The Trans Comic Looking for Love ‘at the End of the World’

The first thing to know about Jes Tom, a stand-up comedian who approaches the craft with a spirit of mischief, is that they “only say true things.”

So when their roughly 75-minute set parcels out recollections of explaining glory holes to their mother, watching their polyamorous girlfriend get married on Twitch or discovering — after four years on testosterone — that they were newly into men, you would be forgiven for wondering how any one person’s dating life could be so complex.

“I thought testosterone would turn me into a man, but it turned me into a twink,” Tom, who is nonbinary, revealed to a cackling West Village audience last week at the Greenwich House Theater in Manhattan.

“Less Lonely,” Tom’s solo comedy show about their quest for love, sex and gender confirmation “at the end of the world,” swerves between self-deprecation, vulnerability and shameless horniness. In the show, which opened on Monday, Tom takes their obsession with death and love and recalls the highs and lows of navigating relationships from their adolescence through their early 30s.

An earlier version of the show — Tom has been developing and touring it for about two years now — was “inspired by love and by being in love,” they said. But what was once the final note is now, “like, a midpoint in the show.”

“Since then, my life has changed over and over and over again, and the world has been changing,” Tom said. “And so I’ve just been kind of building out and updating and trying to find what is the actual story of the show.”

“I thought testosterone would turn me into a man, but it turned me into a twink,” Tom explains in the show.Credit…Lanna Apisukh for The New York Times
The show includes a tongue-in-cheek disclaimer warning audiences that Tom is a trans person who likes to talk about sex. Audiences seem open to the idea.Credit…Lanna Apisukh for The New York Times

Tom, who is 33 and of half-Japanese and half-Chinese descent, said they knew they were queer from a young age. Growing up in San Francisco, a city with large L.G.B.T.Q. and Asian populations, they never felt underrepresented — a disadvantage they managed to overcome.

“There’s nothing worse for a queer teenager than a supportive environment,” Tom joked onstage while wearing a vintage Yohji Yamamoto shirt, short black trousers from Asos and Gucci loafers. How will they ever forge an interesting personality?

On a video call, Tom went into detail about their fixation with death and an “apocalypse romance” — their term for the theoretical person with whom you’re going to ride out the end of days, a major preoccupation of the show. What began as a quest to find “the one,” whether through monogamy, polyamory or other styles of dating, turned into a break from it altogether.

“From when I was 11 years old, I spent my entire life either being in a relationship or being so obsessed with the idea of getting into a relationship,” they said. “Something in me changed; I stopped wanting to do that.”

Now they are trying to focus on themselves, figure out who they are and what they need.

“I think it has to do with me realizing that I was kind of casting for a partner instead of necessarily dating people I had a real connection to,” Tom said.

Tom moved to New York City after graduating from Smith College in 2013 and started doing comedy. In the years since, they have worked on shows like “Tuca & Bertie” and their own Instagram series, “Dear Jes,” for Netflix. They were most recently a story editor on the second season of Max’s “Our Flag Means Death.”

For nonbinary people in comedy, navigating the industry still comes with challenges about their own identities. At the start of their performance, Tom offered a tongue-in-cheek disclaimer to the crowd, stating that although they are a trans person who likes to talk about sex, they aren’t representative of all trans people, who often are stereotyped that way.

“Less Lonely,” which opened on Monday, is being performed in Greenwich Village through Jan. 6.Credit…Lanna Apisukh for The New York Times

Later, Tom described being mindful of the possibility that their identity could be taken out of context, and potentially be weaponized against other trans people.

“I just wanted to outwardly acknowledge that,” Tom said of their disclaimer during the show, “because I literally self-identify as a pervert.”

They said that they felt a “burden of responsibility,” being a marginalized person in the public eye. And while there are certainly other successful trans stand-up comics, there aren’t a ton of them.

“I also just want to be like, this is not scary,” Tom said. “Sex is not scary. And me talking about sex is not scary.”

Through their onstage exploration of feelings of loneliness, different relationship dynamics, fears and jealousy, Tom comes to the conclusion that you don’t need “the one” when the world is falling apart. You just need to find love wherever and however you can receive it.

“It’s about transition. It’s about change,” they said.

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