Still, if JT had really been a hustler, it occurred to me I might have seen him back in the day. I lived in the Polk until early 1993, had close friends in the neighborhood, and taught creative writing to homeless kids in the Tenderloin in 1995–96. I contacted long-term denizens of the Polk: johns, ex-hustlers, and outreach workers. One former hustler was a fixture on the street during just the years when Terminator is said to have been there, was also a junkie, was almost the same age, and knew everybody. But he’d never heard of Terminator. One john, who lived in the neighborhood and who was particularly attracted to smooth, young white boys, recognized neither the photos nor the moniker. And all agreed that a 14-to-16-year-old, five-foot-five, androgynous heroin-addicted hustler wouldn’t have been the least conspicuous person on Polk Street.
I found no trace of a Jeremy LeRoy born—as JT says he was—on Halloween in 1980 or in West Virginia in accessible public records. What can be corroborated is that somebody calling himself LeRoy contacted Wilinski, Cooper, Olds, Benderson, Joel Rose, and others and spoke to them over a period of years on the telephone. Wilinski says that the idea that JT is a hoax is just wrong. “You can draw me as part of a conspiracy,” he says, “but he definitely exists.”
LeRoy’s existence is also attested to by the presence of the person who began appearing in 2001—call him “Wigs and Sunglasses.” Whether Wigs and Sunglasses is the same person who made the phone calls and wrote the books is an open question, however. According to Brian Pera, JT tried to get somebody to impersonate him publicly in the past—a young man Pera knew who’d been one of JT’s phone friends. I tracked down the young man, who asked to remain anonymous. It was in 1999, right before Sarah came out, he told me. JT “was nervous about having to do readings,” he said. “So he asked me if I would impersonate him and do the readings for him. He recommended I rent Bastard Out of Carolina and study the accents. But I never did, and my attempt was halfhearted and weak. But then he came up with the idea of having celebrities do the readings for him.”
JT’s current agent, Ira Silverberg, says he’s met a person calling himself JT several times and that he certainly sounds like the same person he spoke to on the phone. “If it is all a big hustle, it’s a great hustle, and I applaud it,” he says. “If it’s true, it’s as Warholian as it gets.” Warren St. John, a reporter for the New York Times, interviewed JT in person and on the phone in 2004 and at the time believed he was speaking to the same person. The writer and editor Simon Dumenco (a New York Magazine contributor) edited an essay of JT’s over the phone and discussed it with him in person at a photo shoot by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. Many interviewers, however, have noted the difference between JT’s seductive phone presence and the almost silent persona he assumes in public. Lorelei Sharkey, a former editor at Nerve who had spoken with LeRoy many times, walked away from an in-person meeting last year convinced that he was not the same person. Dennis Cooper says that when they finally met there was something about JT’s demeanor that wasn’t right. “The voice was too weak, among other things,” Cooper says. “And his/her vague, disinterested behavior was just incongruous considering that we were supposedly finally meeting after being close friends for so many years.”
JT had long been concerned with providing physical evidence of his existence, and like Anthony Godby Johnson, he’d supplied photos to his friends. Recently, I had the opportunity to view these for myself, about a dozen different shots showing a cute blond boy with friends. The boy in the pictures is almost definitely not Wigs and Sunglasses—too tall, for one thing, and the pictures, supposedly taken in the mid-nineties, feature clothes and hairstyles that appear to be from the eighties. We know now that a different image he used for his book jacket in 2000 is not him. That photograph also graced Dennis Cooper’s novel Period, and in an interview with Void Books, Cooper explained that they were not pictures of LeRoy but photos of Cooper’s “great friend and muse” George Miles, taken in 1967, when he was 14 and Miles was 12.
Other than JT’s roommates, Speedie and Astor, there was only one confidante who definitely met JT before 2001. In JT’s versions of the meeting, it sounds as if he gazed into Mary Gaitskill’s eyes, eased out of his own self-consciousness by the pimple on her chin. But Gaitskill describes it differently. According to Gaitskill, she waited to meet him in a diner until a kid came in with two friends and handed her a package, which contained some of his work, a Sharon Olds book, chocolate, and a bottle of balsamic vinaigrette, said, “I’m Terminator,” and fled. “I probably saw him for a few seconds,” she says. Instead, JT’s friend, Speedie, sat down, and she and Gaitskill had a long conversation. “She struck me as very bright and very young,” recalls Gaitskill.