Billy Porter revealed that he’s been living with HIV since 2007.
HIV, a virus that can lead to AIDS, attacks the body’s immune system; there is no cure, but it can be managed effectively.
“I don’t have any fear about it anymore,” the Pose actor told The Hollywood Reporter. “Yes, I am the statistic, but I’ve transcended it.”
Billy Porter is making his spotlight count. This week, the Pose actor revealed that he’s been living with HIV since 2007, long before he became a household name.
“I got tested every six months, like you were supposed to,” Porter, 51, told The Hollywood Reporter. “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.’” This was shortly after he received a type 2 diabetes diagnosis in the same year.
HIV was not a career-ending diagnosis for Porter, but it was one that he says carried plenty of shame. Now, that’s no more—like his Pose character, Pray Tell, the actor is challenging the stigma around living with HIV.
What does it mean to be HIV-positive?
HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If left untreated, the disease can progress to AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, which badly damages the immune system.
Most people contract HIV through anal or vaginal sex, as well as by sharing needles, the CDC explains. Only certain body fluids can transmit HIV, including blood, semen, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breastmilk; these must come into direct contact with a mucous membrane, open wound, or the bloodstream for transmission to occur.
HIV has three stages, and each has unique symptoms; certain patients may never feel sick at all, meaning that regular testing is crucial to detecting the virus before it progresses. HIV-positive people with undetectable levels of the virus in their blood cannot transmit it to others, the CDC says.
Is there a cure for HIV?
There is currently no effective cure for HIV, the CDC explains, meaning that people who contract the virus carry it for life. But with proper medical care (called antiretroviral therapy, or ART), like Porter has received, the disease can be managed effectively, letting HIV-positive people lead long, healthy lives with a partner.
“I’m going to die from something else before I die from that,” Porter told THR. “I go to the doctor, and I know what’s going on in my body. I’m the healthiest I’ve been in my entire life.”
Why is there a stigma around HIV?
Since the HIV/AIDS epidemic began in the 1980s, the illness has carried a stigma because of its outsize impact on men who have sex with men. But anyone can contract the disease—and now, anyone with access to proper medical care can manage it, too.
“For a long time, everybody who needed to know, knew—except for my mother,” Porter, who came out at 16, told THR. “My shame was really connected to my relationship with my mother and my ex-relationship with the church.” Porter eventually opened up to his mother during the pandemic, on his last day of shooting Pose, finding her to be much more accepting than he expected.
These days, living a healthy life with HIV is possible—and more visible than ever. In addition to Porter, celebrities like Charlie Sheen and Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness have publicly announced their diagnoses, helping to curb lingering stigma around the virus.
“I hope this frees me so that I can experience real, unadulterated joy, so that I can experience peace, so that I can experience intimacy, so that I can have sex without shame,” Porter said in the THR interview. “Look at me. Yes, I am the statistic, but I’ve transcended it. This is what HIV-positive looks like now.”
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