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Jonathan Van Ness Speaks Out about Living with HIV, Highlights the Importance of Getting Tested

Jonathan Van Ness, discusses his struggle with HIV, how long it takes to develop symptoms of HIV, and the relation between HIV and AIDS.
SSYoung | Wikimedia Commons

            Reality TV star, queer rights advocate, and hair guru, Jonathan Van Ness, has come out recently, but most certainly not out of the closet.

In recent weeks, Jonathan Van Ness, made famous by the Netflix hit series “Queer Eye”, has released several statements surrounding their life with HIV, being an addict, and being sexually abused.

Ness’ decision to come out revolves around the release of their book “Over the Top”. Their book, which came out just last week, recounts several stories surrounding these aspects of their life.

“It’s hard for me to be as open as I want to be when there are certain things I haven’t shared publicly,” Van Ness stated in an interview.

            The interview, as well as the novel, shows a much more serious side of Van Ness that fans and media are not used to seeing. They discuss several traumatic experiences, such as being abused in Church as a child, deep-rooted self-esteem issues, drug use that would become an addiction, to now living with HIV.

             That the self-described “the effervescent, gregarious majestic center-part-blow-dry cotton-candy figure-skating queen” would share such personal news came as a shock to everyone. In an interview with CNN, Van Ness explains why they chose to do so before the book’s release.

            “Part of it is that I wanted to heal. And the other part of it is that, you know, living publicly and experiencing the success of ‘Queer Eye’ and experiencing this platform,” said Van Ness.

“We don’t grow when we are comfortable and I have had a lot of time to grow comfortable with my HIV status. I’ve had a long time to process and heal from the abuse that I endured in my life and I am ready to share it now.”

            Not long after this interview, Van Ness teamed up with Planned Parenthood to create a video on the importance of getting tested for STIs, and why protecting access to STI testing under Title X is vital. This partnership was inspired by the fact that Van Ness got their diagnosis at a Planned Parenthood.

            While Van Ness does have the type of fame that could draw attention to an issue such as this, many stereotypes and false claims about HIV out there do occur. Van Ness defies one of the most important ones to debunk: you can’t live a happy life with HIV.

            There is no denying that everyone’s favorite hair guru has been through a hard life, he is lively and glowing. HIV is no longer the death sentence like it was in the 80s.

There are medications and treatments that can increase the lifespan and quality of life for somebody with an HIV diagnosis. You can very much keep up your everyday life with some minor adjustments.

There is a lot of misunderstandings about how HIV and AIDS get transmitted from person to person. You can’t pass either through kissing, hugging, sharing food, insect bites, toilet seats, sneezing and/or coughing, or sweating.

You can only get it from passing bodily fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluid, anal mucous, and breastmilk from person to another. Ways these bodily fluids can be passed from one person to another is through unprotected sex, through childbirth and breastfeeding (from mother to child, injecting drugs with needles that have the blood of a person with HIV or AIDS on it, and blood donations that are infected.

            The final misconception is the most important piece of information, not only to Van Ness’ story but to anyone living with HIV or AIDS. The two are different. People with HIV are not living with AIDS, though it could one day grow to that. There are three stages of HIV: Acute HIV infection, chronic HIV infection, and AIDS.

            Acute HIV infection has several symptoms that can be attributed to many things. These symptoms include headache, fatigue, aching muscles, sore throat, and a red rash that doesn’t itch.

If you have symptoms like these, it’s possible that you’ve been exposed to somebody with HIV in the past six weeks. If you have any of these symptoms, you may need to go to a doctor and get tested.

            Chronic HIV infection brings on a different experience. Once you enter this stage, this flu-like symptoms of acute HIV infection leave, and you will go through an asymptomatic stage that can last up to ten years.

It is pivotal in this stage to start taking medication, and as early on as possible. Without treatment, you become vulnerable to other infections.

AIDS is the final stage. Symptoms at this stage, if not medicated, and without a proactive lifestyle change in a previous stage, can include: swollen lymph nodes, a fever that lasts more than ten days, purple spots that don’t go away, and unexplained weight loss.

Without medication, a person at this stage can only live up to three years. The most important thing to remember about this stage is that with treatment you can live a long and happy life.

By: Madison Danielle Starr

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