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Queer Eye star Jonathan Van Ness marked World AIDS Day with a candid and heartfelt interview to Self magazine primarily about living with HIV and life during the COVID pandemic.
Van Ness, 33, was diagnosed positive in 2012 and publicly announced his status before his memoir, Over The Top, was published in the fall of last year.
He says he worried in advance that revealing his status would change the way people thought of him.
“There’s a younger part in me that was scared that if I did come out with my status and talk about it, that that was going to be the only facet of me that people were going to want to talk about or think about or acknowledge,” he said. However, he reached the understanding that, “if that’s the only facet that people are going to see me for, that’s on them, that’s not on me.”
If you’re HIV positive, on treatment, and have a sustained, undetectable viral load, there is “effectively no risk” of passing the virus on to others through sex, says the CDC. Despite this, there remains a great amount of stigma around HIV. Van Ness says he has experienced it with potential partners.
“Sometimes rejected, sometimes not. It just depends. I’ve experienced everything from ‘No big deal at all’ to ‘That’s a big deal for me. Thanks for telling me,’ and then not talking to you anymore,” he said.
“I’m not going to lie. The rejection sucks. I think that people are getting a lot more informed, but the stigma and the ignorance still remain.”
He reveals that as a teenager, he was also ignorant about the facts around transmission and turned down a guy who told him he was positive. It’s a decision he has regretted.
“I was 18, and a gorgeous muscle daddy disclosed, when I’d already had him over from Grindr hunting. But I didn’t understand undetectable, and I didn’t understand pills, and I didn’t understand transmission, and I didn’t understand anything,” he says. “To this day, I literally think about him, and I’m like, You could have S’ed that D, honey, and done all of it, and it would have been fine—and you just didn’t know the rules.”
He talks about the production of Queer Eye being suspended because of the pandemic, and living in Austin, Texas, while filming was halted. He also says he’s not embarrassed about taking extra precautions with his health because of coronavirus.
“I am that person in goggles and a mask and a face shield at Whole Foods, but I don’t care,” he says. “I think it’s chic. I love it. Let me give you full hazmat realness out here. I don’t mind if it keeps me more safe.”
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He also acknowledges the privileged position he enjoys, thanks to his success on Queer Eye.
“One thing I struggle with a lot is thinking about what I would have done in this pandemic if this entire situation happened, like, four years ago,” he says. “If I didn’t have a platform and I didn’t have all these opportunities—what would I have been doing if I still had my studio salon space?”