Who is JT Leroy?
This article in New York Magazine by Stephen Beachy has perplexed me. It's all about the "true" identity of JT Leroy and implies rather strongly that JT is in fact a Brooklyn woman named Laura Albert. Could JT Leroy be a literary hoax? It seems rather plausible. Though his blog has many recent celebrity endorsements, my feelings are less definitive.
I read Sarah when it came out and was deeply moved by it. Mostly, I was moved by the backstory of the young author working through his personal demons by writing a "novel." I believed what I was reading had to be based on his life. How could a child make up such beautiful and lurid prose? It was a page-turner and I read his next book with the same enthusiasm. Then, it seemed, the young author had caught up to himself. He had revealed his entire life, the childhood of abuse in The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things and subsequent horror of teen prostitution in Sarah. Then there was the "biography" which told of how he was rescued by the system and bing, bang, boom, book deal.
If the events of his life are true, this brings us to an interesting place. What, I wonder, will this wunderkind write about now? Will he delve into drugs? Become a celebrity? Both? How can his work continue in the same vein with this "happy ending" I have contributed to by buying his books? The dynamics of his artistic integrity have been forever altered. He no longer has to live on the streets, selling his ass to make ends meet. So what, I ask, will his next book be?
Years go by... JT writes for magazines, starts a website, blogs, has readings, becomes friends with people like Winona Ryder and somehow came up with Harold's End. Four years after The Heart, he releases this "novella" about a heroin addicted hustler kid and his pet snail. It had pictures. End feels like fiction, moreso than the other "novels." Now comes Stephen Beachy with this article about the great hoax that has been pulled off for the last five years! And I start to think, was it all just a dream?
I'm not sure it matters much to me whether or not JT is real. I have no doubt that the spirit of JT Leroy exists, either in a young man wondering what to write about now that life is good, or in a troubled woman who apparently needs this mask. Maybe it's really Dennis Cooper, who recently posted this rant on his own blog, more or less saying that after all is said and done, there is "nothing much of interest" in the Leroy books if you separate them from the author and his "life." What the shit does that mean?
So what if there is no real boy named JT? Everybody read the books and knew the "story" and we all creamed our jeans over the entire tawdry affair. I am sorry but it says: NOVEL -right on the fucking cover of all JT Leroy books. It always has and it always will. If we choose to believe that these horrible, evil, wicked, disgusting things actually happened to some poor little boy, if that is what it takes to make us feel satisfied about our literary tastes, then we deserve what we get. Like I said, I believe in the spirit of JT Leroy. That is the spirit of survival. Real or not, he refuses to die like Tony. Truth? What is true anyway? Did the way I felt when I read Sarah really happen? Or was my emotional truth just part of an elaborate joke? Regardless of "who" the author turns out to be, the story remains the same. I don't need it to be real. In fact, I kind of hope it's all fiction.
According to jtleroy.com the spectre is already "hard at work on the next novel." Actually, it reads: "The JT Leroy's hard at work on the next novel" with a funny picture of a roomful of women typing like crazy. I can't wait to read what "The JT Leroy's" write next.