Billy Porter wows audiences in his role as Pray Tell on Pose. Now, the Emmy, Grammy, and Tony winner is sitting down with Tamron Hall in his first interview since revealing that he is HIV-positive. The talented performer discussed his diagnosis and his will to survive.
Porter shared that he was diagnosed in 2007. He recalled:
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.
The shame engulfed me. 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.
Porter also delved into his will to survive, explaining:
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. 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. 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.
Watch clips of the interview below.