"You’re strong, you’re a Kelly Clarkson song, you got this."
It feels apt to open a piece on Queer Eye star Jonathan Van Ness with a quote about resilence from the man himself. He’s a pop culture phenomenon who epitomises optimism as a form of protest, a political activist who speaks truth, fabulously, to power — and now, an out-and-proud "member of the beautiful HIV positive community."
Van Ness, who identifies as gender nonbinary but prefers he/him pronouns, writes about his diagnosis in his new book Over The Top, first reported from a candid interview in a Manhattan cafe with the New York Times.
"I've had nightmares every night for the past three months because I'm scared to be this vulnerable with people,” he told the newspaper.
But he decided to go public about it to fight a prevailing global stigma that continues to shame people into keeping their HIV status a secret.
Having the opportunity to write my book and share my story with you is the most important opportunity I’ve ever had. The first article about the book came out today from the @nytimes & I’m relieved I can speak fully about the things that shape my experience in life. The book speaks to some extremely difficult times but it’s also filled with my humor, joy and voice & I can’t wait to share it with you fully. Thanks so much for your support so far, it means the world. Article link in bio 🏳️🌈 📸 Isak Tiner words by Alex Hawgood
The memoir shares a side of Van Ness he’s previously kept to himself. He writes about being sexually assaulted as a young child by a boy in church, triggering a string of sexual affairs with much older men as a teenager. It led to an addiction to sex and drugs that culminated in his HIV diagnosis, tested at Planned Parenthood after fainting while working in a hair salon aged 25.
“That day was just as devastating as you would think it would be,” he wrote in the book.
It’s taken years for the 33-year-old to feel ready to share his diagnosis with the world.
“When Queer Eye came out, it was really difficult because I was like, ‘do I want to talk about my status?’” he told the New York Times. “And then I was like, ‘the Trump administration has done everything they can do to have the stigmatisation of the LGBT community thrive around me… I do feel the need to talk about this.’”
“These are all difficult subjects to talk about on a makeover show about hair and makeup,” he added. “That doesn’t mean Queer Eye is less valid, but I want people to realise you’re never too broken to be fixed.”
The “Queer Eye” star Jonathan Van Ness opens up to The New York Times about being an addict, a sexual abuse survivor and H.I.V. positive https://t.co/WdEJ6oQeGG— The New York Times (@nytimes) September 21, 2019
HIV — or Human Immunodeficiency Virus — weakens the immune system, and can lead to AIDS, a late stage of the disease where the immune system is so severely damaged that you’re vulnerable to other illnesses or infections, according to Britain’s National Health Service (NHS).
However, if you’re on the right treatment, you cannot pass HIV on.
The NHS highlights that it’s also impossible to catch the virus through sweat, urine, or saliva. But it can be transmitted through blood or semen — which is why the most common way of getting HIV is through sex without a condom.
There are approximately 37 million people around the world who are living with HIV. However, many still go untreated. Although there is not yet a human cure, there have recently been successful tests on mice with gene-editing technology, described by scientists as the “cusp of a scientific revolution.”
Van Ness’ announcement came a week after Welsh rugby legend Gareth Thomas — the first rugby union player to publicly come out as gay a decade ago — also shared his HIV diagnosis in an emotional video. And just like Thomas, support for his bravery came from all over the world.
We ended up having a huge conversation with our boys last night about the AIDS crisis of the late 80s - mid 90s, how it devastated communities, where that left us, the state of play now. We talked for over an hour. That's because of @jvn - my kids love him. Brave and good man. <3— Sali Hughes (@salihughes) September 23, 2019
wow my queer trans ass has so much love for @jvn making moves in vulnerability and leadership for the community wowowow— MILES (@TheMilesMcKenna) September 22, 2019
It's so meaningful to see celebrities with HIV and other STIs living their lives openly and with joy. @jvn telling their story and thriving in public is making my heart explode today.— ella dawson (@brosandprose) September 21, 2019