I got hoaxed by JT LeRoy. I’m one of the nobodies who thinks it’s pretty cool. I’m an insecure starfucker too, Laura/Speedy/JT. I got mine from you.
By now, everyone knows that New York magazine and The New York Times outed LeRoy with articles that the former heroin-addict-cross-dressing-child-prostitute turned writer is a middle aged woman, Laura Albert, and that JT in public was played by her partner Geoffrey Knoop’s sister (or cousin) Savannah, a fashion designer. Everybody’s talking about what it means to be scammed, writing their ironic fake memoirs, and wondering whether anybody cares about art or just the persona behind it, but I can’t help but think of what little I know, and about Laura and her kid.
I first read JT’s work as The Terminator in the New York Press, which also published some of my work around the same time, and then again in 1998 when I was working on a play with Laurie Stone, who had published and edited JT’s work in the nonfiction anthology Close to the Bone. Next, I read Sarah and The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things. They were dirty and raw and full of sexual shame and I loved them. I was friends with one of the organizers of a JT reading in June of 2001 at The Brooklyn Brewery, so I went and saw Shirley Manson and Mary Gaitskill. I heard the rumors, figured that the work was so good from all that literary help he was getting. Yeah, I thought jealously, my writing would be really good too if I had Mary Gaitskill and Bruce Benderson editing my work.
That fall, after having done some performing in Boston, I was one of the chosen at a JT reading in Cambridge. I got the phone calls, the raccoon bone necklace, the Godiva chocolates and a teddy bear–that my son now sleeps with. My husband wanted to throw away the teddy recently–it’s ugly–and I was like, “No, JT LeRoy sent it to me!” It was a total cult. We were all hopped up on his myth.
The phone calls were starfucker festivals, and I was happy to be on the line. I felt like I had dropped into the pages of an alternate reality version of People, one that I’d actually like to read. When JT called my heart raced. It was as if I was a part of something bigger than myself, and on the fringes of a world I desperately wanted to be a part of. I’d sit at my desk and look at my turquoise iMac and wonder whether I would ever write anything that good while he rambled, and occasionally we’d actually talk about gender issues–he was thinking of a sex-change operation. That was it.
I do remember thinking it was really weird that he talked about “my kid” on the phone.
“You know, I live with this family, and we all have a kid, you know, the kid is like my kid.” I envisioned them all in a Denny’s somewhere in California, eating pancakes, this rock’n’roll couple and their small child and JT, the cross-dressing former prostitute. I liked the scene.
He seemed very stressed about the child, and now that I’m a mother, I know why. When you have a small child, there is so much you can’t do, so many places you can’t go. It’s as if JT/Speedy/Laura transposed the limitations of being a parent with the limitations of being abused and shy.
In 2002, I was in an Off Broadway play with an actor who had been a longtime JT celebrity satellite. JT got very excited about this, and in that breathy voice concocted a big story that we were going to shock the actor by telling him that we had slept together. I wasn’t sure what this was supposed to prove, but I was up for anything. Our little hoax was fun–I was supposed to pretend I’d fucked JT LeRoy!–and I imagine I basked in the edge of the spotlight.
A few weeks into the run, JT came to the show, this was in the very beginning of the wig-and-sunglasses thing, and mumbled “Hi.” I gave him a hug, and he escaped quickly and lit a cigarette. So did I. We stood uncomfortably for a few minutes. I was oddly attracted to him, this (I now know) young girl dressed as a guy dressing like a girl. But then I’m attracted to chicks with mustaches, so it made sense that I liked him, even apart from the fame. The pathetic part was that I felt upset at being blown off–no amount of shyness or stage fright in public could account for the vibe.
And being terribly insecure, I blamed it on myself. I obsessed about it for a week. Why didn’t JT like me, I shouldn’t have hugged him, he’s been abused, I know he has a hard time with affection, what an asshole I am…
I kept up with him in the society pages, and kept hearing the rumors. Then came New York magazine. People seemed kind of bored by the story; it didn’t come as much of a surprise. "I thought there be more backlash," a friend who also knew JT said to me. It was like we were talking about someone who had died. JT didn’t exist, but we didn’t really know Laura, so we spoke in strangely hushed tones of grief and respect for the dead. Then the Times story came out on Monday. That was definitive.
So yeah, it’s a trick. So what? It’s good one. It’s a great one. And if it were just an art con, it would be fabulous. Everybody falls for a victim, everybody loves celebrity, and everybody loves to be needed. And it’s hard to get published these days, it’s hard to get publicity, and what does it say about the publishing world that a mother in her forties had to invent JT to get attention to her work? And isn’t it amazing that the truth is actually weirder than the fictional truth?
But I wonder about Laura, what she’s going through right now. How sad, how deeply, deeply sad to me, that this woman, Laura Albert, created this whole thing. Whatever was going on with Laura, I imagine she felt as fucked up as she made JT out to be. We can imagine the needy abused teenager acting like this, but a grown woman? A mother? She must have been on the phone constantly. I heard the want in that infamous breathy voice on the phone only a handful of times, but those phone calls went on for hours. Laura/Speedy/JT must have had several a day. She (only now I switch to the female pronoun) must have put in so many hours, so much work, to keep this up. And here I can’t help but wonder–who was with her kid while she was keeping all this up?
I feel like I understand. Motherhood is lonely and isolating, and makes you feel invisible. She was ambitious and wanted success. Celebrities are so reassuring and cozy with their dramatic lives and airbrushed facades.
It doesn’t seem like a hoax made up like an art project, but like the proverbial cry for help. We all felt sorry for this fucked up kiddie hooker, but will anyone feel for the lonely, unsuccessful nobody who desperately wanted to be a somebody?