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JT LeRoy: The Ultimate Triumph of Alt.Sex.Stories?

jtleroy.jpgThe revelation that “JT LeRoy” is Savannah Knoop (left) fronting for Laura Albert, a woman in her late thirties presenting herself in print as a barely post-pubescent transgendered street hustler, continues to send shockwaves through the queer literary community. “I think it’s sort of gross for a person with extreme non-trans privilege—a properly gendered, apparantly heterosexual woman—to actually profit off and social climb by appropriating the scary realities most transpeople have to live with every day,” says Michelle Tea, whose latest novel, Rose of No Man’s Land, comes out next month. “Albert has done more damage than the grossest fiction, by playing it off as not the private sexual fantasy it so obviously is, but as truth. It does a huge disservice to the gazillions of transpeople who every day struggle against the myths that non-trans people perpetrate about them.”

That dovetails rather neatly with Susie Bright’s characterization of Albert as “the most notorious Slash Fiction writer of all time.” How so? “JT’s writing is filled with S/M, homosexual, violent, romantic sex. You might think such territory would be the province of a seasoned leatherman, but that would make you old-school. For at least the last ten years, 99% of all such erotica has been written by heterosexual women. Albert fits the profile like an FBI binder.” The theory gets better: Apparently, all the JT stories boil down to Dennis Cooper Slash, to the extent that LeRoy appropriated the photo of Cooper’s dead muse for “his” own image.*

Like Bright and Cooper, Tea communicated with “LeRoy” via telephone and email and lent assistance to “his” advancement through literary circles, interviewing him for San Francisco’s alternative weekly and publishing one of his stories in his anthology. (Returning the favor, he interviewed her for the New York Press and blurbed her poetry collection.) During some of those encounters, Tea recalls, “I had inadvertantly triggered all his traumas and he laid these huge guilt trips on me and freaked out and I had to spend time talking him down, once on the phone and once via email, apologizing profusely for my mistakes.” Now that she realizes how she was being played, “I think Laura Albert sucks.” But what about the stories? “Part of what made JT’s writing a triumph was that it was written by a young person with post-traumatic stress disorder! I mean, a lot of it is so cliché and over the top, but I tend to believe what people present about themselves because life can be truly outrageous. But, as fiction, it is derivative fantasy.” And if it weren’t oh-so-NSFW, I could link to places where you could find dozens of equally derivative fantasies that just didn’t have the benefit of being proofread by folks like Cooper and David Wiegand.

*Cooper himself is understandably pretty tired of the whole thing at this point, and resigned to the fact that he fell for it just like everybody else, but he has some thoughts about how the pieces might fall: “If Laura were truly an evil genius, and if she weren’t so understandably afraid of the backlash from hell that she’s going to get from the fans and celebrity supporters who’ve been propping this thing up the last couple of months, she’d cop to the truth now and sell the movie rights and book rights and spend the rest of her life being the minor celebrity she’s always wanted to be.”

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