Can Humor Combat HIV Stigma?
“Humor is one of the best ways to combat [HIV] stigma,” says Comedian James Tison.
The Switch spotlights people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA), as they share their lived experiences and the impact making “the switch” to positive lifestyle and health routines has had on their lives.
James Tison, who is a non-binary comedian living with HIV, found out his status at AHF (AIDS Healthcare Foundation) during routine HIV testing. James wasn’t prepared for the results he was going to get, but the support he received when he got them made the difference. “At first, I was blindsided and really scared, but everyone at the clinic was calm. I did start to calm down a bit more and realize I was going to be okay,” James shares.
James was most surprised by the stigma that is still associated with being HIV positive, especially when he brings it up in his comedy. But that hasn’t stopped him from sharing. “It’s shocking to me that in 2023 in New York every single time I bring up HIV as a standup comedian, it silences the entire audience,” James admits. When James shares his status with an audience, he breaks down the barriers of HIV stigma through humor, which helps make life a little less terrifying.
“I think humor at its best empowers all of us to deal with the hard and terrible parts of our existence and the humor strips it of the power that it holds over you,” James shares. Embracing his status through humor has helped James combat that stigma that even he holds within himself. It’s that switch in his mindset that lets him know that he’s going to be just okay.
“HIV is seen as the boogeyman, it’s the big, scary thing you’re not supposed to get. It’s been decades of that stigma in my head and no one who is testing positive for HIV is like, ‘Yay for me!’ but again, it’s not a tragedy either,” James jokes.