When I asked Cooper about the George Miles photos, he explained that he’d sent LeRoy the pictures as a favor to a friend he believed was a terribly shy kid with a skin condition. He no longer believes that to be true. Brian Pera told me that shortly after Cooper gave JT the photos, he was at Cooper’s house when Dazed and Confused magazine called. “They were doing an article on Dennis because Period was coming out,” Pera recalls. “When JT found out about the article, he called them up, saying his book was a companion piece to Period, that Period was about him, that he was even on the cover. Dazed and Confused called Dennis and said, ‘Hey, we need more pictures of JT’—because at this time, JT was using only that one picture—and they told Dennis that JT had told them that Dennis had more. This was JT’s way of trying to get Dennis to let him use more of George’s pictures, but Dennis wouldn’t. It was after this that JT began to be photographed. But there was always a mask, a wig, dark sunglasses.”
Every trail I followed led me to Laura.
If Wigs and Sunglasses is an actor—someone who might be recognized—it would explain the need for disguises better than the selective agoraphobia that kept JT from coffee dates with Cooper or Gaitskill but that allowed him to party with rock stars and Winona Ryder. (Of course, such shyness also allowed JT to avoid intimate conversations in person.) The disguise might also explain JT’s horror at being touched. Newspaper articles on LeRoy mentioned the rumors that he was “a girl masquerading as a boy masquerading as a girl.” Writer Joshua Lyon, a Southerner, began an intense e-mail relationship with LeRoy in 2001, when Lyon was working at Jane magazine. The first time he spoke to him on the phone, Lyon was left with the impression that he was speaking to a woman and that the southern accent was fake. He met JT twice, once in 2002 and once last year for an in-person interview. During the interview, the wig and sunglasses came off and Lyon was convinced he was speaking with a woman. JT explained that he was taking female hormones and that his transition was almost complete. Still, whether Wigs and Sunglasses is a man or a woman is almost certainly a red herring in this story.
All the mysteries surrounding JT LeRoy converge on the Larkin Street flat where LeRoy’s “bandmates” in Thistle live. The story from promotional material has been that LeRoy writes the group’s lyrics, lives with its members, and helps the married couple at its center raise their child.
But Thistle is not precisely a new band. Years before Thistle emerged around LeRoy, it had played around San Francisco as Daddy Don’t Go. This history is never acknowledged in JT’s interviews, stories in which he takes on a central role in the impetus to form a band. The members of Thistle themselves use pseudonyms: Astor is the stage name of the guitarist Geoffrey Knoop, and his wife, Laura Albert, goes by Speedie. She, however, is just the original Speedie, more recently replaced as singer by a new Speedie, Jennifer Hall, an actress who starred on HBO’s Unscripted.
If you’re confused already, it’s probably intentional. It is the original Speedie, Laura Albert, who is referred to as “Emily Frasier” in the New York Times article about LeRoy, where she is described as an outreach worker “who survived the streets herself” and rescued him around 1993, when she found him wandering into traffic in a psychotic haze. She turned him over to Dr. Owens and, not having the best sense of boundaries for a social worker, invited him to live in her “converted squat.” Although Eric Wilinski also knew Laura as Emily Frasier, the only other traces I could find of the name are reviews she left on Amazon.com. “We Demand a Sequel!” she says about Sarah. “This is the most extraordinary and lucid book I’ve read in a long time.”
This is a group that delights in playing with identities. Although the band’s Website claims Geoffrey is 30, he was born in 1966 and attended Lowell High. The only instance I could discover of Laura’s using her real name was on an erotic audiotape, Cyborgasm 2, produced in 1994. Daddy Don’t Go recorded one number, and another, “Vicious Panties,” was performed by Laura and “Jeffrey Kaos.” The scenario involves Laura calling Kaos her little girl, her little boy, a cock-tease, a whore, and suggesting she’ll pimp him out, enacting a relationship so similar to JT’s descriptions of his relationship with his mother, Sarah, that it is startling. As opposed to the “outreach worker” Emily Frasier, Laura says about herself in the bio: “Laura Victoria Albert, singer/songwriter for the San Francisco band Daddy Don’t Go, is a published writer, actor, phone sex technician, Brooklyn girl, and not a waif.” Of her partner, it says only that “Jeffrey Kaos likes wearing panties.”