The 32-year-old, who is usually all laughter, light and glitter, is showing a more serious side of himself as he prepares for the release of his forthcoming book, "Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love," which delves into his past that includes sexual abuse, drug addiction and the shocking diagnosis that changed the course of his life.
Van Ness, a self-described "effervescent, gregarious majestic center-part-blow-dry cotton-candy figure-skating queen" told The New York Times that he could not be as open as he wanted to be until he shared these issues publicly.
“For a lot of people who are survivors of sexual assault at a young age, we have a lot of compounded trauma,” he said in the interview, recounting abuse at the hands of an older boy at his church, during what was supposed to be a game of make-believe.
Van Ness, known for his signature long locks and well-groomed mustache, grew up in Quincy, Illinois, and attended Quincy Senior High School, which is featured in an episode in the reality show's fourth and latest season. He talks openly about not fitting in at his alma mater, telling The New York Times, “I was too fat, too femme, too loud and too unlovable.”
It's a sentiment he expressed in a personal essay he wrote for TODAY last year. “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."
During his freshman year at college in Arizona, Van Ness started a cocaine habit that led him to selling sex for money on a chat and personals website. His university days didn't last long and he flunked out before deciding to enroll in a beautician program in Minneapolis.
Van Ness graduated from the program and later started working as a salon assistant in Los Angeles. On a fateful day when he was just 25 years old, he fainted while working in a salon and later went to Planned Parenthood with symptoms that seemed to indicate the flu. It was then when he received the devastating news that he was HIV-positive. “That day was just as devastating as you would think it would be,” Van Ness wrote in his book.
But Van Ness has not let his HIV-positive status stop him from living his life.
In 2016, he auditioned for a reboot of Bravo's hit show "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" which originally aired from 2003-2007. Van Ness landed the role and he, along with the rest of the Fab 5, became a breakout star. In "Queer Eye," he is known for his fierce and fabulous attitude as well as his caring and supportive approach with the people he helps make over.
Tune in on Tuesday when Van Ness joins TODAY to discuss his memoir, which hits shelves Sept. 24.