By Jeff Walsh
On last week's Project Runway, one of the best designers this season, Mondo Guerra, created his own fabric for the challenge. The pink fabric with the plus-sign design became high-waisted pants that won him his third challenge in a row. When he was asked about the inspiration for the print, he clammed up and just said it was very personal to him. Nina Garcia, one of the judges, said she wished she knew the story that inspired the fabric.
In that moment, Guerra's life changed. The 32-year-old designer made the decision to share what he had kept a secret for the past 10 years, one that his own family didn't even know. He is HIV-positive.
When Guerra said this, the designer had his fellow contestants crying, and as he finished speaking, you could literally see the weight coming off of his shoulders, and a designer we already adored became that much more human, vulnerable, and less troubled.
HIV is sort of this thing that we hear about, but it rarely is made real to us. I know people that have it, but it's like knowing someone with high blood pressure. They take some pills, and their life seems fine. But it is always important to remind ourselves that this is an important issue in our community, and one that should be taken seriously.
The youngest designer this season, Andy South (who we'll probably interview in Oasis before the season ends) is the same age now as Guerra was when he was became infected, so it really hit home for him. South was kind enough to share his thoughts with us on Guerra revealing his HIV status.
Whether you like Project Runway, fashion, or not, Guerra's story is still reinforcing a lesson that we all need to hear: that whatever private issue is burdening you in life is probably not worth the effort of keeping it a secret.
Here's what Mondo and I said this morning:
Oasis: Your Facebook Wall is just filled with people bathing you in love and positive wishes since you came out as HIV+ last week. How has this been for you since the show aired?
Mondo: I woke up Friday morning and it really felt like my life had changed. It was one thing to have come out on the runway a couple of months ago, when we filmed. But Friday morning, it was... yeah. It was a huge, huge change. And, once again, it just reminded me about how grateful I was for the opportunity to come out, and do it on such a large scale.
What made you do it? Because initially you were avoiding it and just talking about the symbolism that's important to me, and then you switched gears and decided to come out with the story...
I can honestly say that I'm a very spiritual person, and on that stage, Nina had asked me 'Well, I wish I knew what the story was...' and something, just by her saying that, made something click in my head. Somebody was helping me and told me to just come out with it.
I've been living with this secret for 10 years, and it was time to get it out. I made a conscious decision to be healthier and happier, and I really feel that after I made that decision, I made it onto the show and fell in love. I've been really sick for the past couple of years. I've been in the hospital twice with pneumonia with complications due to the HIV.
So, it's all just about a decision to move forward. I felt like if I had kept it in any longer, I wouldn't have gone much farther, even in the competition. I had to make a decision to let go.