Queer Eye's Jonathan Van Ness Recalls the Day He Was Diagnosed HIV-Positive After Fainting
Jonathan Van Ness is sharing his story to shed light on the HIV-positive community.
During an interview on the Today show Tuesday to discuss his newly-released memoir, Over the Top, the Queer Eye star recalled the day he tested positive for HIV after fainting while doing a client’s hair seven years ago. He also details the journey in his book, as well as his experience with abuse and addiction.
“I was trying to push through. I had not been feeling amazing,” he told Hoda Kotb. “I was doing a very good client’s hair … She was one of the three or four faithful loyal clients I had in St. Louis — it was kind of a rough go. And I was like, ‘Let me just pull this partial highlight together and be about my day.’ ”
“The next thing I knew I was on my back on the ground and I was like, ‘Where am I? This doesn’t feel good,’ ” he continued. “So I went home and went to bed and then the next day I went to Planned Parenthood and that was where I found out that I had HIV.”
“It was the moment that you dread hearing,” he said. “It’s the thing that I had feared, which I also talk about in the book, it was something that I had been very fearful of as a small child. I was born in 1987, so growing up in the midst of the HIV-AIDS crisis and having two parents who were at the age of seeing people just — we lost an entire generation of people.”
Van Ness, now the beloved hair and grooming guru on the hit Netflix makeover show, hopes the memoir will bring attention to certain misconceptions about being HIV positive. For starters, he’s healthy and happy.
“So there’s a thing called a viral load and that’s how much copies of the virus is in you,” he explained. “And you take a pill every day and it basically kills all the copies of the virus in your blood and that means you can achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load. There’s been a lot of studies … that basically, undetectable equals un-transmittable.”
“So as long as you’re adhering to your medication and seeing your doctor every three months — I mean, I’ve picked up figure skating, I’ve done nothing but get cuter and be able to work longer and harder hours,” he continued. “I feel like I’m thriving!”
He also touched on how the experience ultimately strengthened his relationship with his mother, who at the time had just lost her husband.
“I think it’s important to note that while my mom did accept me completely, I think that acceptance, it can be a little bit of a muscle,” he said. “So we didn’t start there. And I think that also relationships — and my therapist always tells me this — relationships grow through disruption.”
“So my mom and I, there was a lot of painful stuff that happened and us being able to come back to each other is always what made our relationship stronger,” he explained. “But my mom is the most incredible mom ever. … [She] has given me the space and the love that I don’t know if anyone else could have given me. I’ve really put my mom through an emotional, all-around individual gymnastics championship like, 17,000 times and she’s just stuck it every time. I love her so much.”
And Van Ness, 32, has no regrets about sharing some of the most intimate, deeply personal details of his life with the world — even though he admits it’s been a strange experience.
“Lin-Manuel [Miranda] messaged me on Twitter this morning and that’s always a really surreal experience, in and of itself,” he told Kotb. “He was like, ‘Just sending you some love, I’m sure it’s a crazy time.’ I said, ‘Thank you so much, doing well, it’s very Twilight Zone up in here.’ So, yeah, it feels kind of Twilight Zone-ish. But I do have this very kind of calm sense of: I did this for a reason and I stand by those reasons and I think it is really important for me to speak about the things I’ve talked about in this book. I think it was the right thing to do.”
Van Ness first opened up about his health and history of addiction in an interview with The New York Times published over the weekend, just days before the memoir’s release.
“I’ve had nightmares every night for the past three months because I’m scared to be this vulnerable with people,” he said. “There are issues that need to be talked about.”
In the book, Van Ness reveals having been abused by an older boy at a young age, telling the Times: “For a lot of people who are survivors of sexual assault at a young age, we have a lot of compounded trauma.”
The reality star, who has since turned his life around and said he hasn’t used hard drugs in years, described himself as a healthy and proud “member of the beautiful HIV positive community.”
“When Queer Eye came out, it was really difficult because I was like, ‘Do I want to talk about my status?’ ” he told the Times. “And then I was like, ‘The Trump administration has done everything they can do to have the stigmatization of the LGBT community thrive around me.’ I do feel the need to talk about this.”
Over the Top is out now.