Let’s Get Real: Reality TV and HIV
BY Neal Broverman
November 13 2012 8:05 AM ET
Ongina (or Ryan Ong Palao, pictured left), the bald beauty and fan favorite on the first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, also wears her status proudly.
“It’s important that people with HIV are represented in a positive way, because being HIV-positive is not easy,” Ongina says. “People should continue to get care and attention if they are positive and stay well-protected and educated if they are negative.”
So why has reality TV produced so many HIV-positive celebrities, while actors and other high-profile people with the disease—models, athletes, fashion designers—seem so reluctant to disclose?
“[Many reality TV personalities] never expected or aspired to be actors or celebrities, so our personas are not preconceived or contrived,” says Mackenroth, discussing why reality TV produces HIV-positive role models, rather than more traditional entertainment. Since some reality contestants are less concerned about their image, Mackenroth suggests, they’re less frightened about coming forward about their status.
Judging from the popularity of reality shows, people are invested in the personalities who appear on them. That attachment may make it more powerful, as opposed to celebrities who live their personal lives off-camera, when they disclose publicly.
“I think in some ways people have a closer connection to reality TV stars versus scripted TV/film actors,” Ongina says. “It’s more relatable when someone is watching reality TV and the person comes out as HIV-positive. It feels authentic.”