Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

The Ballad of JT Liar: Writing about His Abusive Background as a Teen Hustler, JT LeRoy Became the Queer Hipsters' Darling. Now It Turns out LeRoy Was a Fake. Dave White, Who Has Covered LeRoy for This Magazine, Reflects on Being Punk'd

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

The Ballad of JT Liar: Writing about His Abusive Background as a Teen Hustler, JT LeRoy Became the Queer Hipsters' Darling. Now It Turns out LeRoy Was a Fake. Dave White, Who Has Covered LeRoy for This Magazine, Reflects on Being Punk'd

Article excerpt

I got conned by JT LeRoy. I know, I know--get in line with Winona Ryder, right? And if you just asked out loud, "What's a JT LeRoy?" then you haven't read enough issues of hip alternative style magazines like Paper or Index or paid attention to one of the most bizarre success stories in contemporary literature.

Here's what happened: A young writer named JT LeRoy, claiming to be a transgender HIV-positive former teenage prostitute, appeared on the literary scene in the 1990s and, after the publication of Sarah in 2000, garnered good reviews, great sales, and even greater publicity. He did this by orchestrating a series of relationships, all conducted via e-mail, phone, and fax, with established writers such as Dennis Cooper and Mary Gaitskill, who in turn befriended him and helped him navigate the publishing world. He wrote three books--Sarah, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, and Harold's End--and became famous for his refusal to be photographed without a big blond wig and sunglasses. He was publicly wooed by celebrities including Ryder and Courtney Love, turning himself into a piece of revenue-generating cool. After about a decade of this, thanks to a recent batch of expose pieces in New York magazine, The New York Times, and other publications, it turns out that JT LeRoy is probably Laura Albert, a woman who appears to have created one of the most innovative, artful, and maddening literary hoaxes of all time. And I was one of the suckers who bought it.

Over the past couple years, I've interviewed JT three times for various publications, including this one, always by telephone. I do this for a living, and there's a standard-issue approach to it. It's usually brief, it doesn't get too chummy, and I never end up spilling details of my personal life to, say, Yoko Ono or some actor whose movie I have to pretend to like in order to get the interview. But JT was different. JT and I bonded over mutually chaotic childhood circumstances, over bands we like, over the joy of heading straight to the free food at any sort of fancy media-centric party. The JT with whom I spoke was instantly warm, chatty, and funny and treated me light-heartedly, as if we were old teen-prostitute pals. He even remembered details from one phone conversation to the next. So now I know that it's actually Laura Albert who knows that I fear poverty almost as much as flying and that my mother ran away from home when I was a kid. Oh, well. It could have been worse. And really, since I know nothing truthful about Laura Albert and probably won't ever speak to her again, should I care? …

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