Sarah Grace Goodlen
Anyone who has seen Netflix’s reboot of “Queer Eye” knows hairstylist Jonathon Van Ness is not afraid to be himself. The 32-year-old challenges gender norms by sporting “womens” clothes like dresses and heels, as well keeping up his famous mustache and long hair. However, Van Ness has recently revealed in his memoir “Over The Top” that he has had to keep one aspect of himself a secret: he is living with HIV.
The stigma against those who have HIV/AIDS has perpetuated even now in 2019. They are seen as dirty and doomed. Despite the fact that heterosexuals are able to contract HIV just as any LGBTQ+ person is, it is also still seen as a “gay disease.” Not only is this just factually incorrect, it puts more people in danger. You are not immune from HIV/AIDS just because you are straight and failing to acknowledge that puts you and your partners at risk.
Those living with HIV have a lot more resources than they did during the dark times of the 1980’s AIDS epidemic. There is still no cure but antiretroviral therapy can reduce the amount of virus in an infected person’s bodily fluids, which reduces the risk of transmitting the disease. The Ryan White HIV/AIDS program provides medical care for those living with HIV, even if they don’t have insurance. HOPWA provides housing, The Graying of Aids has information on aging while positive.
It matters that Jonathon Van Ness is coming forward because society has a concept of HIV/AIDS being the end. It is untrue that those who are HIV positive cannot have careers or partners or a long, happy life. Jonathon Van Ness is such a beautiful example of tearing that misconception down.
Van Ness said to USA Today “At the beginning (of “Queer Eye”) I was really kind of nervous to talk about my HIV status and not sure if I wanted to and how I wanted to. And as I’ve continued to experience the world as I always have, it just became more clear to me that I wanted to be totally open with my story and be able to talk about it especially in the face of (the Trump) administration.”
It is true that, while HIV/AIDS are not “gay diseases,” they disproportionatley affect LGBTQ+ people. In 2017, gay and bisexual men made up 66 percent of all diagnosed people. There is already prejudice against non-straight people; HIV positive non-straight people can feel a lot of societal pressure to not talk about their status.
Why is it so important to talk about status? Society shames those with STD’s and STI’s because they’re seen as dirty and irresponsible. While we should all strive to have safe and healthy sex with protection, it is important to remember anyone can contract an STD/STI, even those who perform the necessary precautions against it. We should be empathic for those with STDs/STIs, including HIV/AIDS, because condoms break, rape happens and people make mistakes. As long as one is not spreading their disease, there is no reason to shame them.
Shame is a big reason why a lot of people avoid getting tested. When HIV/AIDS is seen as a death sentence, many people just try to ignore regular testing and hope for the best. This puts others in danger. Regular STD/STI testing by those of every gender and sexuality are necessary. One in seven of those living with HIV are unaware they have it.
When we think of HIV/AIDS, we often think of death. We think of Eazy-E and Freddie Mercury. HIV positive people are not destined to be alone, unhappy and unfulfilled. With the medical resources and support programs we have in place today, HIV positive people are able to live their life just as fabulously as Jonathon Van Ness.