Billy Porter: ‘Pose and Pray Tell have been a proxy for my healing’

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The series Pose had its finale on Sunday. The photo above is from Saturday’s red carpet. As we learned, series star, Billy Porter, shares the same HIV+ diagnosis as his character Pray Tell. When Billy wrote his essay for Variety, he mentioned how his characters helped him process various challenges in his life. Billy said Lola in Kinky Boots allowed him to practice forgiving both his father and his stepfather, the latter who abused Billy for years. With Pray Tell, Billy was able to live openly with his HIV+ diagnosis before revealing his own. Billy said that by doing that, he’s been allowed to begin healing through Pray Tell as a result.

NOTE: The People article has a major spoiler for the Pose finale. It is not in the excerpt below but do not click on the People link if you do not want to read it.

Billy Porter’s experience playing Pray Tell on Pose has been both therapeutic and transformative amid the actor’s own experience with HIV.

Porter’s character first learned of his HIV diagnosis in the FX drama’s first season, but he later discovered he had AIDS-related lymphoma in the show’s third and final season. Porter, meanwhile, openly addressed his own HIV-positive diagnosis for the first time last month.

“Pose and Pray Tell have been a proxy for my healing,” Porter, 51, tells PEOPLE exclusively. “The trauma was so difficult. The grief was so heavy.”

“The antiretroviral drugs [for HIV] came, and everybody moved on. There’s a whole generation of us that really never got a chance to process having lived through the AIDS crisis [and] having lived through an epidemic,” he adds.

Porter — who helped provide input on the storyline based on his own abusive childhood — says practicing self-care is what helped him get through filming the more emotionally charged scenes this season.

“I really had to learn how to take care of myself in the process [through] self-care [and figuring out how to] balance boundaries,” he explains. “I really had to take care of myself. But it really just came down to how long I was inside of something. I couldn’t be in it for too long.”

[From People]

As I said before, I remember the height of the AIDS pandemic. Billy’s right, once “the cocktail” proved effective, AIDS got moved to the back burner of the national discussion and very few people processed what they went through. The first person I knew to die from AIDS was a rector at our church. They (I was in high school and had no vote) had meetings about whether they would let him stay and took communion away from him because the congregation was ignorant enough to think AIDS could be contracted that easily. His spirit was as broken as his body by the time he passed, and we watched it. I have a few stories of hands I held during that time and yet none of them are as traumatic as Billy’s, living each day with a possible death sentence inside of him. I never thought about needing to process that. I think we all could.

I love the idea of Billy finding all these ways to bring out what he needs through his characters. For everything he’s been through, to be able to walk a few miles as someone else as practice first is a wonderful gift. He has given us so much, I’m glad to know he got something from it as well. I’m sorry that Pose is going off the air but at least Billy isn’t going anywhere. He has a ton of projects coming up, the next is as Fairy Godmother in Kay Cannon’s Cinderella.

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