This week’s New York magazine features an article by Stephen Beachy that attempts to unmask the hoax that is JT LeRoy–and does a pretty good job at it.

It blows my mind–and I’ve said this before, 18 different ways–that even though “JT LeRoy” possesses all the earmarks of a hoax, “his” legions of fans remain loyal.

It almost seems as though JT’s outlandish and incredible persona and history actually encourage a willful suspension of disbelief among “his” staunchest defenders–several of whom are writers and celebrities. I mean, who would make this up? Beachy writes:

It seems LeRoy himself is keenly aware of the implausibility of some of his claims and in interviews goes to some pains to explain, for instance, how he picked up his literary tastes from his Polk Street johns. He explains how he was given a fax machine by a trick and how he managed to send faxes from public restrooms—the rare restrooms where junkies fix but that also have phone jacks hidden in the corners. His defenders have sometimes suggested that it is simply the inability to accept the disturbing truth of his stories that prompted some to call him a hoax, but there are other reasons. Apparently, along with his multiple personalities, the disfiguring Kaposi’s sarcoma he’d used as an excuse to stay hidden cleared up, and he stopped mentioning his HIV infection. And in both his interviews and his books he seems always to be suggesting that nothing he says should be believed.

Even Warren St. John–who is, in his defense, dumber than a box of hair–seemed to fall for it hook, line, and sinker in last fall’s profile in the Styles section of the Times. I’d love to know what his factchecker did with that one.

In addition to LeRoy’s aforementioned contradictions, there’s also this: Not only does the LeRoy everyone has spoken with on the phone not sound a damn thing like the LeRoy who makes rare public appearances, judging by photographic evidence, the in-person LeRoy appears impossibly, physically different than “he” has in the past.

LeRoy’s voice is pretty strange in and of itself. Listen to it here. It’s awfully high-pitched to be a young man’s voice and moreover (as Beachy points out) the Southern accent is clearly fake. (Not to mention, if you’re at all familiar with evangelical Christianity, LeRoy’s descriptions of “his” fundamentalist grandparents’ Bible lessons should ring pretty false–blasphemous, even.)

In the photos that accompany the second page of the article, note how different the “Wigs and Sunglasses” photos are. And then look at the photo of Laura Albert on the first page. Kinda looks like the person in the 2002 photo, dunnit? Who is she, anyhow?

Beachy’s chief revelation is his disconcerting discovery that everywhere JT goes, the mysterious and annoying Laura Albert follows. Albert, who has gone by a number of assumed identities, appears to be the nexus of every personality quirk, timeline fallacy, and impossible-to-prove-or-disprove mystery surrounding JT’s background. Without recapping the entire article, I’ll merely say: There’s a mountain of evidence that she is, in fact, JT–and her mother and sister appear to be in on the ruse as well.

So why has the unraveling of the JT LeRoy hoax taken so damned long? Because, like Fox Mulder, people Want to Believe. Even Beachy warmed up to “LeRoy”:

JT espoused values I agreed with and effectively made me question my own investment in writing this story. S/he spoke about metaphorical truth, about purity of intent, and of a commitment to writing. I heard Geoffrey in the background, telling whomever was on the phone that they had to leave for an appointment. But JT kept talking. S/he seemed to be both justifying the performance and asking not to be exposed. S/he discussed the rumors s/he’d spread about fathering Asia Argento’s baby and how angry that had made some fans. But it was a metaphorical truth, s/he said, in terms of the movie Argento made of his book, and JT wondered where was the harm?

Where’s the harm, indeed? Couldn’t “LeRoy” the persona be an extension of the folklore “he” writes? But that’s disingenuous. For the parties involved, it’s a bit like monkeyfishing–Laura Albert deceived a number of people and used them to gain notoriety. And what’s funny (and telling) is that “LeRoy”‘s writing, while clever, isn’t exceptional. In fact, if anyone other than a 15-y-o hustler had written it, it wouldn’t make it past a Riverhead intern’s slushpile. (The same goes for Anthony Godby Johnson.) But everyone wants to believe the worst about humanity–look at A Child Called It, the McMartin Preschool scandal, and even the supposed hordes of babyrapers at the Superdome–because it feeds our voyeuristic need for titillation but allows us to feign disgust, moral outrage.

Also, while JT LeRoy might seem mysterious, “he” also possesses a childlike openness and seems genuinely likeable. Readers want LeRoy to exist, because they imagine that “he”‘s someone they’d befriend if they ever met him. And because readers will never truly know “him”–which is abundantly clear–they will never be disappointed. For someone like Laura Albert–a failed writer, an untalented musician, a mediocre individual with delusions of grandeur–JT LeRoy might be her single greatest achievement.

Further reading on the JT LeRoy hoax here.

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