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Jonathan Van Ness on Vulnerability and Living With HIV
Jonathan Van Ness covers Self magazine.
Self magazine debuted stunning new photography of Jonathan Van Ness, who in the cover story opened up about living with HIV during a global pandemic.
Speaking with journalist Mathew Rodriguez, the Queer Eye star got frank about the impact his coming out as HIV-positive last year had on the community. “Being a survivor of abuse,” he said, “we have this ability to disassociate. I think I really, truly disassociated from feeling positive feedback or negative feedback. I had such a guard up…. I just felt like this is the most scary, vulnerable thing I could ever, ever do.”
See more inspiring quotes and images from Van Ness below. And read the full cover story at Self.com. Photography by Heather Hazzan and courtesy of Self.
On keeping safe during the pandemic:
“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.”
On earlier fears of disclosing his status:
“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 says. Much like when he received his diagnosis, he remembers the decision to come out publicly with HIV as “really permanent.” He later decided: “if that’s the only facet that people are going to see me for, that’s on them, that’s not on me.”
On coping with rejection:
“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.” “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.”
On quarantining in Austin after Queer Eye's production shut down due to Covid-19:
“I didn’t expect to fall in love with Austin as much when we came here for shooting,” he says. “And then we came, and everything shut down. I had my four cats and was on this lake at an Airbnb, and I was like, Do I love Austin? Is this a liberal bastion in Texas? And it kind of is. I started exploring and was like, Oh, my God, I want to move here. Then I found a house, and I loved it.”
On his feelings of guilt when he thinks about the way his success and privilege have allowed him to weather the COVID-19 pandemic pretty well, especially as someone living with HIV:
“Anytime you hear about a respiratory pandemic and living with a chronic illness, whether it’s HIV, diabetes—whatever your chronic illness is—I think, yes, you are going to be more nervous,” Van Ness says. “There are not enough resources in the HIV social safety net anywhere. And when it comes to Black people, Black women, people of color, the assault on Planned Parenthood—there isn’t enough access anywhere,” Van Ness says. “And the access and the care that we do have, you constantly have to fight for it. If you turn your back for even one second, those budgets are fucking slashed and the access isn’t there. And the Trump administration has been really fucking difficult; [it has] just made everything much more difficult for folks to get access.” “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,” Van Ness 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?”
On having a platform as a gender-nonconforming queer person living with HIV:
“I just want to do a good job. I want to do right by baby JVN. And so I put a lot of pressure on myself to try to say the right thing, be authentic, and try to use what I have beneficially for other people.” But he knows he sometimes needs to step away to decompress. “I can’t use my platform and lift other people up and educate and amplify and do all the things I want to do to help make things better if I’m so burnt out and under so much pressure that everything’s not coming across,” he says. “You have to have enough gas in your tank to be able to do the work.”
On the evolution of his understanding of "undetectable" and how transmission of HIV works:On the evolution of his understanding of "undetectable" and how transmission of HIV works:
“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 adds: “Yeah, he was really cute, but anyway. Focus.”