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Billy Porter on surviving sexual abuse: ‘My voice saved me’

“Still, to this day, I’m not OK," he said.

Billy Porter is opening up about being sexually abused as a child.

His mother remarried when he was 7 and the Emmy and Tony winner told People his stepfather began abusing him one night after they talked about the birds and the bees, with the abuse taking place at least twice a week over a five-year period.

“As a child, I became a grown man,” the "Cinderella" star said. “In my mind, I lived that experience as if it was an affair. Because it was loving, it was nurturing, it was confusing. ‘Cause it was touch. It was what I needed; it was the illusion of care, of a big, strong man caring for me. Still, to this day, I’m not OK.”

Porter, who revealed in May that he’s been HIV-positive since 2007, says his identity has not always sat well with others and that his voice “has always saved me,” particularly in church, even though others told him the way he performed was a “shame before God.”

“My Black queerness made everyone uncomfortable,” he said.

In addition to being abused, he was beaten in first grade to the point he woke up in a hospital.

“They crucified Jesus, baby. You’ll be fine,” he says his mother told him.

Musical theater ultimately gave him a sense of purpose, crystallized with a Tony Award for "Kinky Boots" and an Emmy Award for "Pose."

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“I don’t think I’d be alive if I hadn’t discovered it,” he said. “If I hadn’t seen those things, like ‘The Wiz’ and ‘Dreamgirls,’ then I never would’ve been able to dream outside of my circumstance.”

Porter, whose new memoir, "Unprotected," comes out Oct. 19, said he started going to therapy when he was 25, electing to go back when the pandemic began in 2020. He has been married to Adam Smith since 2017, noting that his abuse has put a strain on their union.

“It’s really, really hard in a marriage, you know, when you’re trying to figure out how to be intimate with somebody,” he said. “But we’re growing together and healing together. It’s a lot of hard work. Let me say, it’s worth it.”

Porter appears content with his place in life right now.

“At 52 years old, I am getting to the deepest parts of my truth,” he said. “I’m having a rebirth — on my own terms.”

He rolls with criticism lobbed at him, even on Twitter ,where people may put him on blast.

“I am not adjudicating my life on social media,” he said. “Nobody can do what I can do. That is not ego. That is just fact. Y’all can say what you want, because you’re breathing the fire of hate into an ocean of love.”