It’s one thing to be known by a one-word moniker – looking at you Cher – but it’s quite another to be instantly identifiable by your initials. JVN (or Jonathan Van Ness for the uninitiated) is one such star. The grooming expert on Netflix’s ‘Queer Eye’ is a force of nature whose infectious personality, razor-sharp wit and seemingly endless capacity for kindness, has made him a big hit with fans. This morning he spoke to Ryan Tubridy about battling demons, the impact of his HIV diagnosis and his love for Derry Girls.
In Jonathan’s recently published autobiography, Over The Top, he shares stories of sexual abuse, homophobic bullying and more. None of these things seems to have extinguished his spirit. Ryan wondered was there a time in his childhood he would consider a defining moment in that regard. Whilst Jonathan admits to being “such a big fan of a gigantic a-ha moment”, for him it was more a collection of experiences.
“A really good microcosm of my life would be when I was really committed to trying out for my talent show in 6th grade and I did my lyrical, interpretive, sock figure skating routine… That, I think, is my true spirit and that spirit has never really left me. I think that doing things that bring you joy no matter what anyone else thinks of it, is a lesson that I’ve learned over and over and over again in my life.”
Of course as effervescent as his energy is, Jonathan is not one to shy away from discussing difficult topics. Ryan seemed struck by the honesty at the heart of his book and how hard it must have been to revisit particular experiences, such as the sexual abuse he suffered as a child.
“That was a difficult moment to write about, but that experience of surviving sexual abuse, and everything that experience brought along with it, really has shaped and informed so much of my life… there were so many relationships that I didn’t really know how to navigate, whether it was with food or with people or myself or whatever.”
As life went on, Jonathan developed sexual compulsivity which ultimately led to being caught by, what he refers to in his book as, ‘the monster under the bed’.
“I needed to understand why I developed this sexual compulsivity and why I was acting out that way. Why I was doing things with my body that I regretted. It’s not like I was having the time of my life, I was devastated on a daily basis, for years… It was not just finding out that I was HIV positive, the devastation was in really trying to figure out where my life had gone so far off the rails.”
Well, he managed to wrestle his life back onto the rails and is most grateful for his ability to acknowledge the light, even in the darkest times.
“As difficult as my upbringing was I do feel grateful that I can see the joy and the positivity while acknowledging my pain… Anyone who has a lot of joy, also understands the other side of that.”
Something that also brings him joy is the television series Derry Girls. He and star of that show, Nicola Coughlan, have formed something of a mutual appreciation society over the last year, initially via social media. Once Jonathan discovered the show though, he was hooked.
“I was like game over… I devoured it, like, I only sat on the couch one time to watch both seasons… I had to watch a lot of it twice, but I did get it.”
Before Ryan and Jonathan wrapped up their chat, a listener texted in wondering which of the other experts on Queer Eye JVN would swap places with.
“I think Tan and I would be really good at switching with each other… I would probably make everyone put on outfits like me. I don’t think I’d be as kind an understanding as him… can we get a unitard on aisle 3 please!”
Of course, in true JVN style, he couldn’t leave it there and went on to assess the interchangeability of each of the experts, finally coming to the following conclusion:
“They could all be way better at each other’s categories. I just know for me I can’t cook… I can make three things that are pretty good. One of them is coffee.”
You can listen to Jonathan’s interview in full on The Ryan Tubridy Show, here.
Jan Ní Fhlanagáin
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