S2E4_The Accidental Activist_03-25-21
7:37PM Mar 19, 2021
Today, you will hear the views and ideas of our pozcast guests. We are eager to showcase their expertise and provide a platform for their views, but they may not always reflect or align with the views of the Positive Effect, or the MAP Center for Urban Health Solutions.
Welcome to the pozcast we are created by and for people living with HIV. On each episode, we explore what it means to be poz. We challenge the status quo and we share stories that matter to us. I'm James Watson and I'm HIV-positive. If you're living with HIV, listen up.
Yeah, it's—I feel kind of strange when I talk about the campaign because as corny as it sounds, it literally truly did come to me in a dream one night.
We have a great show for you. This is pozcast. Today on pozcast, we are going to continue our exploration of leadership and HIV activism from past episodes in an effort to understand more about the activist journey. How do you go from walking along quietly in your life, to finding that power in your voice and stepping up to try to make a difference in your world? Where's that change moment? What's the trigger? To discuss all of this and more. I'm thrilled to have with me today The Accidental Activist himself, Mr. Randy Davis. Randy is the Gay Men's Sexual Health Coordinator with the Gilbert Center in Barrie, Ontario, and heavily involved in the U=U movement as an activist and as the Pride Coordinator for the Prevention Access Campaign. In 2018, he was named as Simcoe Pride Person of the Year and is the host of a local TV program called Let's Be Perfectly Queer. If you don't know Randy himself, you may have seen or heard of his very successful social media campaign called "I Can Give You"—bringing awareness to the undetectable equals untransmittable or U=U message. Welcome, Randy. It's great to have you on the program.
Thank you very much, James, I greatly appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today.
It's a pleasure. So I mean, you have been HIV positive for a relatively short period of time. Yet you wasted no time in diving into HIV work and activism. So what was it that propelled you to step to the forefront? What was that changed moment for you?
Well, it's funny you say I wasted no time. I actually feel like I may have wasted some time that—in getting involved in the sector. But yes, I have been living with HIV now for just over six years. So I consider myself an HIV baby. But yeah, I guess what, what propelled me into the world of activism and advocacy, I got angry one day. My then partner and I had recently moved to Barrie, Ontario—I lived in Ottawa for 30 plus years prior to that—but coming here for a change of scenery, as well as an employment opportunity that that brought me here from from Ottawa, and I dragged him along with me. I remember watching a local broadcast on CTV Barrie and it was all around the AIDS Walk that was happening that year. And this was back in 2017, so I've been living with HIV for just over two years at that point, and had never gotten involved in any activism or advocacy around living with HIV. But I felt—I don't know whether I was more comfortable that I was away from my quote unquote, home, although moving to Barrie actually brought me much closer to where I grew up, and where the majority of my family lives. But yeah, I got angry watching the news one night when they were doing a segment on the upcoming AIDS Walk. And the individuals that they interviewed were folks living with HIV here in Simcoe County, locally, but these individuals still felt the need, in 2017, to have their faces blurred and their names not disclosed, and their voices changed. So the whole idea of the AIDS Walk and Smashing Stigma, it just seemed very ironic to me that there was no one willing to actually put a face forward and say, "This is what HIV looks like today." And I decided at that point that, you know, I was in a position at that point where I was very comfortable with my diagnosis, I was in a position where I had amazing support of both my partner and my family. And I felt almost this this need to speak up. So I did.
So what were you angry about? What were you angry about?
I was angry about the fact that living with HIV was still something to be ashamed of, and that folks couldn't openly just talk about the fact that this is a chronic illness that I'm living with and not have to worry about the the shame and stigma that comes with it—very naive, I absolutely recognize that. I recognize I've been naive when it comes to what it means to live with HIV, right from the onset of my diagnosis. But I think part of that naivety and lack of knowledge, I guess, on my part, helped to steal me to any issues that might come up, because it never occurred to me that there would be so much hate around folks living with HIV, it just did not compute with me that that was something that I would ever have to worry about.
Wow. You mentioned earlier that you said that you thought you might have been a bit late to the game. What did you say that?
Just because, again, I was diagnosed in 2015. And it's one of those things that in the work that I do now, with folks living with HIV and especially the newly diagnosed, there's a very similar thread that runs through those stories of diagnosis of, you know, "My life is over." "If I'm single, no one's ever gonna love me again"—those are all feelings that I felt in 2015. While at the same time recognizing that as little as I knew about HIV, when I was diagnosed, I didn't know enough to know that I'd be fine. But I just needed to get the right doctors, get the right medication and go on with my life. But again, that emotional response is is very real, and obviously dates back to a lot of my own stigmas that I had internally around HIV that didn't really occur to me until it affected me as closely as it did. I mean, I grew up and graduated high school in 1985. So at the height of the AIDS epidemic, and it's one of the things that I attribute to keeping me closeted, as long as it did was that, that fear of—back in those days anyway, if I had come out as gay, then automatically coming out as gay in 1985 means that the likelihood is you're also living with AIDS. And I know all of those, you know, the comparisons to folks like, you know, Rock Hudson and other things that were going on in that time, I just—I grew up in a very small town, there were 500 kids in my high school, we already knew quote, unquote, who the gay guy was in our school. Turns out that that is someone who has become a very good friend of mine—was a good friend of mine in high school, but we've maintained that friendship. They're also someone living with HIV, so we have that in common, as well as our high school backgrounds. So that's, that's been kind of cool to have those reconnections. But the idea of living with HIV and having to hide it, didn't sit well with me.
So it's important for you to have people out and open and unapologetic, to sort of model the way, as it's put.
Yeah, absolutely. And I think it's one of those things, it's my story to tell and to allow someone else to have that power to share my story or disclose my status, when that's my choice to make—very much like my choice to tell my coming out story. You know, there's a lot of similarities in both those stories of disclosure and coming out, and I wanted the narrative to be mine, not someone else's.
Right. So can you walk us through what the "I Can Give You" campaign is all about and how it came about, and what impact you hope it has?
Yeah, it's I feel kind of strange when I talk about the campaign because as corny as it sounds, it literally truly did come to me in a dream one night. And that is in itself strange because I don't dream or at least if I do dream, I never remember them in the morning. I sleep very well. It's just I don't have any dreams that I remember. But this one sort of stuck with me. And I think it it was sparked around the idea of the U=U campaign, more specifically, Terrence Higgins Trust with their "Can't Pass It On" campaign, which was then translated to a similar campaign here in Canada by CATIE and, you know, huge supporter of U=U, Prevention Access Campaign. I will speak about U=U and what it means to be undetectable and the power that that can can really lead to ending this epidemic for as long as it takes. But one of the things that strikes me in a lot of the narratives around being undetectable is that theme of I can't give you HIV, I can't give you HIV, I can't give you HIV, which is a great message. But I just kept thinking what about all the amazing things because I've met some unbelievable, powerful people living with HIV since my diagnosis, and certainly since getting involved in the sector, and these are folks that are creative and talented and passionate and there's just so much more not to to belabor the point, positive aspects of folks living with HIV that go well beyond their diagnosis, that that's what I wanted to highlight. So the thought of a HIV and using those letters to describe, you know, I can give you hope I can give you inspiration, I can give you value, but I can't give you HIV. So focusing more on the number of positive aspects in someone's life that folks living with HIV are able to contribute to our society, as opposed to just the one thing that we can't give you.
You know, it's such, it's such an exciting campaign. When I first saw it, as a person living with HIV, you know, I was, it's inspiring, and I was really impressed with the sort of interactive nature. It was thrilling to see people have a forum to step up and gather sort of collectively around the same positive message. But like many people living with HIV, I'm a bit jaded. And I'm very careful about putting myself out there, again, for use in another campaign or another fundraiser. So can you tell me why do you think people have been responding so positively to this campaign?
You know, that's a very good question. And I honestly don't know a real definitive answer to that, especially given as we've talked about already, I'm fairly new in the sector. So I don't know that I really have that credibility, for lack of a better word behind me. But I've been able to partner with some some amazing people. And maybe those partnerships have have translated. Bruce Richmond, for example, who began U=U in the Prevention Access Campaign—it's coming up to almost the three year anniversary to the very day that I first met Bruce. And when I think about the fact that it's only been three years that I've known Bruce Richmond, and other local folks—like Brittany Cameron and Bob Leahy—these are all people that I met at the same time, Bryan Jones, who's a grassroots or DIRT Roots activist in the US around U=U, I had was fortunate enough to meet them at a symposium in Ottawa around U=U. So I think maybe that credibility in that respect, has helped. But I made a very pointed attempt to just reach out to the broad community. And the only requirement for anyone who wanted to become involved in the campaign was that they needed to be living with HIV with a suppressed viral load. And that wasn't to exclude our brothers and sisters who aren't able to attain a suppressed viral load, I absolutely recognize that, but this is a pointed campaign around what it means to be undetectable. So I had to sort of exclude a few folks who wanted to be involved that haven't reached undetectable yet. But I just I just put it out there on social media, and I made a plea on the U=U Facebook page, which has got 1000s of followers, and to my surprise, it hit a chord with folks. And people started reaching out to me and asking how to get involved, and "where do I send my picture to?" And "what words would make sense for me?" And I'm like, you know what, I'm not going to tell you what words to use, because they need to be yours. They're not my interpretation of what you can give. It's what you feel you can give. So if you know, if if hope is the only word you come up with, and I've had 12 other people use hope for their "H" in the HIV, then that's fine, because it's about the individual. Then yeah, I've done a little bit of research into who's been responding nd I think I've hit every single continent across our planet other than Antarctica. Australia has been huge. I've had a great response from from folks in Australia. I was actually just on a call on the weekend, doing a presentation on HIV and stigma with the folks from Gilead with their HIV nurses and pharmacists. And one of the reasons why they asked me to speak was because of the I Can Give You campaign and that's just—when I got the invitation back in December, that just blew me away, that they would resonate that much on the other side of the world. I mean, they're 16 hours ahead of us.
What really captures me about the campaign is because—I think because it's for personal activism, you know, it comes from you. It feel it feels genuine—it is genuine—it's not coming from a big organization or a pharmaceutical company, it's coming from you, a person living with HIV. And I think that has a lot to do with its success. And I congratulate you on that.
It sort of makes me you know, begs the question. So, can anybody be an activist?
Absolutely, absolutely. I think just like—and we learned this in your guests, from a previous show that I listened to recently, Tara Jewel from from PLDI, the OAN initiative, something that I've been involved with. I actually sit on the board for the OAN, so I'll give a little bit of a disclosure there. But yeah, even prior to my involvement with the OAN, getting involved in PLDI and the idea of leadership looks different for all of us. And that doesn't mean that it's any better or any worse than anyone elses just, it's that's what it is. I think activism and advocacy goes hand in hand with that—that same mindset that anyone can be a leader, anyone can be an activist, anyone can be an advocate. It's just on what level you you want to go or have the capability to go. And I'm, again, very fortunate recognize the privilege that I sit in to be able to do the work I do and do it without a whole lot of strings attached. So yeah, it makes it my own advocacy. And we talk about, you know, the the I Can Give You a campaign as my campaign, and I'm extremely proud, but at the same time, I'm happy to sort of partner with other organizations to grow the campaign. You know, all of the posters and things that you see on social media, I use Canva. It's a free app that I go to, and I take their pictures and I add the words and the U=U logo and post it on social media. So it's not rocket science. But I'm fortunate enough that there has gotten some attention from national organizations, CANFAR, for example, reached out to me wanting to use the campaign to promote a new website that they're launching next month. And we shot a video—a video translation of the campaign as opposed to a poster, which is something that I had envisioned in my mind as wanting to do anyway, certainly being able to partner on that with a national organization. And I'm just on pins and needles waiting for for it to be released. So I can actually share it with others. I've seen the final version of the minute long video, and I love it and to be able to share that more widely, is something I'm excited to do in the very near future.
Amazing. Absolutely. So what is one piece of advice you'd give for someone living with HIV who might want to take their first steps into activism or advocacy? Like, what should people consider before making that leap, do you think?
Oh, gosh, that's such a personal question that it's hard for me to give a definitive answer. But really, I think I often just sort of give examples of my experience and what made me feel comfortable. And that was number one: if you're going to, you know, get into sharing of your experiences, certainly as publicly as I do, then for me, it was important that I made those closest to me who weren't already aware, I needed to let them know beforehand. So my mother, for example, comes to mind who I hadn't told my diagnosis to, but knowing that I was going to start speaking publicly, I let her know. Because originally, when I was diagnosed, I thought the only people that I ever need to disclose to and talk about the fact that living with HIV or people that I might decide I want to have a sexual relationship with. Anybody else, you know, it's not their business. I was very naive around disclosure laws and HIV criminalization, I really knew very little about that. But very early on in my diagnosis, my hand was was sort of forced, there was a situation where it was, you know, either you reveal your HIV status, or I'm going to do it for you. And that, again, angered me. And, and that's, again, I didn't disclose publicly at that point—certainly not as publicly as I as I do now. But that was one of those things, you know, this is my story to tell, I wasn't ready to tell it just yet, at that point. But my hand was forced, and I wanted to make sure that again, it was my story. So I wanted the folks that I was being threatened with being disclosed to I wanted them to hear it from me, before they heard it from a third party who really didn't have any— the knowledge as to what I was going through as much as I do myself now. So it's one of those things that it's especially when it comes from someone that you don't expect it to that would not necessarily have your back. But you know, would be more understanding of the circumstances. That wasn't the case. And I can forgive, but I have a very difficult time forgetting. So yeah, so I made the point of, you know, it was time for me to sit these folks down and let them know my story. But I think that's—if you make the decision that you want to get involved in this sort of work and be as public as you are, I always recommend, you know, reach out to folks like me who are doing it. I didn't do that, I didn't really have any resources that at the time that I decided to jump into the speak. But I had, as I said before, the love and support of my family, and the man who is now my husband. I think that's incredibly important to make sure you have a support system around you. Because as much as I have this drive, to speak out about living with HIV and try and redefine what it means to live with HIV in 2021, it can also get really exhausting sometimes. And it's it's good to have somebody that can understand that and see it and say, you know, it's time to maybe step back or take a break and maybe say no once in a while to do some things instead of saying yes to everyone.
Yeah, I want to ask you about that. I mean, it's I mean, you have to put yourself out there a lot. I mean, it's hard to have a down day, I would imagine so. So how do you stay energized and healthy?
Yeah, it's very true. It's definitely it's very rare that I have a down day, especially in the work that I do right as the Gay Men's Sexual Health Coordinator at the Gilbert Center, which is an AIDS service organization, most of the folks that go online that are looking for help have access to my email address and my cell phone number, for my work number. And as much as I try to shut those off and put them aside in off hours and on the weekends, I also would hate to miss somebody who was in crisis, just because it's after five o'clock on a Friday afternoon, or, or a Saturday afternoon when I'm not technically at work. So I don't turn my phone off. And I don't stop looking at my emails when it's not work hours. And I think part of that is—and I've done a lot of workshops and been involved in webinars talking about self care, and you know, the idea of a bubble bath, while as much as I love to sit in my hot tub or even have a bubble bath once in a while or, or read a good book, my self care is being able to be there to talk to folks who are looking for my help. Whether it be in finding a doctor to help them because they don't have anyone in their area that is an HIV specialist, whether it be somebody who's newly diagnosed, who just wants to use me as a sounding board, or whether it's someone, as you suggested, reaching out to ask, you know, how do I get involved in some of the work that you're doing. And I had an hour long conversation with an individual just this past week around that that very topic—somebody who had been newly diagnosed probably maybe six to eight months ago that connected with me, through the work that I do, started following me on social media, and they're at the point now where they want to, you know, start dipping their toes in the water. And of course, I suggested, go on the OAN website and scroll down to PLDI, and find out when the next PLDI session is because that that, for me was an incredibly powerful weekend, and one that I will never forget. And it's those—there are resources out there to help folks who, who want to get involved and become leaders or activists and advocates. But yeah, I think the biggest thing is, certainly for me is having that, that support system in place to sort of protect you. And I'm also at the point in my life where I can't say I don't care what people think about me. But I also don't care what people think about me. So as strange as that may seem, you know, I absolutely care. And it bothers me if I, if I hear someone say something negative about the work I'm doing and or who just doesn't really understand it. But at the same time when I get phone calls or messages from folks who really do get it—the response, for example, that I've had since my presentation on Friday night with the folks in Australia, I got another email overnight from a nurse practitioner that was part of the conference that heard me speak and was a lovely email. So those are the sorts of things that energize me and keep me going.
What must really piss you off though is you can't be there.
Oh, trust me. That has been brought up. I've mentioned it on more than one occasion to the organizers. And have said—I think they are maybe a little annoyed with me—I keep mentioning the fact that no, I'm available for next year. And they actually did tell me that they have a conference just a few weeks after this one that I just did for the nurses and pharmacists, they have one for physicians in Australia. And I said, Well, next year, fly me down, I might as well just stay there and fly me down for one conference and then have me come back and then go back down and three weeks for another. So like I've already told my Executive Director, I may be in Australia for a month next year, but we'll see how that goes.
You know, I think it's—just to change tracks here—I think it's you know, it's becoming easier to find your voice with so much social media, and it's becoming more accessible. So do you think online activism is a means to an end? Or is it necessary to like take the fight to the streets into the real world?
Yeah, I don't think you have to use one independently of the other. Certainly right now and over the last year, there's been no other option, really but online activism. Obviously, we've seen some demonstrations, out in the streets around Black Lives Matters, and those are important things that I think we need to continue to do regardless of a pandemic—safely, of course, and masked. But I think when things return to whatever, and I hate the term "new normal", but to whatever our before times looks like or after times. I think it is absolutely important that it go beyond just someone's social media platform. And social media is great to get the word out and expand that visibility beyond just for me the four corners of Simcoe County. And that's one of the great things about the pandemic, I think, is that has sort of allowed me to move beyond the restrictions of just Simcoe Ontario or even the GTA, because I do get down to Toronto when I do events with Casey House and other organizations in Toronto as well, but I think a combination of both is really ideal. And I think that's one of the things that I personally think is missing from HIV and AIDS activism, is that out on the streets getting loud and showing our anger, you know. The activism around the early days of HIV and AIDS that really, really made a difference that I credit to allowing me to be able to live the healthy life that that I live today, I think we need to get back into that we need to be shouting loudly for a cure, for a vaccine. We're already seeing articles about the fact that the work that's been done around the COVID-19 vaccine, a lot of that is thanks to the efforts of folks looking for a vaccine or a cure for HIV. And the hope is that when COVID dies down a little bit, that maybe that will spark the researchers to to get more heavily involved in finding a cure. You know, I don't know how realistic that may or may not be, but I don't think it's something that we can give up on or forget about. And we need to be be louder about it. We certainly, certainly need to get loud, around access to treatment and care, and equitable access to treatment and care right across the board for folks living with HIV, if we seriously want this epidemic to ever end. And that's why U=U I think is so important, because I think it really is the foundation to be able to end the epidemic. And that's why we always talk about—when we talk about U=U, the third "U" of universal access to care and treatment, and making sure that those who are even more marginalized against an already marginalized population, have the same access to treatment as care as this white cisgendered gay guy does.
And I think that's an important part that, that we really need to get angry about, you know, this is how we, this is where we flood the streets, and stand in front of the government offices for our healthcare and demand that this be addressed. You have an epidemic that's gone on for 40 years, and still have folks to this day living with an illness and not knowing it. You know, what is it 10% of the population of folks living with HIV in Canada aren't aware or 14%—it's a large enough number that unless we start to really make a concerted effort to end the epidemic, and that is done by making access to treatment and care and testing equitable for all, it's never going to happen. And we've got the tools to do it. So it's just finding the political will, and if that means we have to start getting out there and talking more bluntly, and perhaps even shaming some folks—we've got a local health unit here, who I adore, and do a lot of great work with and was very proud when they signed on to the consensus statement for U=U a couple of years back, they were the first health unit in Ontario to—or in Canada, rather—to sign on to the U=U consensus statement. But that's all they've done. You know, that's it. That's where it ended. And there was supposed to be this whole—we talked about this campaign, and it was going to be on their website, and it's nowhere to be found. And it's been crickets ever since. And it's not a fight that I'm prepared to take on right now while they're deploying all the resources to COVID, but it's certainly right there at at my jump off point, as soon as things get back to whatever normal looks like. You're gonna hear from me about the fact that what are you doing, why isn't this being talked about?
Yeah. So how does your activism and advocacy work then fit in with your work at the Gilbert Center? Is there tension there?
You know, what I feel extremely fortunate to be given the position that I've been given at the Gilbert Center. And I certainly have folks that I have to answer to, specifically my Executive Director, but so much support around the work that I do. And we do have partnerships with with our local health unit through the through the center, and I value those partnerships. Absolutely. There's some awesome folks working at our local health unit that I've done testing drives with and other things, in the almost three years that I've held my position there. So I recognize that it's a lot of these things don't come, you know, they come from higher up. So they may be out of the control of some of the local folks that I deal with. But at the same time, they know that, you know, I'm not going to just go away. I'm somewhat persistence, sort of a dog with a bone when it comes to some things. And again, fortunately, the relationships that I have with the management team at at the Gilbert Center—I make a point of all of my social media, you'll see when you log on to my Facebook, for example—that you know, I've got a disclaimer on there. These are my views not those of my employer. I purposely took a step back from my work's social media—I used to have access to be able to post on that—I don't any longer only because, number one I don't like to be censored and number two, I didn't want to inadvertently attach my personal views to something that the center might not be part of. Although that very rarely happens. My view and that of the center's is fairly well aligned. And again, they've always had my back. I spent the entire month of October in 2019, traveling across the country on the Canada-wide Slay Stigma Tour with Trinity K Bonet from Season Six of RuPaul's Drag Race. And I remember getting a phone call from my Executive Director when I was in Yellowknife, which was the first stop of the tour, saying that he gotten a little bit of grief from folks at the AIDS Bureau about, Where's Randy? Why is he not in Ontario? It's like, well, it's a bigger message. You know, it's, it's, it's the ability to spread this message and this awareness beyond just Simcoe-Muskoka. And I'm very fortunate that when I'm given those opportunities, that when I take it to, to my bosses, they've never said no to me. So I had the chance—I got the chance to visit 24 cities in 30 days, from coast to coast, right across this country. It was exhausting and I think I could write a book about some of the experiences with Trinity K Bonet.
Is she as paranoid as she was on the show or is she—is that different?
I'm not gonna comment. But I will I will say this about about Trinity and Josh: you know, it takes a lot of courage, especially as a gay person of color living with HIV to be that openly disclosing and sharing their status. And let's face it, as much as we like to think we're so much better in Canada, I think we've we've seen that that's really not the case. And to go to places like Yellowknife and in Calgary and Saskatoon—we didn't make it to Sudbury, unfortunately, because of a snowstorm. And Winnipeg, that was the one stop that was on the tour that we couldn't make. But to be so open and share their story because Trinity—as much as it was a infotainment tour, so there was a lot of entertainments from not only Trinity, but other local drag and queer artists that every step along the way, I think some of the most poignant moments came from the times where Trinity and I had a Q&A on stage and oftentimes had the ability to take questions from from the audience and to just be so open about their experience and and share those stories. incredibly impactful. I mean, then the number of folks that would come up to us after the show, having either disclosed for the very first time to us during the Q&A, or disclose to us personally afterwards. It was huge. It was you know, but it certainly highlighted the amount of stigma that still exists across this country. I mean, I think just about every stop, there was questions around saliva being a means of transmission of HIV, which...
Yeah, wow. Exactly. Yeah, exactly.
So I have a few more questions for you. With some that I've, I just want to know.
Well, I may or may not answer...
I know, I know. I want to talk a little bit about interviewing, because I've never really interviewed somebody who interviews people. I'm talking about interviewing for Let's Be Perfectly Queer, and I think of this—because after when, when Larry King died when he passed away the famous CNN reporter, I heard that he purposely did little to no research on his guests before speaking to them because he thought it would interfere with the interview. He wanted to be inquisitive and learn along with his audience. What's your approach to an interview? How much research or prep time do you put into a show before you record?
Yeah, I mean, while I had not heard Larry's approach, I would have to say somewhat similar, actually. And I often when I reach out to a guest to have them on the show, one of the things that I like least is when they asked me to give them a rundown of some of the questions I'm going to ask. It's like, I really don't know what questions I'm going to ask just yet. So I obviously I do a little bit of background, because obviously if it's—everybody that comes on my show is someone that I want on my show. Very rarely, a couple of times, I've had folks reach out to me and saying we'd like to be on your show, what do you think? And my take on Let's Be Perfectly Queer, right from the get go has been, I want this to be a platform for others to be able to share stories or talk about initiatives that that they feel are important. So it's not, it's not about what I want to speak about, it's always about what my guest wants to speak about. For me, I like to sort of let them take the lead on the show. So I'll get an idea from a guest, What is it the message that you want to share? What do you want to focus on? Because it's only half an hour, which sometimes I'm grateful for, because even half an hour for some guests is way too long. I'm like, "Oh, is this ever going to end?" But at the same time, on certainly, you know 90% of the shows I do, half an hour's like—and I'm screaming because I'll back when we were in the studio, I would hear in my earpiece from my producer that it's time to wrap up. But now that we're doing it through Zoom, I have my cell phone up, and I'll get a text from my producer saying, you need to wrap up and I'm nowhere near wanting to wrap up, I haven't really gotten to the meat of anything, because the conversations have been been that fruitful. It's a bit of a combination, I guess, a little bit of background, because I don't want to go in completely blind. But I like it to be very conversational. So I don't want it to be too scripted. I'll script an introduction and read that so I don't miss anything, or make sure that I get pronouns correct, and that sort of thing. But beyond that, I don't do a whole lot of preparation for the show specifically, it's, again, just a quick background around who my guest is and what they want to focus on for their message and then let it flow sort of organically from there.
Right. You're not beginning the interview, "And who are you?" Or something...
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And I'm by no, I'm by no means an expert. I mean, I've only been doing Let's Be Perfectly Queer for—we're in our second season now. And it's one of those things, again, that very fortunate it's sort of fell into my lap, like a lot of things I've done since my diagnosis. And that in itself is weird when I think back on what my life was like before being diagnosed, to where it is today. You know, when I look back at my life six years ago, if you had told me that I would be doing the work I'm doing now and have the impact that I've been able to have, I wouldn't have believed it. I honestly would not have believed it.
Lemonade out of lemons.
Right. Do you get stage fright?
I get nervous. Absolutely. I definitely felt that during during the tour with Trinity that was, I mean, by the time we got into sort of a rhythm, it wasn't so bad. But I absolutely remember just sweating buckets for our first show in Yellowknife. And one of the one of the local performers was having their makeup done by the person that does their makeup and of course with this head under under lights, it can get a little drippy. And they gave me the tip of using deodorant, or antiperspirant, on my head to cut down on the glare and help cut down on some of the sweating and it worked. It worked. That's what I do when I go on stage now or did then—I haven't been on stage in quite some time. And I don't get nearly as nervous now as I did in in the early days, and certainly much more comfortable on a Zoom platform where I can sit at my kitchen table like I am now and just have a conversation. But yeah, I definitely get nervous. I was nervous on Friday night before they connected me with the 130 plus nurses and pharmacists in Australia, because that's a group that I never spoke to before. And I don't have any kind of a scientific background or anything. It's all just experience of this guy who lives with HIV and why on earth they would want to hear from me. I don't know. But I've started to recognize and it's a term that I that was brought to my attention even before I I started my career in activism advocacy and that surround imposter syndrome. I didn't know what that was, then I had some issues around that in my previous employment. And I still, as much as I'm much more comfortable doing the work I do now, and often talk about, you know, the quote of "if you find a job you love, you'll never work another day in your life." I didn't know what that meant until I started doing this work. And I really, honestly believe that now. I didn't feel that way about the finance career I had not in any way shape or form. I didn't hate my job. But it wasn't nearly as fulfilling and soul nurturing as what I do now.
Right. So what's one thing you wish you had known when you began your journey living with HIV?
Hmm, that's a very good question. And one I don't think I've ever been asked before. I guess it's—the one thing I wish I'd known is more about the the amount of stigma that really does exist, because as I mentioned earlier, I was very naive about that and still get caught off guard by some of the hatred. There's no other word for it, but the hatred that is leveled upon me simply because of an illness. You know, if I was talking to you as an advocate around folks living with diabetes or living with cancer, I don't think I'd have near the hate thrown at me the way that I do simply because I live with HIV, so. But even that, I don't know whether, you know, maybe it's a good thing I didn't know as much as I do now because that might have hindered my ability to get involved and really open up about what It means to live with HIV. So it's one of those things, you know, hindsight is 2020. And what I like to have known, yes. Would it have changed? Maybe, but maybe it would not have been a good change.
Right. Well, I'm happier in the space you're in now for sure. Thank you. So I have five quick questions for you five rapid fire questions. Okay? You can only choose one.
Yes, I've listened to the program.
People try to cheat, but...
I know. I will not cheat.
Okay. Facebook or Instagram?
Hairy or smooth?
RuPaul or Michelle Visage?
Introvert or extrovert?
Angry letters or protests?
Fantastic. Thank you, Randy. Thank you for being my guest on the show today.
I very much appreciate the opportunity. James. Thanks very much. It's been wonderful speaking with you.
That's it for us this month. Thanks for tuning in. We hope you'll join us next time on pozcast. And if you have any comments or questions or ideas for new episodes, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. That's the number four and the letter U. Pozcast is produced by The Positive Effect at the MAP Center for Urban Health Solutions. The Positive Effect is a facts-based lived experience movement powered by people living with HIV and can be visited online at positiveeffect.org. Technical production is provided by David Grein of the Acme podcasting company in Toronto.