Someone asked us, before the "Queer Art and HIV/AIDS" panel at this past year's OUTsider Fest, who Jim Fouratt is. Our response: "Jim Fouratt is many things to many people." How else to sum up a man who has had more lives than most people we know? "I provoke, and I'm provocative," says Fouratt, "but I always try to do it from a gentle space, believe it or not ... The thing I hope I keep alive in myself is a curiosity and willingness to engage."
Engagement has never been an issue for Fouratt, the co-founder of early gay lib orgs such as the GLF (Gay Liberation Front) and the legendary Danceteria in New York. Currently, he works in NYC as a (damn pithy) film critic for WestView News, and he has been the target of criticism from some trans folks who find his understanding, and basic questioning, of trans identities troublesome. Fouratt dismisses the concept of identity itself as symptomatic of a post-modern turn toward privileging subjectivity, but he's quick to point out that "our authentic selves are different from the authentic selves of heterosexual people."
In this respect, Fouratt is, in this feature's gang of five, most similar to Morgan Robyn Collado; especially considering his unapologetically anti-assimilationist politics – a politics that questions the centrality of the gay marriage decision. "If I hear another straight-acting lesbian or gay man tell me that we won everything we wanted," says Fouratt, "I think I'll hemorrhage." Fouratt is wary: of police authority – due to an early arrest at an anti-war protest – and of pharmaceutical companies; he is especially vocal about PrEP and new pharmacological interventions in sexuality and gender reassignment. This concern extends to the concept of Internet activism and sociability. "It's very different today, because with the Internet, there's no sense of discovery anymore," says Fouratt, "Yes, you can learn a lot, but is it nuanced? [Online engagement] doesn't create an authentic relationship. I think all people of my generation will talk about authenticity, inter-personal authenticity, which is what I mean about discovery."
Instead, Fouratt prefers to move people into the street, agitating his friends on Facebook to join protest movements such as #BlackLivesMatter. "I do try to get people to go into the street – and I find that most of the people that go, are gray-er people," says Fouratt. "The challenge is how do you translate a 'like' into an action, and how do you transfer us talking to each other and agreeing into confronting those that do not. I find it's a diminishing return."
Even so, he holds out hope that, "the queer spirit will survive." Perhaps this stems from the experience of having survived the punishing (and ongoing) AIDS pandemic; because for all his bravado, Fouratt is deeply circumspect about his need to make peace with others. "The biggest lesson from AIDS, is that people died that I had unresolved relationships with. Mainly old boyfriends," says Fouratt. "But I made a pact with myself that I would never let that happen again. My anger, my hurt meant nothing. Nothing. It was unresolved." Indeed, this led into some reflection about one of his most recent visits to Austin, to appear on the aforementioned "Queer Art and HIV/AIDS" OUTsider panel. "I did that in the panel [discussion], which centered around PrEP with that young man [Austin activist Sym Prole] who friended me on Facebook, and then defriended me. I thought his queer spirit was so sweet. And I was confronting him on a deep level. To talk to him about the things he thought he was doing that was so good for his community. And I never got to do that. Next time I'm in Austin, I want to sit with him."
That was the last thing he said to us, before abruptly bidding us adieu.
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