I remember reading "Sarah" by author JT Leroy sometime in 2000, not too long after it was published. It's a fantastic book that blew me away (along with countless others) with not only the subject matter, but the unique voice that went from the page into my head. Very powerful and clear. Then I read "The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things" which I loved as well. I had a new favorite author.
Well, as it turned out, JT Leroy didn't exist. Except he did but it wasn't him. The actual author is a woman named Laura Albert who used the name JT Leroy as a pseudonym, which is no big thing. The problem she faced was the books were wildly popular and the public wanted to see and know this Leroy.
As the documentary, "Author - The JT Leroy Story", (masterfully directed by Jeff Feuerzeig) tells, Albert had a history of abuse and body image issues and had no desire to be seen. In what becomes a fascinating adventure she convinces her lovers sister to be the Leroy avatar for her. What follows is a tale of the downsides of fame, celebrity worship and a rumination about the nature of art.
As for myself, I remember when the story broke that JT Leroy the person did not exist. I found it humorous that so many people were up in arms about the situation. After watching this film, I can see how some were hurt by this intricate web of characters Albert had created in real life. But, the term that was so prevalent was that what she had done was a "literary hoax".
That term bothered me at the time and still does because the pen name is what Albert had chosen to express herself. Does that make Mark Twain a hoax? No. What she is, in my mind, probably guilty of is a public relations hoax. I say probably because when you watch the film, there are many layers to the story that led to the decisions Albert made. She seems to be a reactionary personality and I feel made spontaneous choices that spiraled out of control. I don't feel she was out to deceive anyone out of malice or for personal gain. It was a defense mechanism she used to cope with a lot of her life.
As I see it, she is a fascinating and immensely talented person who never asked for any of this to happen to her, or meant to drag others in. She suffered trauma early on in life and her way to deal with that trauma led her down a strange road. I could be wrong and I'm sure if you heard the story from another point of view you may come to a different conclusion. There's probably a bit of Rashomon in this tale.
In the end, the books I read by JT Leroy are still powerful and excellent works of art. I never felt fooled or betrayed because it didn't really matter to me who JT Leroy was. What mattered is that JT Leroy wrote. I'm pretty big on letting art speak for itself and not much of a fan of celebrity or meeting people I admire very much. The art I love, whatever the medium, is mine now (and yours). The artist is somewhat irrelevant as far as what they like to eat for breakfast or what drives them to create. It's interesting if they choose to share it I guess. But I don't need that information for me to fall in love with a book, a painting, a song or a movie. It sparks my emotions and becomes a part of me. It's a gift that I'm grateful for and it seems unseemly to inquire too much about why it was given to me.
Check out this amazing film and see what you think.