Site icon

+TALK: JAMES TISON

Writer/Comedian James Tison shares the absurdity of stigma when it comes to U=U.

Watch this all new episode of +Talk hosted by Karl Schmid right now!

Transcript below.

JAMES
Having science on my side, I guess is really what helped me rid myself, the internalized stigma.

KARL
Hello there, welcome to Plus Talk on Plus Life where we’re all about turning positive into a plus. Today’s guest has been described as blisteringly funny. He’s a comedian, he’s a writer, he’s a producer. James Tison, good to see you.

JAMES
Hello. Thank you for having me.

KARL
A pleasure to have you now, checking out videos on YouTube. I can’t give you HIV but I’d like to try and things like that. You are a funny person living with HIV. How long after you were diagnosed did you go, I’m gonna put this into my material?

JAMES
Oh, I think it was about a year and a half. By the time, it took me like six months before I was like, four to six months before I was testing undetectable, at about nine months before I had my like insurance under wrap and then about three to four more months for me to like settle in to like, oh, okay, this is just kind of, once you have those things settled, you’re good. And then sometime after that I started, once I felt like I wasn’t in a state of chaos about it. It became something that I could do stand up about.

KARL
I was watching one of your clips on TikTok and you talk about how HIV is the best thing that’s ever happened to you. And many of us say that because we, we go yep, it put things into perspective but you make the joke and the point poignantly, funnily enough about insurance.

JAMES
Yeah. I wish that was a joke. I know it’s an outlandish thing to say but just in my case, you know, I did not have health insurance and I was really caught in the undertow of the cycles of my own family’s drinking problems. And so, yeah, I mean, by my late twenties, I was not in a great place in general and HIV with the way that the New York state health insurance program works, ended up being the easiest way to get health insurance which is so up. It’s so up. So in that sense, I mean insurance is what helped me go to therapy consistently. And then I ended up getting sober. And so it just, it ended up it’s really health insurance is the best thing that ever happened to me and it’s absurd that HIV was the path to it.

KARL
What is great is that for people watching this, who think I’m not gonna get tested or any of that, because I don’t have health insurance, by you actually saying stuff like that it just shows people that there are programs out there and that there are there’s really no reason why in this day and age, you shouldn’t be going to get tested if you think insurance is the issue.

JAMES
This is a state by state basis. I know California has the same program. I mean, regardless, yeah, you should definitely get tested.

KARL
Let’s talk about the stigma that you’ve woven into your comedy as well. How do you navigate that? I mean, you know, it’s tough. I think we all, well, I know I do have dealt with a lot of internalized stigma, but we’ve been, I was very good at always going, you don’t want me, I’m damaged goods. And and thinking that I was being funny about it but actually when I started really sort of living my truth, I realized how damaging me saying that to myself was.

JAMES
I think the way that I’ve handled it is being, I think I filter out by being so honest about it, by having it, I mean, on any dating profile on any grinder profile. And I mean, you know, I’m on a positive and I’m undetectable and I’m, it’s, I think it’s in my bios on my social, like or it certainly has been if it’s not currently, like it’s in my standup. So I just think the, the actual like interactions of stigma or people being about it, I think I’ve I self filter by just having that. But again, that only came with once I, it took like a year and a half for me to then have that, not to not feel so internalized about it.

KARL
I was gonna ask, I mean, how, what was the moment? How did you get to that point to not feel that I guess, I guess therapy and all of that helps?

JAMES
You know, I think the science of it, I think just helped fully and how ignorant I was when I first tested positive. So it, in this instance it’s nice to truly know almost nothing about it, only in the long run that once you find out the actual science of what undetectable means, and then you go on the medication and you see like, you know, I make this joke in my standup now and I don’t mean it to make fun of diabetics, but I know diabetics and it’s a much more difficult life. It just is, you know, at this point in terms of the strain that it puts on your day. So I think it was just, once I was in the swing of living with it. And I just I’ve really having science on my side, I guess is really what helped me rid myself of the internalized stigma.

KARL
You identify as, as gender non-binary but you talk about being on the apps and grinder and on all of those things and being very open about it, yet, when you were diagnosed you didn’t really know anything about, as you just said, undetectable or furthermore, undetectable equals untransmittable. Now in the position of where you are and in your life with HIV, does that, how do you look back at that? Because don’t, you feel like all of us, cis-male, female, trans, gender non-binary, gay, straight, whatever you want to be, shouldn’t we all know about you equals you at this point.

JAMES
I mean, I certainly think so if only because I mean people are making some really dumb decisions. I mean, there are young gay people and look I don’t know that anybody should be having you know, rampant, unprotected sex, especially in this day and age, but regardless of whether or not I’m endorsing that, there are young gay people who would rather have bare back sex with someone who like, has not been tested, is saying they’re negative on their grinder profile than someone who has positive undetectable on their profile. And just in terms of your gambling odds, those are bad. Like, that’s just, those are poor choices, for people to not understand like what these things mean. And again, not endorsing any of this but 20 year olds are gonna 20 year old. And so I do think that yeah, people should know of all, whatever, who you’re or who, what your gender is.

KARL
And that’s is that one of the reasons why you speak about it in your comedy so much to, to kind of educate at the same time while bring some humor to it?

JAMES
Definitely, yes, but I do think if it didn’t shock audiences every time, if people weren’t still so ignorant about it, I would probably stop going back to that well so much. But until I find like an audience that doesn’t go into dead silence, the second that I say, I’m HIV positive, I think it’s still relevant material. I mean, even in New York where it doesn’t even matter where it’s been in New York, it’s every gay bar, every everywhere I’ve ever done it, it is still a, just you could hear a pin drop every time. And it’s a tension that people have around it.

KARL
I’ve said many times how, sort of shocked I am that the gay community at large, especially in a place like where we live in Los Angeles and west Hollywood you think we’d be woke to it, but no, I mean, it’s still.

JAMES
Well, and this is one of those things where like you can have all the facts that you want, but when you’re in a group of 40 people, you’re feeding off of the emotion around you. So if 20 of the people hear this, you know, I’m not I’m just saying this, you know, in defense of these audiences who are, you know, maybe they are even woke to what it is, but there’s still this like, oh but you know, it’s been tragic. Has it been tragic for you? And you, those are the people who know what’s best. And then the people who know nothing about it are like are you dying? So it is a group mentality that you’re fighting. Well, I think it’s the same. People have the same mentality around it, as it’s just that it’s something that someone did to you, you know, that it has the weight of, you know, it’s not like, it’s not like cancer where you can, you know you can get it maybe through some of your own behavior like smoking and stuff, but there’s not a person that can give it to you. So you don’t get, you know, that’s not on people’s brains but HIV still has, even if you know, you’re healthy. And so it’s still, oh someone did that to you or you, you let.

KARL
Or what did you do to put yourself in that situation?

JAMES
Exactly. Yeah.

KARL
Which then comes with shame. Talking about your career, did you ever, when you decided that you were at a point that you wanted to talk about it and incorporate it into your act and stuff, were there any, I guess quote unquote, well, meaning people around you that were like, listen, don’t…

JAMES
Every now and then, but, well, it was never all that well meaning. Most people were like, great do it, yeah. Because it was just it, I would get tips on how to make it better, but very rarely did it. There was only one older comedian who just thought I was I don’t know. She just didn’t think I had enough, that there was too much pathos or emotion and how I was doing it and that it should have more punch to it.

KARL
So is there any part of you when you’re doing your act that in a way feels cathartic to the more you do it? You know, I mean, for you personally, yes. You’re entertaining the audience, obviously possibly educating the audience, but for you yourself you’re talking about that internalized stigma that is sort of part of the process.

JAMES
Definitely, but not necessarily the HIV specific part, to be honest, there’s a, the later part of that set now I have in my like hour that I’m building and shopping around if anyone’s, you know, out there. But I, the most cathartic part to me is like, I I really do loathe the way that straight people talk about the gay lifestyle. It’s always been such a stupid word to me. And I grew up in Texas and in Bakersfield which is basically the Texas of California. And I’ve just heard so many people talk about how the gay lifestyle is ruled by lust and all of that. And it’s been so connected to HIV for people, like so many gay men. When I came out, my mom was like I don’t want you to get sick because that’s what…

KARL
You know what my mom said, the same thing. She goes, please just don’t get AIDS.

JAMES
So many, every, I cannot. You’re literally like the 48th person this year to say oh my God, me too.

KARL
Well listen, we appreciate what you do from all of us here at Plus Life. And just generally, you know, you’re making us laugh. You’re making us smile and whether you like it or not, you’re educating us about HIV and showing the world what it looks like and what it means to be HIV positive today. James Tison, thank you so much for your time.

JAMES
Thank you for having me.

KARL

That’s gonna do it for this episode of Plus Talk. If you want more information or to check out James’s, very funny material online just check out our website pluslifemedia.com. And don’t forget to follow us across all social media platforms we are @PLUSLIFEMEDIA. Until next time, stay safe, be nice to one another, wash your hands. We’ll see you soon.

Exit mobile version