It is easy to see our TV and cultural stars as impeccable, godly, perfect beings. Jonathan Van Ness wants to remind us that this is false and that we are beautiful even though we are broken.
On Tuesday, the Queer Eye star and hair specialist released his new memoir, Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love, in which he opens up about topics such as abuse, addiction, sexuality, and HIV. In an interview with Alex Hagwood of The New York Times published on Saturday, we get a small window into his world.
Van Ness, while being repeatedly praised by fans he quietly but respectfully ushers away during the interview, talks openly about his struggles with drug addiction—he has made multiple trips to rehab and suffered multiple times from relapse—for the first time in his newfound fame.
Also foundational to his story is sexual abuse experienced in his youth. He sheds necessary and powerful light on this issue, saying, “For a lot of people who are survivors of sexual assault at a young age, we have a lot of compounded trauma,” in his interview with Hagwood. Issues such as these, at Boston College and in society as a whole, often carry with them deep stigma, and having someone as visible as Jonathan Van Ness talk about his own struggles does much to illuminate stories that will begin to fight this stigma.
In that vein, perhaps the most powerful revelation of Van Ness’s interview came when he publicly discussed being HIV positive for the first time. The HIV-positive community, heavily concentrated within the LGBTQ+ community, faces steep challenges in order to gain social acceptance, and an influencer talking about his status sheds light on a group of people so often cast aside by society.
In the days following the release of this interview, Van Ness continued to discuss his life as a person living with HIV in an interview on NBC’s Today, specifically mentioning “undetectable = untransmittable,” an important message that dispels stigma and misunderstanding around HIV. For those unfamiliar, the latest medical research suggests that if someone takes medication for HIV that makes their viral load undetectable, the virus becomes untransmittable.
Jonathan Van Ness, of course, is not new to breaking barriers, as he, along with his Queer Eye co-stars, is one of the more visible openly queer people on television. He also came out as non-binary this past June, making him one of the most visible members of the oft erased community. But there is no question that, in his book and the media tour to promote it, JVN (as his fans affectionately refer to him) is making strides in visibility for communities that our community usually pushes to the edge.