Who is JT LeRoy? A review of "Author: The JT LeRoy Story"

The story — and fallout — of an author and a pen name that took on a life of its own



Pablo Picasso once said, “Art is a lie that brings us nearer to the truth.”

Writer Laura Albert fabricated an alter ego to hide herself from the world. But the more she invested in bringing him to life, the closer she brought readers to her true self.

Author: The JT LeRoy Story chronicles Albert’s commitment to fleshing out this character — an “avatar” under which she published strikingly raw, personal works of fiction in the late ’90s and early 2000s.

Jeremiah “Terminator” LeRoy was an accident — a person that came out of Albert when she started talking to a counselor over the phone. The teenage son of a truck-stop prostitute, JT embodies Albert’s trauma. Like him, she experienced sexual abuse as a child and found herself estranged from her promiscuous mother (whose many sexual partners molested Albert).

Depressed and ashamed of her appearance, Albert felt more comfortable expressing herself as JT. A blonde-haired, blue-eyed drifter, JT is glamorous and iconic in a grungy, underground sort of way — like an Andy Warhol painting brought to life. Albert ultimately made him even more real by recruiting her sister-in-law, Savannah Knoop, to pose as JT in public, sporting a blonde wig and sunglasses. She hypnotized everyone around her, as if casting a spell.

Once Savannah came into the mix, JT grew into a red carpet star, swirling in a circle of celebrities and rubbing shoulders with Gus Van Sant, Courtney Love, Billy Corgan … the list goes on. We hear intimate phone calls with them in which Albert pulls back the curtain on her creation of JT. It’s an exhilarating peek at a private world, giving us goosebumps as we eavesdrop on gossip and the pain behind it all.

Writer-director Jeff Feuerzeig maintains the pace of a con-game thriller as he explores Albert’s preservation of JT’s existence and the eventual revelation of the truth in the press.

Unfortunately, we don’t hear much from the other players in this long con. But that’s probably because the film isn’t really about the puzzle pieces in the elaborate “hoax” — a word Albert refuses to use in describing the JT phenomenon. It’s not about all of the illusionists who made him seem real; it’s about how he really does exist deep in Albert’s soul.

When Albert sat down to write years ago, JT’s blood pumped through her veins and erupted from her pen. She felt his soul coming out on paper. So, who’s to say he isn’t part of her?

Author: The JT LeRoy Story is a testament to the magic of art and how it can make a fantasy feel achingly real. It’s also a reflection of today’s world — a place in which the seemingly rigid definition of personal identity is being molded by more open minds.


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