Porter said he was diagnosed in 2007 and that, at the time, he decided to tell everyone who needed to know, except his mother. He also kept his diagnosis as quiet as possible in his professional life, fearing it “would just be another way for people to discriminate against me in an already discriminatory profession.”
Porter said that the Covid-19 pandemic afforded him a chance to focus on self-care and contend with his diagnosis and other lingering traumas in his life, like being sexually abused by his stepfather when he was a child and coming out as gay in the middle of the AIDS crisis.
Porter described his trauma as “my engine for a very long time” and noted that different roles had helped him work through those issues in the past. His Kinky Boots character Lola, for instance, offered him the “gift of practicing forgiveness in a narrative eight times a week for three years.” And his character Pray Tell on the FX series Pose, who is also HIV positive, gave him the “opportunity to work through the shame of [HIV]… [and] to say everything that I wanted to say through a surrogate.”
Porter also spoke about why he kept the diagnosis from his mother, saying she’d already faced “so much persecution by her religious community because of my queerness.” His original plan had been to wait until after her death to reveal his diagnosis publicly, but he recently changed his mind and, on the last day of filming Pose’s final season, he called his mother and “ripped the Band-Aid off.”
Porter continued: “She said, ‘You’ve been carrying this around for 14 years? Don’t ever do this again. I’m your mother, I love you no matter what. And I know I didn’t understand how to do that early on, but it’s been decades now.’ And it’s all true. It’s my own shame. Years of trauma makes a human being skittish. But the truth shall set you free. I feel my heart releasing.”
As to the current state of his health, Porter said: “This is what HIV positive looks like now. I’m going to die from something else before I die from that. My T-cell levels are twice yours because of this medication… I’m the healthiest I’ve been in my entire life. So it’s time to let all that go and tell a different story. There’s no more stigma — let’s be done with that.”
Porter closed by noting that, after telling his mother about his diagnosis, he told the entire cast and crew of Pose as well. “The truth is the healing,” he said. “And I hope this frees me. 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. This is for me. I’m doing this for me. I have too much shit to do, and I don’t have any fear about it anymore. I told my mother — that was the hurdle for me. I don’t care what anyone has to say. You’re either with me or simply move out of the way.”