Jonathan Van Ness
The Preventive Health Issue

Jonathan Van Ness Takes Their Healthcare Seriously, Honey

Gorgeous. Hilarious. Kind. Real. Those are just a few of the words that have been used to describe Jonathan Van Ness since they skyrocketed to stardom four years ago as the grooming expert on Netflix’s reboot of Queer Eye. And while they are all of those things (and more!), it’s that last word that sums them up best.

No matter what they’re doing, the 35-year-old keeps it real.

We’ve been fortunate to get to know Van Ness through:

  • TV: Watch them on Queer Eye, and you’ll see them vulnerably talk about what it was like to grow up genderqueer and non-binary (they use he/him, she/her, or they/them pronouns).
  • Podcast: Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness, they regularly share personal stories about everything from their eating habits to their fears and worries.
  • On stage: Van Ness has a comedy tour—Imaginary Living Room Olympianthat also highlights their gymnastic skills, a passion of theirs.
  • Memoirs: Here, they have been the most candid. Their latest book, Love That Story: Observations from a Gorgeously Queer Life, talks about overcoming imposter syndrome, LGTBQ rights, and the politics of HIV in this country. Their first New York Times Best-Selling book, Over the Top, delved into their experience with sexual abuse and addiction.
  • Hair care: Their haircare line, JVN, brings their grooming expertise to your home.

Verywell Health had a chance to sit down with Van Ness on the important topic of preventive health for our first-ever digital issue. Their openness is not only refreshing but genuinely motivating. We talked with Van Ness about how they manage HIV, empower the LBGTQ community to take charge of their health, and make healthy everyday choices a priority in their life.

I wasn’t the most frequent preventive-doctor-visit queen. But now, I take it very seriously—I even go to the dentist regularly, honey.

Facing the Stigma of HIV

In 2019, Van Ness revealed they are HIV positive and became an advocate promoting screenings and appropriate care, helping combat the stigma surrounding this health condition.

The Day That Changed Their Life

Van Ness was 25 when they learned they were living with HIV. They were working at a salon and fainted. The next day, they went to a Planned Parenthood clinic to see what was behind their flu-like symptoms. When their HIV test came back positive, they had their answer.

Jonathan Van Ness

Photo: Ilana Panich-Linsman

Admittedly, before learning of their status, Van Ness wasn’t always the best at staying on top of their health. “I wasn’t the most frequent preventive-doctor-visit queen,” they say. “But now, I take it very seriously—I even go to the dentist regularly, honey.”

“Growing up in the early ’90s, HIV was something I was very scared of,” Van Ness says. “I had so much fear around it that I immediately dealt with my diagnosis—I got a doctor and went on medication, stat.”

Early in their diagnosis, an HIV safety net made it possible for Van Ness to get affordable treatment. The protocols differ from state to state, but a safety net essentially funnels federal resources into HIV care and gives individuals access to antiretroviral medication. And while these programs offer life-saving support, they also ask the patient to do a lot of work. This can be especially hard to bear for people who are disabled, parents, or of color.

“Every year, at least in California, you have to fill out a ton of paperwork and send in your tax information to show that you make under a certain amount to qualify. It’s a lot of hoops to jump through,” says Van Ness. “It is not as simple as getting diagnosed and going to get some pills. There are incredible organizations helping people navigate all of this, but it is still a large burden.”

HIV Safety Nets

HIV safety nets differ from state to state, but the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program (RWHAP) is a great place to start. This program helps low-income people with HIV by:

  • Assisting with medical care 
  • Giving access to medications
  • Providing support services.

More than 50% of people with diagnosed HIV—about a half million people—receive services through the RWHAP each year.

Jonathan Van Ness

Photo: Ilana Panich-Linsman

When it comes to preventive care specific to HIV, Van Ness thinks there is still a long way to go. At the top of their list? Fighting the stigma that exists around the virus. “We have the medical knowledge to prevent new HIV transmissions,” they say. “But there is still so much stigma—it can scare people off from getting tested. In states like Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas the stigma is even worse—it’s connected to homophobia and transphobia.”

Van Ness says this shame prevents many people from accessing pre-exposure prophylaxis (also known as PrEP). “If you don’t know what this is, it’s basically a pill you take once a day that can help prevent you from contracting HIV—it’s an incredible medical breakthrough that can reduce your risk by 99%,” says Van Ness. “We’ve had it for over ten years, but many people still aren’t able to access it.”



HIV Prevention and PrEP

The Importance of Sex Ed, Especially Inclusive Sex Ed

One thing Van Ness insists would help with increasing preventive health is better sex education.

We are failing young people by not teaching them how they can have a healthy sex life and how they can take preventive measures to protect themselves.

“In many areas of the country, we refuse to teach young people about sex—especially from a queer perspective,” they say. “We are failing young people by not teaching them how they can have a healthy sex life and how they can take preventive measures to protect themselves.” 

For the past several years, Van Ness has used their platform to talk about these issues. Along with their Queer Eye cast mates, they sat down with Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to discuss the Equality Act in April 2019. This bill would help ensure federal protections for LGBTQ individuals. They have also been outspoken during elections and advocate for the change they'd like to see in the world.

“Right now in Alabama, a law has been passed felonizing families for providing gender-affirming health care to their kids,” they say, rightfully outraged. “When we talk about preventive health care, we have to talk about the trans community. Studies show that when a trans person is given gender-affirming health care, their lives are longer and healthier.”

Not only do members of the trans community face violence at alarmingly high rates, but when denied care, they often take matters into their own hands. “They may seek out hormones on the black market or even have unsafe surgeries,” Van Ness explains. “This is all because people in certain states hate the existence of trans people. But being trans is being human—and health care is a human right.”

When we talk about preventive health care, we have to talk about the trans community. Being trans is being human—and health care is a human right.

So, what can be done about this? “If you are straight and cisgender and love watching me on Queer Eye and you find yourself saying, ‘Yasss, Queen!’, I need you to talk to the conservative people in your life who are voting for people who enact policies that hurt trans, gender-nonconforming, and queer people.”

Right now, Van Ness is focused on the upcoming midterm elections. “You can sign up with organizations like the People’s Action,” they say. The organization, founded in 2016, builds the power of poor and working-class people in urban, rural, and suburban areas to win change through issue fights and elections. “Do the research. Have conversations that make you uncomfortable. Get involved. Everyone needs to take on these fights—honey, it’s time.”

A Body in Motion

For Van Ness, preventive health care doesn’t only revolve around their HIV status. They work hard to take care of their body in a holistic way. Those who follow them on Instagram will have noticed that exercise and movement play a big part in their life.

They did gymnastics as a kid and eventually became a cheerleader in high school. “I was ostracized and bullied for being this really queer, femme person,” they say. “Cheerleading gave me an identity—it gave me a group of friends.” 

Photo: Ilana Panich-Linsman

After school, Van Ness became a hairdresser and says that moving their body took a backseat. “It took me a long time to get back into something—I eventually found yoga and am still really into it.” 

Van Ness also still finds time for tumbling, even incorporating it into their comedy routine while on tour for Imaginary Living Room Olympian.

Cheerleading gave me an identity—it gave me a group of friends.

When they're not brushing up on their gymnastics skills, Van Ness works out at home with their husband, Mark Peacock, who they met in London while on tour. The two got married in 2020 and Van Ness absolutely glows when referring to Peacock. “My husband was literally on the cover of Men’s Health—he’s a ripped ass muscle queen,” they say. “And I’m over here going, ‘Let’s do Pilates!’ He’s very supportive and I just love that about him.” 

Fueling Fabulous

The couple has also been focused on cooking more, rather than ordering delivery. “We’d wait to eat and get too hungry, and then we’d impulse order,” admits Van Ness. “When I get hungry, honey, I order like eleven appetizers!”

Van Ness suspects this healthy change has had a positive impact on their health. “Sometimes I have high blood pressure, other times it’s fine—it’s white coat syndrome,” they say, referring to the common syndrome of feeling anxious in medical settings. “When you’ve been diagnosed with HIV, seeing a doctor can be like, ‘Oh, f***.’”

Early in the pandemic, Van Ness wasn’t working out as much and was regularly ordering from food delivery apps, so their doctor suggested they get an at-home blood pressure monitor. “He had been saying this for a while,” Van Ness admits. “When I was 28, 29, 30— I was like ‘Get out of here.’ Then I turned 35 and my attitude changed. I ordered one off of Amazon.”

Your health is something to prioritize—it is not something to put in the back of your mind.

Around the same time, Van Ness started seeing a nutritionist. “I started thinking, it’s probably not chic to wait until 2 p.m. to eat and live on so much coffee,” they say. “Now, I have these cool vegetable-based protein shakes and snacks that don’t make me want to hurl—and I have begun drinking less coffee. I also have been meditating for a few minutes after Angel [Joy Flores] and I do our weightlifting.” Fans of Queer Eye may recognize the name— Flores, a powerlifter, was featured in season six. The transgender rights advocate is a coach at Liberation Barbell Club, queer-owned gym in Austin.

These lifestyle tweaks have paid off. “For the past seven days, morning and night, my blood pressure has been a perfect 120/80,” Van Ness says. 

Van Ness hasn’t always had the healthiest relationship with food and they've spoken openly about their history of disordered eating. “When you are a recovering drug addict, living with HIV and a survivor of abuse—there were just a lot of other fires that I was putting out before focusing on food stuff,” they say. “But now, with my nutritionist, I’m really prioritizing eating throughout the day, thinking about how I feel when I eat, and checking in with my body.”

Whether they are working to implement healthy lifestyle habits, talking about their own HIV status, or advocating for the health needs of marginalized communities, Van Ness does not take healthy living for granted. “Your health is something to prioritize—it is not something to put in the back of your mind. Preventive health is chic, it’s cute, it’s gorgeous.”

Jonathan Van Ness

Photo: Ilana Panich-Linsman

Credits

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Health Resources and Services Administration. Ryan White HIV/AIDS program.

  2. Tordoff DM, Wanta JW, Collin A, Stepney C, Inwards-Breland DJ, Ahrens K. Mental health outcomes in transgender and nonbinary youths receiving gender-affirming careJAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(2):e220978. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.0978

By Bethany Heitman
Bethany Heitman has been a journalist and leader in media for over 15 years