It was three years ago this month that I started taping Season 4 of Project Runway at Parsons School of Design in New York. I was scared shitless but I knew it would be a life-changing journey regardless of the outcome. Reality TV is anything but “real.” It’s heavily controlled by the producers to make the best TV possible. When we filled out our initial 50-page application to be on the show, we were asked if there was any aspect of our lives that we would not discuss on camera. I answered, “no.” At the time, I had been living with HIV for 18 years and was very open about it so I knew it would be a topic of interest. But I didn’t go into the show thinking, “I’m going to be the HIV+ guy” and I had no idea what impact my disclosure would have. However, in the back of my mind, I knew I could help others living with HIV by showing that it’s possible to live a happy, successful life while managing HIV.
I had been living in New York and designing for 17 years at that point and considered my HIV status an afterthought since I had been dealing with it for so long. I didn’t foresee the ripple effect that talking about it on television would have. I also never envisioned the international impact my disclosure would have as my season of Runway aired in more than 20 countries. (I’m currently getting Facebook messages from Budapest!)
However, the positive response was almost immediate. The show producers handled it well and my status was disclosed on the second episode of the season. Tim Gunn was extremely supportive. I know from the messages and e-mails I receive that I have helped many people around the world by just being one face of HIV. My hope is to inspire others to deal with their own status and to be open and fight the stigma of HIV for all of us. I am proud to be a current HIV+ poster boy. I encourage others to come forward and stand with me. Prevention remains paramount but for those who are already living with HIV, we need to take good care of ourselves—and each other. N
Jack Mackenroth is a New York-based designer and HIV/AIDS educator. Visit JackMackenroth.com for more info.