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Who is the Real JT LeRoy?

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Several of JT’s phone contacts assured me that they’d never even heard of Speedie and Astor until at least late 1996. But there’s a scenario that would explain that: JT never mentioned Speedie and Astor because they, in fact, are him. Geoffrey and Laura’s cross-dressing fantasy is reminiscent of JT’s fiction; Laura’s phone-sex skills might have been put to use in JT’s lengthy, intimate telephone calls. The strong British accent Laura often uses may seem odd for a girl from Brooklyn, just as JT’s breathy southern accent may seem curious for somebody who bounced all over the country and has been on the West Coast since he was 12 or 13. If it was actually Laura on the phone all those years, her fake British accent would serve more than to grant some phony punk authenticity; it would be a way to disguise a voice that otherwise might seem just a little too similar to JT’s.

If it was Laura, under the name of Emily Frasier, who rescued JT from the streets, he was an incredibly lucky boy to have been randomly saved by a couple who shared his interest in cross-dressing and fake identities. In Sarah, the narrator takes on the name and gender of his mother. Laura, born in 1965, is approximately the same age as JT’s mother would have been, the woman who bequeathed him her cultural interests.

And everywhere that JT would go, Speedie and Astor were sure to follow. Or vice versa. It was Speedie who “introduced” Dennis Cooper to the person calling himself JT the one time they met in person. “JT, this is Dennis,” she said, according to Cooper. “Don’t you want to meet Dennis?”—as if JT had to be cued to remember this person he’d been bombarding with faxes and phone calls for the past seven years. When Jane writer Joshua Lyon made his way past the velvet rope into the VIP area to meet JT for the first time, he introduced himself, but JT had no idea who he was, although he’d e-mailed him just the day before, and JT had written a blurb for his manuscript. A red-haired woman—Laura—was present when he interviewed JT last year at the Tribeca Grand in New York and answered all his questions.

The two friends who accompanied JT to his meeting with Gaitskill were Laura and Geoffrey, and when JT’s New York editor, Karen Rinaldi, showed up at his “Mission squat,” JT refused to see her—but Geoffrey took the groceries she’d brought him. JT has a deeply devoted assistant, Nancy Murdock, who lives in Boston (and who strongly believes this article is driven by jealousy on the part of myself and Dennis Cooper). When she first met Laura, she recalls, “it was so funny, she was saying a lot of the same phrases as JT! It’s because they’re together all the time. One completes the other.”

But isn’t this scenario, of actors or thirtysomething women portraying literary street kids, even more far-fetched than the official story? It’s certainly as elaborate. It is also precisely the story that a friend, or ex-friend, of Geoffrey and Laura, Steve O’Connor, told his friends consistently between 2003 and 2005. O’Connor said that Laura had told him she wrote the books, and that it was only recently that they’d found someone to play the part of JT in public. They were trying to use JT, O’Connor said, to help promote their band. O’Connor had been close to them but had never seen any sign of a street kid in their living room. O’Connor isn’t the most reliable source—he’s unstable and drug-addicted, according to reports—but he had been in a position to know if there’d been anyone sleeping in their living room.

Other friends of Geoffrey and Laura had never heard of JT until 2000, although he was supposed to have been living with them since 1997. One friend confirmed that he believed O’Connor’s account and that it was certainly more plausible than the idea that they’d been hiding a real JT. An old friend from California, now living in New York, was flabbergasted to hear about JT at all: Although he had a long friendship with the couple dating back to 1992, he had no idea Laura and Geoffrey even knew the author and said he’d never heard of anyone else living at their house. “This is totally the kind of thing Laura might do,” he mused. “She craved the limelight, but she didn’t really want all the attention.”

JT has said he received $24,000 for each of his first two books. His income has risen quite a bit since then; there have been movie deals and translations. “JT LeRoy” is a reasonably profitable business, in operation now for a mind-boggling eleven years.

But how would a fictitious person get paid? JT regularly writes for 7x7 magazine, but it doesn’t have a Social Security number on file for him. According to my publishing-industry source, the payee for JT’s first book, his “cousin,” was another Brooklyn girl: JoAnn Albert, Laura’s sister. Since the first book, some of JT’s checks have been sent to a business in Carson City, Nevada, Underdog Inc. The president of this company is Carolyn Albert, also of Brooklyn, Laura’s mother. She’s a theater critic, and her online bio brags about her daughters, one of them “a writer in California.” Other checks were handled by Ira Silverberg. And who does Ira pay? “None of your business,” he told me. Laura, Carolyn, and JoAnn Albert did not return repeated calls.


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