In a lengthy and intimate conversation with the Hollywood Reporter, ‘Pose’ star Billy Porter broke his silence about his HIV-positive diagnosis, the product of months of therapy to heal the trauma facilitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
After diving into the deep waters of the baggage, he had been carrying — gender identity, sexual abuse, and the AIDS crisis — Porter finally understood that his diagnosis wasn’t a punishment.
“I’m living so that I can tell the story,” he told the Hollywood Reporter. “There’s a whole generation that was here, and I stand on their shoulders. I can be who I am in this space, at this time, because of the legacy that they left for me. So it’s time to put my big boy pants on and talk.”
Billy Porter begins his recounting from a place of honesty, assuming the shame that came with the diagnosis he received that 2007, a year he calls “the worst year of my life.”
“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,” he said.
‘Let’s end the stigma’
The process of making peace with who he is today began, for Billy Porter, in the skin of his character in Kinky Boots. Lola had to forgive her father out loud in the middle of the stage, and Porter had to practice forgiveness in a narrative eight times a week, for three years.
Similarly, with the arrival of Pose, he was able to work through the shame of being HIV-positive in the skin of another character, or “through a surrogate,” as Porter puts it.
But when reality ceases to be a script, that’s when the dismantling of the stigma begins.
“I survived so that I could tell the story. That’s what I’m here for,” Porter said, admitting that much of the struggle to break the stigma comes simply because of the shame that [the contagion] had happened in the first place.
“But look at me. Yes, I am the statistic, but I’ve transcended it. This is what HIV-positive looks like now. I’m going to die from something else before I die from that.”
“I’m so much more than that diagnosis,” he sentenced.
With information from the Hollywood Reporter.