Talking with Cheerleader to the Revolution @JesTom

Jes Tom (they/them) is a weird queer standup comic based in NYC, gleefully providing the nonbinary queer Asian American radical cyborg perspective that everyone never knew they wanted. You can find them on Instagram @jesthekid and watch the short film they created with fellow comic Chewy May here. This week, Tom talked to me about three of their favorite tweets, plus Asian and queer representation in film and TV, laughing about what exhausts you, and earnest jokes.

I wrote this the day before the inauguration of you-know-who. I don’t tweet a lot about current/political events (idk maybe that’s a lie) since so many other people have that covered. When I do I like to be implicit, like we’re all in on a joke together. This is essentially a self care tweet: “there are tough times ahead, remember to take care of yourself.” But fun.

What are other topics you avoid tweeting about and why?

These days, I try to curate my Twitter presence to provide some relief to marginalized people. There’s so much injustice, oppression, and violence–and information about that injustice, oppression, and violence–happening in our country and in the world that Twitter can be very exhausting. I want my Twitter to be a space where marginalized people can come and laugh, perhaps about the very things that exhaust us. I try not to share too much bad news, not because I’m ignorant or because I want people to be ignorant, but because I think bad news is pretty ubiquitous on the internet. I consider myself to be “a cheerleader to the Revolution” – I’m here to keep spirits high in the worst times.

Conversely, what are your favorite topics to tweet about?

I’m very narcissistic – I prefer to just tweet my inner monologue in one-liner form. If someone misgenders me, I’ll tweet about it. If I get food poisoning, I’ll tweet about it. If I see dolphins frolicking in the ocean, I’ll tweet about it.

This of course is about the Ghost in the Shell movie starring Scarlett Johansson. I have ambitions to work in film and TV as a nonbinary trans Asian American actor, so I’m very obsessed with what (and whose) stories are being told, who is directing and producing those stories, and who is being cast to live the stories out. Ghost in the Shell has been a hot example of Hollywood whitewashing this year, though I can think of at least four other whitewashed/Orientalist shows & movies that have either come out or been announced in April alone (Netflix’s Iron Fist, Death Note, & Journey to the West, and Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs). What’s really funny and sad about this tweet is the image is something I encountered in a catalog more than 10 years ago. I remember seeing this picture as a middle schooler and thinking, “that’s ridiculous, that doesn’t make sense, that won’t even appeal to the people the shirt was made for.” And now more than 10 years later it’s still an accurate metaphor for Western media’s erasure of Asian people.

How, if at all, do you think Twitter has helped with Asian and trans representation in film and TV as well as the discussion of both those? What do you think it could be doing better?

I think Twitter is really useful for spreading information and connecting likeminded people. When it comes to the specific issue of representation and erasure in film & TV, I think it helps people who are affected feel less alone. Do I think Twitter DIRECTLY affects the state of representation and erasure in film & TV? Since I was able to name all those brand new shows & movies that erase Asian people, I guess not. But Twitter has helped bring this issue from niche discussion into mainstream discourse. For example, Ghost in the Shell flopped, and most of the reviews I’ve seen cite online upset over whitewashing as a key reason why. Without Twitter, most people would probably just think it flopped because it was a boring and shallow movie.

Do you prefer writing topical or evergreen tweets? Do you prefer reading one or the other?

I think topical tweets are really fun, but kind of easy. I prefer to write tweets that are objectively strong jokes, no matter how much time has passed (though I suppose all the tweets I’ve shared here are pretty topical). I love revisiting old tweets and finding something that makes me think, “that’s STILL really fucking funny.”

What are your favorite and least favorite things about Twitter?

I love Twitter for its accessibility. I saw a thinkpiece a while back that lamented “young people being more willing to read tweets than essays,” but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. The 140 character format presents difficult concepts in an easily digestible form. People who don’t have access to formal education can learn so much from Twitter. Hell, I did have access to formal education, and I still learn so much from brilliant thinkers on Twitter all the time.

I don’t like how Twitter allows certain users to proliferate hate and abuse. To me banning users that send racism and threats of violence seems like a no brainer. And still, I’ve seen so many accounts from marginalized people saying they’ve been harassed and threatened with no help from Twitter. The internet is a reflection of the rest of the world, so violence on the internet means violence in the world.

This is not a joke, just a cold hard fact. It’s the start of a longer Twitter rant about casting trans actors, if you’re interested. I find that right now, there’s a push to cast actual transgender actors to play transgender characters–as opposed to cis actors playing trans characters (a la The Danish Girl, Transparent, Dallas Buyers Club, etc)–which I think is great. BUT. A lot of people in charge of casting trans stories don’t seem to understand very much about trans people! And that’s how someone like me, a nonbinary trans actor who was assigned female at birth (“afab”), ends up being offered roles for trans women (people like Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, & Caitlyn Jenner), which is not actually progressive or sensible casting at all.

Do you make an effort to keep a balance between making jokes and earnest political or social justice-inspired tweets? Why or why not?

I figure people more informed than I am are already making great political and social justice-minded tweets, and I mostly prefer to share their tweets. When I do make non-joke tweets, it’s because I believe I have a unique perspective to share. For the most part my Twitter is for jokes, though I consider my jokes to be very earnest.

Jenny Nelson lives and writes in Brooklyn.

Talking with Cheerleader to the Revolution @JesTom