Trinity K. Bonet popped onto our television screens in 2018 as a contestant on the sixth season and second episode of RuPaul's Drag Race. Decked out in all black and sky-high hair, Bonet declared, "I'm about to be as close as you're gonna get to Beyoncé." And although Bonet didn't win the season—she was eliminated in episode 9— she did win the second challenge of the season. But that moment was bigger for her for reasons that would become clear when Bonet, born Joshua Jones, announced that she was in fact HIV-positive.
HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, currently affects about 1.2 million people in the U.S. Although there have been many advances in treatment and prevention, and a significant decrease in infections since the height of the epidemic in the mid-1980s, our populations (Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx) are still disproportionately impacted.
According to the Black AIDS Institute, over 36,000 new cases were reported in 2019 alone. Plus, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services in 2019, Black/African American people were only 13% of the population. Still, they accounted for 44% of new HIV diagnoses, and Hispanic/Latinx people made up 18% of the population but accounted for 30% of new HIV diagnoses. The AIDS epidemic has not disappeared and our focus still needs to be on equitable healthcare, education, and funding to ensure a true end to the epidemic.
Bonet, who received a positive HIV diagnosis in 2012, spoke with BET.com about World AIDS Day (Dec. 1), the fearless power it took to reveal her status on national television, and the journey of becoming one of the featured acts on RuPaul's Drag Race Live! in Las Vegas next year.
BET.com: Today is recognized globally as World AIDS Day. What does the day mean to you?
Trinity Bonet: It means that people living openly with HIV have a sense of awareness that we are all of one accord and that people haven't forgotten about HIV and AIDS. It is still very much a real thing, and some people are taking care of themselves, seeking treatment and living openly, honestly, and celebrating life. We are part of something that kind of brings us together but in an unfortunate way.
BET.com: In an interview, you once mentioned that there is a distinction between Joshua Jones [your real name] and Trinity K. Bonet. Do you still feel that way?
Trinity Bonet: Yes, definitely. I tend to keep a separation between my art and my real life. I feel like, in many ways, Josh keeps Trinity up to being able to continuously perform, travel, meet people, and become the star that she is. But it all starts with me, having self-awareness, and taking care of myself as best as I can. I maintain a positive mindset and try to eat as healthy as possible, but I love food [laughs]. I am just a skinny little thing. But I am definitely keeping that sense of separation in my work and taking care of myself so that I'm able to do what I do continuously.
BET.com: Do you think misconceptions and biases about the virus have changed in the last few years or are things pretty much the same since your diagnosis in 2012?
Trinity Bonet: As far as the LGBTQ+ community is concerned, of course, we keep a close eye on HIV and AIDS awareness. I hear some people say, ‘I’ll date someone who is HIV-positive because now there’s PrEP, (pre-exposure prophylaxis, a medicine people take to prevent getting HIV from sex or injection drug use).’ People within the LGBTQ community are aware of all of the things we have now that are meant to prevent infection or allow us to be with our partners. I am not so sure about the heterosexual community.
I was a part of a conversation recently where there were people who didn’t know what U=U means (people with HIV who take antiretroviral therapy and achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load can be HIV Undetectable=Untransmittable or U=U). I think that in the heterosexual community, some still believe that they can’t get it.
In the Black community, we don’t discuss HIV and AIDS in our households, and if it is discussed, it is in that sense that “gay people have it.” So there wasn’t a need to do homework and learn about HIV because to them, it’s not going to affect you. That is where there is a disconnect, and many households should talk to their children early on and explain the virus and that anyone can be affected by it, whether straight or gay.
BET.com: Do you think that there is enough education in heterosexual communities about things like PrEP?
Trinity Bonet: Not at all. As with many things in life, we don’t research stuff that doesn’t apply to us unless we feel the need to do so. And if it never really comes up in our day-to-day life, then we don’t think about it or take the initiative to learn.
People are not going to go out and pick up a pamphlet or do a Google search for PrEP or how it applies to them because they don’t think it applies to them at all. Look at the open representation that we have as far as leaders in the Black community who are openly HIV-positive. Magic Johnson is still the only straight celebrity I know that is an openly HIV-positive and a Black man.
BET.com: Is one of the reasons you revealed your HIV status because you felt that there wasn’t enough representation?
Trinity Bonet: One of the big reasons I came out and came out on the show was because Magic Johnson was the only person who I had seen on national television who was open and honest about his status and living a healthy lifestyle.
I thought that there should be more healthy representation like that. I wish I could do more as far as advocacy is concerned, and I am grateful for opportunities. I came out to let other people feel like they can as well. And after me, years later, there’s Billy Porter. There is such a wide gap of necessary representation.
BET.com: What does it mean to be untransmittable? What does that look like?
Trinity Bonet: You take one pill a day and just make it a part of your regimen. The hardest part is the mental. It is knowing that you are living with the infection and that nothing is going to change that. If you want to live and thrive, you have to take your medicine every day. The mental part is what is hard for people. It is hard in the beginning, but you can live a healthy lifestyle.
BET.com: When you first found out about your status, how long did it take for you to accept it?
Trinity Bonet: When I was told, it was just like someone gave me some bad news. It wasn’t physical. I didn’t feel sick. I can’t explain it, but it never really affected me the way it has other people.
They told me, and I accepted it. I asked what precautions I needed to take and I followed the precautions. I kept moving forward ever since. I never allowed HIV to take control of my life.
BET.com: If you weren’t feeling sick, did you find out about your HIV status because of a routine physical?
Trinity Bonet: I wanted to go to a Ball, and if you got tested, you could go in for free. I wanted to save $35, so I went for the test. I got the results and then told my boyfriend and mom.
BET.com: Do you have any advice on how someone can tell their loved ones about a positive status once they’re ready?
Trinity Bonet: It is all about their sense of comfort. It isn't everybody's job to be an advocate. You don't have to tell everyone you meet because it isn't their business. You don't even have to tell your family unless you really want them to know. The only person who truly needs to know your health status is the person who you are intimate with. I want people to be comfortable living with their status.
BET.com: What’s next for Trinity K. Bonet? What projects are you currently on?
Trinity Bonet: I have a tour in the U.K., Everybody's Talking About Trinity coming up next year and I will be starting on RuPaul's Drag Race Live! in Vegas. I have a residency there, and in between that, I am working on my music and advocacy.
For more on resources, information and to learn how you can support the effort to end HIV/AIDS, visit BlackAIDS.org.
Editor’s note: This article has been edited and condensed for clarity.