Jonathan Van Ness — Photo: Matt Monath
Jonathan Van Ness, star of Netflix’s Queer Eye, has come out HIV-positive in an interview with the New York Times.
Van Ness, who handles grooming as part of the makeover show’s “Fab Five,” also revealed that he is a former sex worker and meth addict.
The 32-year-old discussed his new memoir, Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self Love, and said in the interview that he’d had “nightmares every night for the past three months because I’m scared to be this vulnerable with people.”
Van Ness said the memoir deals with a number of difficult topics in his life, including being a survivor of sexual abuse after he was assaulted by an older boy at his church.
Describing himself in the book as a flamboyant child with supportive parents, as a teenager Van Ness said he would use AOL chatrooms to meet older men for sex, and, while attending the University of Arizona in Tucson, started advertising himself as a sex worker on since-closed Gay.com.
Van Ness also deals with his substance abuse in the book, revealing that he spent $200 a month — his allowance from his mother — on cocaine while in college. He ultimately dropped out at 19, enrolled in a beautician course, and then moved to Los Angeles in his early 20s, where he became addicted to meth following a Grindr hookup where a couple introduced him to smoking the drug. Van Ness said he went to rehab twice and relapsed both times.
He learned his HIV status when he was 25, after fainting while highlighting a client’s hair, with tests revealing that his flu-like symptoms were due to HIV. “That day was just as devastating as you would think it would be,” he writes in his book.
The Times reports that Van Ness has since “cleaned up his act; he still drinks and smokes marijuana but says he hasn’t done hard drugs in years.”
Van Ness, who said he is a proud “member of the beautiful HIV-positive community,” said he debated revealing his HIV status after Netflix’s Queer Eye reboot debuted last year.
“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.’”
He added: “I do feel the need to talk about this.”
In a post on Instagram, Van Ness noted the Times interview and the “extremely difficult times” he deals with in his book.
“Having the opportunity to write my book and share my story with you is the most important opportunity I’ve ever had,” he wrote. “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.”
Van Ness’ co-stars on Queer Eye offered their support in the comments of his post, with Bobby Berk writing, “Love you baby boy. So proud of you.” Tan France shared similar sentiments, writing, “LOVE YOU, JACKI,” as did Antoni Porowski, who wrote, “Love you proud of you.”
In an interview with Britain’s The Observer, Van Ness expanded on the news of his HIV diagnosis, saying he “really took some time to figure out how to put my life together.”
Noting that he is now undetectable, Van Ness said that, after getting the initial positive result, he asked his doctor if he could live to be 75.
“She was, like, ‘I will keep you alive long enough to die of a heart attack or cancer like everyone else,’ and then she laughed uncontrollably,” he said.
He added that he wants his memoir — and discussion around his HIV diagnosis — to help those going through similar experiences to his own, or to avoid them altogether.
“It occurred to me: what if everything I’ve ever been through was preparing me for this moment – to be strong enough to share this, and to share it on my own terms,” he said. “Part of that for me is to process what’s happened, but the bigger part is that I wanted to do something to move the conversation forward in a meaningful way around HIV/AIDS, and what it is to live with HIV, and to humanize and normalize a lot of the things I talk about.”
Earlier this year, Van Ness also came out as nonbinary, telling Out magazine that the older he gets, “the more I think that I’m nonbinary — I’m gender nonconforming.”
“Like, some days I feel like a man, but then other days I feel like a woman,” he continued, adding, “I think my energies are really all over the place.”
Van Ness, who prefers he/him pronouns, said he thinks gender “is used to separate and divide.”
“It’s this social construct that I don’t really feel like I fit into the way I used to,” he said. “I always used to think ‘Oh, I’m like a gay man,’ but I think any way I can let little boys and little girls know that they can express themselves and they can like be — like, making iconic partnerships with brands like essie no matter now they present is really important and exciting.”
Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self Love is available to pre-order now and releases Sept. 24.
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Editor’s note: This article was updated to note Van Ness’ nonbinary identity and preferred pronouns.