I Got Hoaxed by JT LeRoy

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.

“Your kid?!”

“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?

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