Is Reality TV Helping Us Get Real About HIV?

In the 1980’s and early 1990’s, an entire wave of celebrities came out as HIV-positive: Rock Hudson, Freddy Mercury, Magic Johnson. But, since then, there has been a shortage of “out” HIV-positive people with star status.

While the reluctance to disclose may be troubling, this doesn’t mean there aren’t anyHIV+ people in the public eye. Just as the face of HIV treatment has changed over the years, so has the formula for fame.

Reality television gives us a chance to get to know people on a more authentic level. And because the popular genre lends itself to disclosure, it has become the perfect place to showcase how people are living with HIV in the 21st century.

Make It Work

HIV/AIDS treatment has come a long way since the virus was first recognized by the CDC in 1981. Many of the antiretroviral treatment options make it possible for HIV+ individuals to live healthy, fulfilling lives. And no reality show has made that more visible than Project Runway. The show has featured not one, but three HIV positive people — Jack Mackenroth, Mondo Guerra, and Viktor Luna.

Many remember Jack Mackenroth from the fourth season because he chose to withdrawal from the competition after developing a staph infection that could compromise his health. He was the first contestant to ever be open about being HIV+ status and continues to be an active advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness.

Mondo Guerra and Victor Luna represent another side of living with HIV. Both of them struggled with talking about it or even admitting it to themselves. Like so many others, both Guerra and Luna struggled with the fear of being disowned, rejected, or humiliated.

In Season 8, Guerra publicly embraced HIV status on the runway and continues to use his story to inspire others to own their HIV+ positivity. Viktor Luna released his status on World AIDS Day in 2013, relating the enormous relief and pride that comes with disclosing an HIV+ status.

If You Can’t Love Yourself

Without optimism, persistence, and self love – an HIV+ status can become a difficult thing to talk about. So, when Ongina came out as HIV+ on the first season of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, it was a moment of inspiration for many people still living in the closet.

A fan favorite, Ongina was unfortunately eliminated on the fifth episode of the season. But, at the end of a poignant challenge aimed to help people living with HIV, Ongina disclosed her status and said, “life is a celebration, you have to live your life and keep going.”

Here Comes Uncle Poodle

What many people don’t know about HIV is that with proper medication adherence and medical attention, you can effectively manage your viral load. But, this does not mean you cannot transmit the virus to others.

Uncle Poodle on Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, whose real name is Lee Thompson, gained instant attention and support when he revealed his HIV+ status in 2013. However, in disclosing his status, Thompson also noted that an ex-boyfriend allegedly transmitted the virus to him after stopping his HIV medication regimen. While the facts remain unclear, Lee Thompson’s disclosure relates the importance of medication adherence and how to talk to your partner about your status.

At UNM Truman Health Services, we offer a full range of medication adherence services, including CD4 laboratory tests and pharmacy services to help you manage your viral load effectively.

Empower Yourself and Get Tested

Reality TV is about revealing your real, authentic self. And for all of these reality TV stars – that meant knowing and owning their HIV status. Get real about your health. Rapid HIV testing at UNM Truman Health Services is fast and free. Contact us today to learn how you can get tested!