagnosis to his mother only a few months ago.
“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,’” he recalled. “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.'”
He added, “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.”
Tune in to new episodes of “The Tamron Hall Show” Tuesday through Saturday on Global.