Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness Details Past Sex & Drug Addiction

By Victoria Kim 09/24/19

The Queer Eye star gets candid about his past addictions in his new memoir, Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love.

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Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness
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Jonathan Van Ness has come a long way from "cornfield-small-town-only-gay-person infamy." The resident hair expert on Netflix’s reboot of Queer Eye is known for his bombastic personality and style, but as he revealed in his new memoir, Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love, life wasn’t always so fabulous.

Midway through the book, he says, “Buckle up, buttercup, because I can go from comedy to tragedy in three seconds flat.”

Growing Up

Van Ness’s younger self was reckless, confused, and in pain—the result of the “compounded trauma” that followed him after being abused by a boy from his church. He realizes why people would be drawn to the sparkly persona he gives off on-screen, but he has a more serious side.

“When you have this much personality, there’s a fear lurking just below the surface: If you knew all of me, you wouldn’t love me anymore. You would no longer want me as your new best friend,” he wrote.

Van Ness grew up in the town of Quincy, Illinois, a “little baby queen” with a big personality. He was bullied in school. “I was too fat, too femme, too loud and too unlovable,” he told the New York Times.

Cocaine & Meth Addiction

Van Ness dropped out of the University of Arizona in Tucson and earned money as a sex worker to get by and buy cocaine and later methamphetamine, according to CNN. He entered treatment programs for both sex and drug use disorder, but was unsuccessful.

At the age of 25, he found out that he was HIV positive. It was “devastating” news, but he has since accepted his place as a “member of the beautiful HIV-positive community.”

Van Ness is now thriving, living his best life and changing lives as the most spirited member of the Fab 5, the stars of Queer Eye. He is off hard drugs, though he still enjoys weed and a sip of alcohol now and then.

Shining In His Purpose

He was nervous to reveal so much about himself, he told the Times. “I’ve had nightmares every night for the past three months because I’m scared to be this vulnerable with people,” he said.

But as he told the Guardian, if he could help move the conversation forward by sharing his story, it would give purpose to everything he has been through.

“It occurred to me: what if everything I’ve ever been through was preparing me for this moment—to be strong enough to share this, and to share it on my own terms,” he said. “Part of that for me is to process what’s happened, but the bigger part is that I wanted to do something to move the conversation forward in a meaningful way around HIV/AIDS, and what it is to live with HIV, and to humanize and normalize a lot of the things I talk about.”

Today, Van Ness is even more unapologetic in being himself, having shed his animated persona for a moment to share his truth. USA Today’s David Olivier says that after reading Over the Top, “you’re going to appreciate and understand his gutsy glam even more.” 

“I want people to realize that you’re never too broken to be fixed,” he told the Times.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr