Many see Jonathan Van Ness as a glitter-embedded bubble of pure sunshine, but before he was bringing out the smiles on Queer Eye and Gay of Thrones, he was in a dark place after being abused by an older boy, and went through binge eating, doing the bad shit, and selling himself on Gay.com. And he also talked about finding out that he’s HIV positive when he was 25 years old.
In a New York Times interview to promote his memoir Out On Top, 32-year-old JVN got into some of the dark-sided things he writes about in his book, like how he was sexually abused as a child by an older boy from church. JVN says that he has a lot of “compounded trauma” from that, and that growing up in the small city of Quincy, Illinois, wasn’t easy since he was “too fat, femme, too loud and too unlovable.” But he didn’t let that stop him from trying to be himself and he was his high school’s first ever male cheerleader (and yes, the shit fuck asshole bullies threw beer bottles at him during games).
During his early teen years of the 90s, JVN says that he hooked up with older men he met in AOL chat rooms. And when his stepfather died, he started binge-eating, causing him to gain 70 pounds in three months. JVN wanted to leave Quincy so bad that he graduated high school early and went off to the University of Arizona in Tucson. While there, JVN got into coke, and when he blew (pun not totally intended) threw the $200 a month allowance his mom gave him, he started selling ass for money on Gay.com. JVN says he was too embarrassed to ask his mother for more money.
JVN flunked out of college in his first year, and moved back home at 19. That’s when he decided to go to the Aveda Institute in Minneapolis. Once he got his certificate, he moved to Scottsdale, Arizona to be near his dying grandmother, and eventually moved to Los Angeles. After moving to L.A., shit got even worse for him when he got into the party ‘n play scene and met a couple on Grindr who introduced him to smoking meth. He ended up going to rehab twice.
One day while working on a client’s hair, he fainted. He was also experiencing flu-like symptoms at the time, so he went to Planned Parenthood where he was diagnosed with HIV. JVN says he was “devastated.” His diagnosis led to him cleaning himself up and starting a new life using money from his trust fund. JVN’s family owns Quincy Media, a company that runs a bunch of television stations. He says he drinks and smokes weed today, but stays away from hard shit.
JVN says he has felt pressure to keep up his bubbly ray of sparkles image, but wanted to share the darker parts of his life to get people “to realize you’re never too broken to be fixed.” And the reign of Trump is why he feels the need to talk about living with HIV.
Mr. Van Ness hopes to bring attention to what he calls “gorgeous beauty moments” like that with his memoir, especially misperceptions about being H.I.V. positive. He is healthy and now describes himself as an out-and-proud “member of the beautiful H.I.V.-positive community.”
“When ‘Queer Eye’ came out, it was really difficult because I was like, ‘Do I want to talk about my status?,” he said. “And then I was like, ‘The Trump administration has done everything they can do to have the stigmatization of the L.G.B.T. community thrive around me.’” He paused before adding, “I do feel the need to talk about this.”
JVN has been. through. it., but now after going through all of that, he’s got a successful career and is causing hos to prolapse on the red carpet by dressing in Peaches ‘N Cream Barbie’s favorite serious business woman ensemble (see: above).
I can relate to parts of JVN’s story, like being a closeted teenager cruising on AOL M4M chat rooms. Those were NOT the days. Because nothing has made me lose years off my life like internally screaming whenever my sister would knock me off of AOL to use the phone right when I just met a boy who was my age (or at least told me he was my age) and lived near me. I’lll never forgive her for that!