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'Queer Eye' star Jonathan Van Ness opens up about decision to reveal HIV diagnosis

The star hairdresser spoke to TODAY's Hoda Kotb in his first television interview since revealing that he's living with HIV.
/ Source: TODAY

Jonathan Van Ness has opened up about his decision to reveal that he is HIV-positive and what it was like to receive his life-changing diagnosis seven years ago.

"I just remember it was the moment that you dread hearing. It's the thing that I had feared," he told Hoda Kotb on TODAY Tuesday in his first television interview since revealing to The New York Times that he's living with HIV.

"I was born in 1987, growing up in the midst of HIV/AIDS crisis, and ... we lost an entire generation of people."

The hairdresser and star of Netflix's “Queer Eye" made a decision to share a host of private details and traumatic events from his past in his new memoir, "Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love."

"It feels kind of 'Twilight Zone'-ish, but I do have this very kind of calm sense of 'I did this for a reason,''' he said. "And I stand by those reasons, and I think it is really important for me to speak about things I talk about in this book, so I think it was the right thing to do."

Van Ness said that his HIV is currently undetectable in his blood thanks to regular treatments.

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"There's been a lot of studies in the National Institute (for Health Research) in the UK and here and by the CDC that basically, 'undetectable equals untransmittable,''' he said. "As long as you're adhering to your medication and seeing your doctor every three months."

The book, released Tuesday, also delves into dark parts of his past that include sexual abuse, drug addiction and the HIV diagnosis at 25 years old.

Van Ness, 32, was working as a hairdresser in St. Louis when he fainted while doing a client's hair. The next day, he went to Planned Parenthood, where he found out he was HIV-positive.

“That day was just as devastating as you would think it would be,” Van Ness wrote in his book.

"When I got HIV, I felt that I wasn't allowed to be seen as sexy or desirable,'' he also wrote. "I had to work so much harder to fall in love with and accept where I'd come to in my life, and forgive myself for all the decisions I'd made to get there."

The effervescent star also spoke to The New York Times about his decision to reveal dark chapters from his past in the new book, including being sexually abused by an older boy at his church.

“For a lot of people who are survivors of sexual assault at a young age, we have a lot of compounded trauma,” he said.

Van Ness also writes lovingly about his mother, Mary Winters, an ovarian cancer survivor who was a supportive presence when he came out as gay as a young man and later struggled with cocaine addiction in college.

However, he admitted their relationship wasn't without some friction as he went through difficult times in his life.

"I think it's important to note that while my mom did accept me completely, I think that acceptance can be a little bit of a muscle,'' he told Hoda. "Relationships grow through disruption. A lot of times, my mom and I, there was a lot of painful stuff that happened, (so) us being able to come back to each other is always what made our relationship stronger."

The hair and grooming guru, known for his signature long locks and well-groomed mustache, grew up in Quincy, Illinois, and attended Quincy Senior High School, where he struggled to fit in.

"I just think that my mom has given me the space and the love that I don't know if anyone else could've given me,'' he said on TODAY. "I really put my mother through an emotional all-around individual gymnastics championship like 17,000 times, and she's just like stuck it every time. I love her so much."

He wrote about that struggle as a young gay man during his high school years in a personal essay he wrote for TODAY in 2018.

"It was never easy to forge that path with being all this in a place where all this wasn't always easily accepted," he wrote. "I wasn't sure how to be accepted and how to be loved, but I figured it out and I pulled myself up by the bootstraps and I let my spirit in there and I let it shine."