Dining on international hip almost exclusively via magazines such as Dazed & Confused, i–D and The Face in the 1990s, I came to weirdly resent JT LeRoy. He was that perfect amalgam of everything revered by an underground culture questing after the ever-grittier real. Critics were thrilled by his confessional junkie fiction, cult figures fawned over his gender fluidity and magazines begged the ex-hustler to write, appear, pass judgement. Then the fawning stopped. Bam!
Duped and sore, the hip mags didn’t much cover the revelation that Laura Albert – a 40-year-old heterosexual mother of one – was the ‘real’ JT LeRoy. Ten years after Albert’s unmasking and 20 after Jeremiah ‘Terminator’ LeRoy first troubled the world of magazine publishing, Author: The JT LeRoy Story (directed by Jeff Feuerzeig) now fills in the story from the writer’s perspective.
Albert is, unsurprisingly, an excellent raconteur. Bolstered by a near-implausibly rich archive of recorded ‘phone conversations with everyone from LeRoy’s shrink to Courtney Love (who audibly hoovers-up a line mid-call), her behind-the-scenes account of the rise and fall of JT mesmerizes in both senses: we listen rapt as the territory between truth and fiction quivers like heat on tarmac.
Details of Albert’s own life seep around the edges of JT’s. She felt unable to express honest feelings in her own voice or experience passions first hand; she had been committed as a teenager; and like her avatar LeRoy, we finally discover, abused as a child. She’d created JT because she felt that as a overweight, middle-aged woman, no one would be interested in what she had to say. Part of the sadness underlying this film is that in this, as in so many other things, one suspects Albert’s instinct was spot on.