Van Ness might be the ideal icon to openly speak about the reality of living with HIV/AIDS in 2019.
Our beloved Gay Jesus, Jonathan Van Ness, may actually save lives in coming years.
No, perhaps not directly, but as a darling of Netflix's Emmy-nominated Queer Eye, Van Ness has a platform to represent the LGBTQ+ community and be the voice of social change that's heard with a simple streaming subscription; and in a candid interview with The New York Times, Van Ness recently shared that he's living with HIV. Ahead of the release of his memoir, Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love, the non-binary TV personality shared his story of testing positive at 25 after fainting one day at work. "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'…I do feel the need to talk about this." Now 32, he's opening up about being an addict and a survivor of sexual abuse long before he became Queer Eye's "effervescent, gregarious majestic center-part-blow-dry cotton-candy figure-skating queen," in his own words.
Van Ness might be the ideal icon to openly speak about the reality of living with HIV/AIDS in 2019. He's called the success of Queer Eye "the honor of a lifetime," and he's become a public face for non-binary members of the LGBTQ+ community (along with singer Sam Smith and actors like Asia Kate Dillon and Nico Tortorella).
But while queer representation in TV and film is still hardly substantial, when it comes to HIV status, media representation is about more than just fairness and accuracy. When the HIV/AIDS epidemic disrupted the public's sense of safety in the 1980s, deep misunderstandings and fear of the unknown fostered intense stigma against HIV-positive individuals. In the decades since, studies and public polling have shown that increased media representation of HIV/AIDS directly correlates with reduced social stigma. About six in ten Americans get their HIV/AIDS information from the media, whether that's watching Tales of the City's HIV-positive Michael Tolliver deepen his relationship with his HIV-negative boyfriend or watching Van Ness crown each of his clients "queen." Van Ness joins a small cohort of celebrities who are open about their HIV-positive status. Former Wales rugby player Gareth Thomas also recently confirmed he was living with HIV. Soon after, UK's leading HIV and sexual health charity shared that they'd seen a "sharp increase in the number of people accessing information about HIV from our website and THT Direct telephone service," as well as orders for their HIV self-test kits.
Today, about half of all Americans (52%) are not familiar with the term "undetectable," and 8% say they've heard the term but are unaware of what it means. Simply, HIV-positive individuals treated with antiretroviral therapy (ART) can have viral loads so low that they're not detected by standard lab tests. Hence, in a treated individual, the virus cannot replicate in the body and the individual cannot pass on the virus to another person: "Undetectable equals untransmittable." People can reach this stage of the disease within six months of beginning treatment—and continue to live full, uninterrupted lives. Additionally, polls assessing public awareness of new HIV prevention strategies, like pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), find that less than half (42%) of the public is aware of the daily pill or the fact that individuals who are at a high risk of contracting HIV can reduce their risk by as much as 99% (as long as they take it consistently).
"I've had nightmares every night for the past three months because I'm scared to be this vulnerable with people," Van Ness told The New York Times. His fears went beyond his career as a TV personality; there's still rampant misunderstandings about who becomes infected with HIV which date back to panicked media coverage in the 1980s. In 1985, American movie icon Rock Hudson was the first well-known celebrity to die of AIDS-related complications; rock icon Freddie Mercury confirmed his HIV-positive status the day before his death from the disease in 1991; and fear continued to dominate America. Infected patients were treated as pariahs as paranoia and fear about the virus pervaded society. "Nurses wouldn't tend to their bedside; they wouldn't deliver them food," says Joanne Simons, CEO of Casey House, an HIV/AIDs speciality hospital in Toronto. "They were obviously really concerned about contracting HIV themselves and [there was] really a lack of understanding that it couldn't be transmitted through touch."
But celebrity outreach and increased media representation soon began shifting attitudes. In 1991, when Princess Diana visited patients at Casey House, front-page photographs showed her shaking hands with patients and kissing them on the cheeks, inspiring more compassion for infected individuals and, perhaps more importantly, dispelling common myths about the disease that caused stigma to fester. Similarly, in 1991 Magic Johnson announced his retirement from basketball due to his positive HIV diagnosis; and in the '90s Pedro Zamora became one of the first openly gay men in popular TV, appearing on MTV's The Real World: San Francisco to educate viewers about living with HIV before passing away from AIDS-related complications shortly afterwards. Pop culture slowly began to represent the human side of the disease in films Iike Philadelphia (1993) and And the Band Played On (1993). On ER (1997) Jeanie Boulder was the first TV character to contract HIV (she received treatment and went on to thrive throughout the series, becoming a counselor for youth with HIV).
Princess Diana at Toronto's Casey HouseTorontoism
In fact, a Gallup poll conducted in 1997 found: "The public is somewhat less critical of those who get AIDS than it was a decade ago, but 31% of Americans still believe that AIDS is a punishment for a decline in moral standards (compared with 43% who felt that way ten years ago), and 40% say that the victims of AIDS are themselves to blame for getting the disease (compared with 51% who felt that way in 1987)."
HIV-positive characters have been slowly working their way into TV shows, from the aughts' Queer as Folk to the more recent Tales of the City, Pose, How to Get Away With Murder, Looking, and even Sesame Street. Characters grapple with their new diagnosis, process the loss of friends, navigate serodiscordent relationships (one between an HIV-positive and negative individual), and generally get on with their lives without HIV defining their characters. Thanks to increased visibility and public health awareness, recent polls find that most Americans of all racial and ethnic backgrounds are "comfortable working with (79%), having a close friendship with (77%), and sharing a living space with (62%) someone who is living with HIV. This is true across racial and ethnic lines."
But none of that is to say there's enough media representation or understanding in society; that's partly what was giving Jonathan Van Ness nightmares in the weeks before sharing his HIV status. With a large majority of Americans (80%) identifying HIV as a "serious national issue," and with 46% reporting to personally know someone for whom it is a "serious concern," living with HIV is not a marginalized experience. To date, about 1.1 million people in the U.S. are HIV-positive (with an estimated 1 in 7 unaware of their infection). While we reject stigmas that attach moral judgments to HIV status, it's often underestimated how infection rates affect all sexual orientations, ethnicities, and socioeconomic statuses. For instance, most newly infected individuals are between the ages of 25-34, and gay and bisexual men only account for an estimated 66% of annual HIV diagnoses through sexual contact, leaving heterosexuals to account for 24%. The numbers, though, reveal more nuance and social disparity when evaluated for rates of infection in underserved communities and for people of color.
Damian (Daniel Franzese) in "Mean Girls"
In 2019, there's no reason for media's scant representation of mixed HIV status relationships or accurate depictions of living with HIV—other than stigma, which lingers as the backfire of ignorance. Interestingly, in 2017 The Elizabeth Taylor AIDs Foundation (ETAF) noticed a particular absence of HIV-positive characters in American TV. ETAF Ambassador and actor Daniel Franzese (Looking, Mean Girls) and ETAF Managing Director Joel Goldman held a roundtable discussion with actors and network show creators from HBO and NBC to discuss "how the current lack of HIV representation is related to the climbing infection rates today." The roundtable concluded, "The lack of HIV stories may have a correlation with the rise in infection rates and the fact that people are either choosing not to or don't know how to be treated once they're diagnosed." Franzese (who has credited his Mean Girls role as the lead character's gay best friend for helping hm to come out as gay) says that the LGBTQ+ community has "moved on to adoption and marriage equality and trans acceptance, but it seems that HIV has taken a backseat to those other movements and they are all important, but I feel like we need as a community to bring that issue back to the forefront."
He added that pop culture icons—exactly the likes of Jonathan Van Ness—are key to spreading education and prevention to fans of all ages and backgrounds. "Let's see Beyonce take a PrEP pill with a glass of lemonade," he said.
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As reprehensible as Jake Paul is as a person, he is innocent in this case
Update 8/6/2020: On Wednesday the FBI raided Jake Paul's home in Calabasas, California in connection with the Scottsdale mall riot. The home is reportedly owned by Paul's friend Arman Izadi, who was also present at charged with misdemeanor crimes following the mall incident.
It's unclear what the basis for the raid was, but the Scottsdale police have turned over riot investigation to the FBI, who are believed to have removed multiple firearms from the Calabasas mansion.
Because it turns out celebrities exist even before we hear about them.
So many celebrities seem to build their entire lives around careers in entertainment.
Good for them. They knew what they wanted to do, and they were actually lucky and talented enough to be successful. But for a lot of these people, it's hard to imagine how they would function in the world without their celebrity status. That's why people freak out when they find out that Taylor Swift can cook. She not only eats people food, she actually knows how to prepare it! Do you think she even washes her own dishes?!
But there is another class of celebrity. People who had full, interesting, and often insane lives before anyone had ever heard of them. People like...
Christopher Walken: Lion Tamer<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYwNDI5NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNzk1NTM1NH0.gB-0fl12hr7J3svFb1dpkBQ-PWSosPnLaQQKxqB-MB8/img.jpg?width=980" id="dbe98" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e99b1bc39579d90f78d4d6de9523f551" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Christopher Walken" /><p>Christopher Walken is known for the intense, contained energy of his performances and... the un<em>ique</em>... cadence... and <em>em</em>phasis of his speech. But long before he was a living, breathing caricature of himself, he had a very different approach to show business. His time as a <a href="https://ew.com/article/2014/12/02/christopher-walken-captain-hook-dancing/" target="_blank">cabaret dancer</a> shouldn't surprise anyone who's seen the way he moves in the music video for Fatboy Slim's "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wCDIYvFmgW8" target="_blank">Weapon of Choice</a>," but the fact that Walken was working as a lion tamer in a circus at the age of 16 is completely insane. Of course he downplays it, saying that Sheba the lion was "Very nice. She'd come and bump your leg. Like a house cat," but he was still bossing around a giant predatory cat as a teenager.</p>
Julia Child: Inventor<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYwNDI0NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMTE4MTA2N30.lfQiI4CMgFK3oJYLW1bPvgOy3rZgL8daEMkgYM4Uukk/img.jpg?width=980" id="c5ab9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a75cf85333b55f0a9399231cd3206a9d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Julia Child" /><p>You may know Julia Child for her famous cookbook <em></em><em>Mastering the Art of French Cooking</em>, or for her long-running public television show <em>The French Chef</em>. At the very least, maybe you've seen her portrayed by Meryl Streep in 2009's <em>Julie and Julia</em>. She was an early icon of TV cooking, making it approachable and fun, and her recipes remain popular more than 15 years after her death. But before anyone knew her for her cooking, she was working for the Office of Strategic Services—a forerunner to the CIA—helping to fight Nazis by... inventing <a href="https://www.cia.gov/news-information/featured-story-archive/2015-featured-story-archive/shark-repellent.html" target="_blank">shark repellent</a>.</p><p>The effort was sparked during World War II in response to sharks attacks on military personnel who were waiting for rescue after ships and planes went down. Child was a member of the team that developed pellets to be included in soldier's rescue kits, with an odor that would keep sharks at bay. There's no telling how many lives those pellets may have saved, but apparently they went on to be used with underwater explosives targeting German submarines—so sharks wouldn't accidentally set them off—and even in space equipment that NASA designed for ocean retrieval.</p>
James Lipton: Pimp<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYwNDI2Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxODM5ODY4N30.THakQRuLoFrZdysNOoONBwt5WbIFd6kqKmZMo99tMOo/img.jpg?width=980" id="cb82f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="61c045a63ca5f3a8df7ae6a17197995c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="james lipton" /><p>James Lipton is not quite as famous as some of the people he's interviewed—<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inside_the_Actors_Studio#Guests" target="_blank">basically every celebrity ever</a>—but he hosted <em>Inside the Actor's Studio</em> for 22 years on <em>Bravo</em>, and had an amazing turn as <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwXGPar9kHc" target="_blank">Warden Stefan Gentles</a> on <em>Arrested Development</em>. In his youth though, Lipton had a very different career in post-war Paris. At the time, there was little work available in France, and many women resorted to sex work to get by. Lipton was friends with one such woman, and when he was running out of money and told her that he had to return to the US, she offered him a job. Soon he was <a href="https://parade.com/17599/dotsonrader/inside-the-actors-studio-host-james-lipton-on-his-favorite-interview-and-pimping-in-paris/" target="_blank">working in a bordello as a "mec,"</a> which he differentiates from the American conception of a pimp, "The French <em>mecs</em> didn't exploit women. They represented them, like agents. And they took a cut. That's how I lived." So... not easy, but necessary.</p>
Jerry Springer: Mayor of Cincinnati<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYwNDI4My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDEzNTkzNX0.h_k9FJugum9ZI55hpU49JC4180Bbzz5-vuHgIGGI3FM/img.jpg?width=980" id="6d534" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f8a8e61f6254ac8be70c23550346ec0d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Jerry Springer" /><p>On the other side of the sex work equation was a young Jerry Springer. Long before he was exposing strangers' dirty laundry to the delight of a hooting studio audience, he was starring in his own <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/assessment/1998/03/jerry_springer.html" target="_blank">personal scandal in Ohio politics</a>. He had already served as an adviser to Robert Kennedy, and had a failed run for Congress before he was elected to Cincinnati's City Council in 1971. At just 27 years old, he may not have been ready for a life in politics, and a few years later he was forced to step down after being caught in a prostitution probe, paying for sex work with personal checks.</p><p>Surprisingly, Springer was able to come back from that scandal with a series of honest, apologetic ads that resulted in him resuming his seat on the city council and eventually serving a term as Mayor. He even ran for governor in 1982, before beginning a career as a local news anchor and coining his catchphrase "Take care of yourselves, and each other." At the time he was known for delivering thoughtful editorials, and became so popular that he was given a daytime TV show that slowly transformed, in its chase for ratings, to the pure trash that eventually made him famous.</p>
Audrey Hepburn: Member of the Dutch Resistance<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYwNDIzNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjAwODQ4M30.ZrhreORH5cpZ_Rsj09lVySaxzaLoFNE-DHHM9xbQFRE/img.jpg?width=980" id="6f2ab" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dd21bb87307e5bb726ce9b73a7494189" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>The original manic pixie dream girl of <em>Breakfast at Tiffany's</em> was always known for her frail beauty, but when she was a growing up in <a href="https://time.com/5582729/audrey-hepburn-world-war-ii/" target="_blank">Nazi-occupied Holland</a>, some of that frailty was probably the result of malnutrition. Despite this, she was a talented ballet dancer, and frequently performed in secretive events known as "black nights," raising money for Dutch resistance fighters. Hepburn was just 15 in 1944, but because she was fluent in English, she was also tasked with delivering food and messages to allied pilots who were shot down by the Nazis. She helped them reach safety, and her youth and apparent innocence kept her safe from Nazi suspicions.</p>
Samuel L. Jackson: Militant Black Activist<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYwNDIyMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTM1NDg0MX0.KsU1niylFVF0S_9u2v8qX5ircpmJ5Q8S7hf-TejhooA/img.jpg?width=980" id="e89bc" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="23b27d5f9a6ec18ed4b6660985d7b342" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Samuel L. Jackson" /><p>Samuel L. Jackson is one of the biggest movie stars of all time. Collectively his films have grossed <a href="https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/features/how-samuel-l-jackson-became-hollywoods-bankable-star-1174613" target="_blank">nearly six billion dollars</a>—more than any other actor. But back in the late 1960s, his prospects didn't look so bright. As a young student at Morehouse College, <a href="https://web.archive.org/web/20081229063210/http://www.parade.com:80/articles/editions/2005/edition_01-09-2005/featured_0" target="_blank">Jackson joined the Black Power movement</a> following the tragic assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Jackson has said that he was in a "radical faction" of the movement: "We were buying guns, getting ready for armed struggle." He found the experience empowering, although it led to his expulsion from college after he and other activists held the school's board of trustees hostage in a dispute over the schools' curriculum and the demographics of its governing board.</p><p>It was his mother's influence that eventually pushed Jackson in another direction. She put him on a plane to Los Angeles and told him not to come back. "The FBI had been to the house and told her that if I didn't get out of Atlanta, there was a good possibility I'd be dead within a year. She freaked out." Jackson spent a couple years doing social work in LA before eventually returning to Morehouse to study drama. "I decided that theater would now be my politics." It was a bold choice for someone who had struggled with a stutter, though by that point Jackson had discovered the <a href="https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2019/06/samuel-l-jackson-shaft-motherfucker-stutter" target="_blank">therapeutic benefits</a> of shouting "motherf*cker."</p>
Jewel: Survivalist<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYwNDI4Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNjUwNjI0MH0.Y8mEiH18k9U4GVzE8UYOKLqZZtuor1EtrdQvVEzsoGk/img.jpg?width=980" id="d96e6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="eb8e0d81489c72d42600fe7436636728" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Jewel" /><p>Jewel Kilcher grew up in a saddle barn in the remote town of Homer, Alaska. While she was a singer from a young age—<a href="https://www.npr.org/2015/09/12/439764172/in-lumberjack-joints-and-coffee-shops-jewel-found-her-voice" target="_blank">performing with her father for lumberjacks</a> in local bars—<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewel_(singer)#Early_life" target="_blank">her early life was hardly glamorou</a>s. They had no running water, a coal stove for heat, and largely had to fend for themselves: "we mainly lived off of what we could kill or can. We picked berries and made jam. We caught fish to freeze and had gardens and cattle to live on. I rode horses every day in the summer beneath the Alaskan midnight sun." It may have been this childhood that prepared her to live out of her car at the age of 19 as she was launching her career in Southern California.</p>
Christopher Lee: Secret Agent<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYwNDI4OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTg3MzM5M30.qKjkKyFCwktkOV9Fnf0W73uppSV3ko6xJ9ImPYEXRcI/img.jpg?width=980" id="4ac25" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="600db2000efa3054e51be73b94c640b4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Christopher Lee" /><p>You probably remember Christopher Lee for his portrayal of Saruman in the <em>Lord of the Rings</em> films, but did you know that he also played a crucial role <a href=""Have you any idea what kind of noise happens when somebody’s stabbed in the back? Because I do.”" target="_blank">advising Peter Jackson</a> on the realism of a scene in <em>The Return of the King</em>. Specifically, Lee provided his firsthand knowledge of the sound a person makes when they've just been stabbed. Jackson was directing Lee's reaction in a scene in which Saruman is ambushed, prompting Lee to respond, "Have you any idea what kind of noise happens when somebody's stabbed in the back? Because I do."</p><p>Lee would most likely have gained that knowledge during World War II, when he was a member of the British Army's <a href="https://www.thevintagenews.com/2018/02/09/christopher-lee/" target="_blank">Long Range Desert Patrol</a>, fighting Axis forces on the North African Front. He then went on to join the Special Operations Executive, an elite organization involved in espionage and assassination. Most of their work is still classified.</p>
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