The mythology of JT Leroy

My faith has truly been shaken.

My treasured, if tragically hipster popular, author, is a fraud.

JT Leroy, aka Terminator, the young hustler turned writer, is a decade successful fabrication from the minds of cross-dressing rocker couple Laura Albert and Geoffrey Knoop, aka Speedie and Astor. Snarky comments abound concerning the impetus of the creation of JT Leroy, (e.g. that he is only a promotional gimmick etc.) and I will admit some feeling of betrayal that the boy who had been through so much, that I had personally corresponded with, was not a whole, tangible body. But I have decided, I still love you Pinocchio, even if you are not a real boy. Because even if JT is not flesh and blood, those beautiful and truly heartfelt words are still on the page (and on screen now as well). Mary Gaitskill, via the Village Voice says it well:

All of this slipperiness has led some early supporters to wonder if they’ve been played. As Gaitskill put it, “It’s occurred to me that the whole thing with Jeremy [J.T.] is a hoax, but I felt that even if it turned out to be a hoax, it’s a very enjoyable one. And a hoax that exposes things about people, the confusion between love and art and publicity. A hoax that would be delightful and if people are made fools of, it would be OK, In fact, it would be useful.”

And besides, who can’t expect to be hustled by a hustler?

One blog called him the Milli Vanilli of the publishing world. It seems almost the opposite to me. It wasn’t the face that sold the books/music, but the story, and the writing itself. Some have said that these 3 books are not so skilled and wonderful as everyone seemed to think when JT was a truck stop prostitute. But what does it say if we pay more attention to the hype, character, mystery and appearance and not the writing itself? Yes, the human interest factor cannot be completely ignored with a hot new author, but after 3 books and a movie the writing should stand on its own. And I believe it does.

One aspect of this made up person does disturb me slightly. I do hope, however, that once Speedie and Astor are willing to own up to the deception, some of these issues will be addressed more clearly. The topics of transgenderism and AIDS have both surfaced in regards to JT’s identity and I would hate to see them swept under the rug. Worse would be to see the claiming of a trans identity as purely a way to disguise JT’s non-existence. These issues are very real, even if JT is not. And indeed, many trans people are loathe to show their true selves in public and face all kinds of awkward situations our society has created. Another more abstract worry may be that of the myth of the uplifting. Could someone in JTs position really have been lucky enough to eventually succeed as a famous and profitable author? New York magazine author Stephen Beachy expresses this concern well:

And perhaps no other culture has valued the contrived happy ending as much as ours. For all its abuse and kinky sex, the JT story is really just another heartwarming rags-to-riches tale for the punk generation. But what if America isn’t really the sort of place where a street urchin can charm his way to the top, through diligence and talent; what if instead it’s the sort of place where heartwarming stories of abused children who triumph through adversity are made up and marketed?

This article, though perhaps the longest and hardest to wade through, is nonetheless, the most comprehensive and thoughtful article on this whole scandal. And though you may not make it through all 9 pages, the final paragraph is well worth a read.

During the past few months, as I interviewed people and tracked down clues, I sometimes began to believe there really was a lost child at the center of the maze, and I didn’t want to hurt that child either. At the center of this story is either a dramatic absence or, at least, the image of a boy. Or maybe not even a boy – an androgynous trickster figure like one of those obscure alchemical emblems Carl Jung was so fond of. “Maybe I’m Astor and Speedie, or maybe I’m an amalgam of the universal unconscious,” JT had told me. Or maybe JT’s human after all. In the most touching scene from Sarah, the narrator wonders why his mother always comes back for him. “She slowly rolled her head to me, flopped an arm over the back of my neck, and pulled me closer as if she were pulling in won poker chips. ‘Everybody needs someone to know who they really are,’ she laughed and guided my head down to lie next to hers.”

Updates and extras:

Scandal timeline

JT Leroy’s blog (which, as of yet, says nothing of the scandal, though its insightful and interesting)

Extra quotes and tidbits

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