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Opening Up: Jonathan Van Ness’s HIV Journey

Everyone knows Jonathan Van Ness as the fierce and sassy “Queer Eye” grooming expert who boosts moods and give affirmations. What the world doesn’t know is that Jonathan’s road to self-love and acceptance wasn’t easy — it took seven years for him to finally share his story.

In an interview with The New York Times, JVN spoke out about how he had nightmares every night for the past three months because he was “scared to be this vulnerable with people.” JVN felt that it was time to share his story and be transparent with his listeners.

He finally revealed his secret: He is HIV-positive. In his recently published book, “Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love,” he was able to share his experiences and clear up misunderstandings that many people have about the HIV virus. The goal was to remove the constant stigma surrounding those diagnosed with HIV because it should not be taboo in today’s society. This disease needs to be just as accepted as any other illness. The lack of community support is causing many people to feel publicly discriminated and they miss out on the treatment they need as a result. The fact that JVN, such a popular influencer and television star, was so vulnerable and had no filter when sharing his story is so important because it has changed lives in so many ways. It’s both educating and empowering, and he made a courageous move and spoke out about the disease when many people perceived this subject to be off-limits.

All this time, JVN was afraid to talk about his past sex and drug addictions. These were the results of his sexual abuse as a child. He mentioned how it started with a boy from church that first took advantage of him during a playdate which caused him to have so much built-up trauma. It wasn’t long before JVN was bullied for being “too fat, too femme, too loud and too unlovable,” he claimed.

When he became the first male cheerleader, people threw things at him on the sidelines and spread rumors about him and other boys which also caused him to have constant self-deprecating thoughts. These thoughts turned into bad decisions and before he knew it, he was spending a majority of his time in the AOL chat rooms meeting older men for sexual pleasure while underage. After his stepfather passed, he turned to junk food for comfort and gained over seventy pounds in three months. From there, school and self-care were no longer a priority; JVN spent his allowances on cocaine until he had no more money. He began advertising for sex in order to earn more money to keep doing drugs every weekend. After beginning a beautician program and becoming an assistant at a Sally Hershberger salon to follow his passions in style and beauty, it all got worse. He began smoking methamphetamine and ended up going to rehab twice.

Nothing changed until he collapsed one day in the hair salon.

That day, he tested positive for HIV — he was only twenty-five years old. From that moment forward, he cut off all hard drugs and started a clean slate in Los Angeles. He then became the hit star of a parody series called “Gay of Thrones.” Shortly after, he made a great impression on the producers of “Queer Eye.” After seven years, he was finally ready to open up and clear out all of the common misconceptions people had about the virus and to show people that they are never alone. When he realized that he tested positive, he thought this was a straight shot to death — especially after growing up in a time when the HIV/AIDS crisis was booming and traumatically affecting stars from all over like Freddie Mercury, Magic Johnson and Eazy-E. It was a scary time, and JVN was unaware that the advancements in treatments were better than before and could help someone infected in no time.

JVN stated, “I take a pill every day now, and I see my doctor every three months, but other than that, I’ve done nothing but get cuter, realize my dreams, look better topless than I’ve ever looked before, and my new figure-skating curves? Don’t even get me started. Postdiagnosis, I’ve accomplished more than many HIV-negative people will ever have the chance to do.”

Now that this is such a hot topic, and JVN is being praised by many for being so transparent, the stigma needs to go away entirely. This stigma may be preventing people from getting tested, using the proper prevention tools or getting treatment if needed. This could ultimately end up with more people getting infected by inadvertently transmitting the disease to others or developing AIDS if left untreated. Some say that the hardest part about overcoming this stigma is the social impact; the medicines work great, but the lack of community support is what really alters the HIV-positive community. Thank goodness JVN made the brave decision to step up and share his story because without it, there would still be so much confusion and hatred towards the issue. The misconceptions are nowhere near being all cleared up, but it is still a step forward towards getting rid of the ignorance many people have about HIV. People need to be aware and acknowledge the various sides of HIV so they can get access to care if needed.

JVN’s memoir was a way for him to express himself and tell his story without being interrupted from the constant negativity in the world. JVN now sees himself as an “out-and-proud member of the beautiful HIV-positive community” and is affecting lives in so many ways by being honest about who he truly is. You’re doing some absolutely #shamazing things, JVN!

Lauren Reho is a second-year public relations major and French minor at the University of Florida. She loves vintage fashion, travel, and Broadway, and has a passion for promoting inclusivity and diversity in the communications industry. One day, she hopes to work in her favorite destination, New York City, and live out her true Carrie Bradshaw dreams. You can get to know her more through her Instagram and Twitter @laurenreho
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