A JT LeRoy Reader

Susan Gerhard March 23, 2006

The hardest working hoax in show business, JT LeRoy, as an author, was tireless: not just in the creation of three books, the collection of dozens of celebrity friends, the performance of five-hour phone calls in character, the penning of countless articles and the fanning of scores of rumors — including the how-could-anyone-believe-it fathering of a child to Asia Argento — JT LeRoy, a.k.a. Laura Albert, also raised a son of her own to seven or so years of age in the time this busy career was unfolding. We forget all this, because, as fashionable as it once was to have a book by JT LeRoy in your backpack, or near your masthead, it’s even more fashionable to claim you always knew who JT LeRoy wasn’t. As the Asia Argento-directed/JT LeRoy-initiated The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things opens this Friday at the Castro Theatre, we take a moment to reflect on the art of deceit in the marketing of fiction.

1. National Public Radio: Terry Gross’s “Fresh Air,” claims of JT LeRoy in 2001, on the NPR site, “The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (Bloomsbury) is the collection of autobiographical stories that he wrote at the age of 16. And Sarah a novel about a cross-dressing 12-year-old hustler. LeRoy’s writing comes from his experience traveling with his mother across the country.”

2. New York Times: Warren St. John writes, in Nov., 2004, that “JT LeRoy remembers well the first time he read about himself in print. It was an article in the British magazine The Face, declaring Mr. LeRoy, just 19 at the time, a literary wunderkind. Mr. LeRoy — who says his mother was a drug addict and prostitute and that he spent his youth as a cross-dressing hooker, turning tricks in truck stop parking lots — was elated.
‘I cut the article out and put it on my stomach like it would heal me,’ Mr. LeRoy said in a twang left over from his West Virginia childhood. ‘But it didn’t heal me. The thing about attention is it’s like drinking. One drink is too many, and a million isn’t enough.’”

3. New York Magazine: Stephen Beachy delicately unravels the persona in Oct. 17, 2005, with the explosive story, “Who is the Real JT Leroy ?” “A good hoax is like a good con,” he writes in the piece, which will track down who, exactly, the likely perpetrator is. “Though a con liberates the mark from some of his material things, it also teaches him how easily he was tricked, how ready he was to believe certain stories. To ‘wizen the mark’ is to send him back into the world a little less wide-eyed, a little more jaded, his vision now penetrating beyond the surfaces of things. But to enlighten us, a good hoax or a good con must eventually be revealed.” . . . “In one interview,” Beachy writes, sympathetically, “JT said, ‘When I wrote Sarah, I was male-identified, and now I’m not. I don’t know what I am. So it’s easier if people decide it’s not me, then I won’t be held down. So many people have claimed me as their own, so I guess the best thing is to confuse them all.’”

4. New York Times: On Jan. 9, 2006, Warren St. John, who’d previously interviewed a person he believed was “JT LeRoy,” breaks the identity of the wigged-and-sunglassed publicly shy JT LeRoy as Savannah Knoop, the sister of Laura Albert’s partner. “A photograph of Ms. Knoop at a 2003 opening for a clothing store in San Francisco was discovered online. Five intimates of Mr. Leroy’s, including his literary agent, his business manager and the producer of a forthcoming movie based on one of his books, were shown the photograph and identified Ms. Knoop as the person they have known as JT LeRoy.”

5. Salon: Jack Boulware, a writer who’s path also crossed with Albert’s in ’90s post-punk, sex-positive San Francisco, moves the story forward by looking at how “LeRoy’s fiction is in many ways Albert’s life. Both were fond of aliases. JT LeRoy was known as Terminator and Jeremy; Albert has used many names, including Speedie, Laura Victoria and Emily Frasier. Both engaged in long, late-night phone conversations. Both emerged from desperate lives spent on the streets — Albert in New York, LeRoy in San Francisco.”

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