They say that truth is stranger than fiction – and theres no example of that phrase better than the story of JT LeRoy.
Kristen Stewart plays the author behind the critically acclaimed 1999 novels Sarah and The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things in the new film JT LeRoy, which delves into the writers fascinating life.
But after watching the trailer for the film, also starring Laura Dern, Diane Kruger, Jim Sturgess and Courtney Love, you will quickly realise that JT wasnt all he seemed.
JT, also known as Terminator, was the pen name of Jeremiah LeRoy, a young author who turned to writing after a horrendously abusive childhood, in which he was sold for sex in parking lots in West Virginia by his sex worker mother, Sarah.
Jeremiah ended up being diagnosed as HIV positive and self-harmed and used heroin in an effort to cope with the abuse he was suffering. As a 14-year-old, he ran into social worker Emily Frasier while in a daze, and was put in touch with psychologist Dr. Terrence Owens, who he began having frequent phone sessions with.
To keep Jeremiah busy during sessions, Dr Owens told Jeremiah to write down his feelings, but when he read Jeremiahs notes, he realised he was exceptionally talented. Dr Owens handed over Jeremiahs writing to editor Eric Wilinski, the teenager got in touch with a number of agents, and in 1997, at the age of 17, his first piece of writing was published.
At this time, Jeremiah was no longer self-harming or using drugs, and had found a home with Frasier, her husband and son, and three years later, his semi-autobiographical novel Sarah was published to great reviews. The collection The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things came the same year, and JT LeRoy was suddenly in high demand.
Only nobody had never seen JT LeRoy. All those who dealt with JT spoke to the softly-spoken, southern man on the phone, and his pay cheques were sent to a cousin named JoAnn.
That is, until 2001, when JT began appearing in public. The author wore a cheap platinum blonde wig, a black hat and sunglasses, and rarely spoke, choosing to let their handler Frasier – who also went by the name of Speedie, using an obviously fake English accent – speak on the writers behalf.
JTs strange appearance sparked speculation as well – why would a young man be dressing up in an obviously fake wig? JT later claimed that they was transitioning, saying: When I wrote Sarah, I was male-identified, and now Im not. I dont know what I am. So its easier if people decide its not me, then I wont be held down. So many people have claimed me as their own, so I guess the best thing is to confuse them all.
But their mysterious persona, teamed with their literary phenomenon status, made him a huge hit on the early noughties social scene. JT made friends with Winona Ryder, Billy Corgan, Courtney Love and Tom Waits, and even sparked up a romantic relationship with Asia Argento.
Shirley Manson even penned the lyrics to Garbages hit Cherry Lips as an ode to JTs books Sarah and The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things.
In a gushing profile for Vanity Fair on JT, Liv Tyler said of the author: My secrets I can share with him. I trust him and feel safe with him. I tell him things I probably dont tell anybody else. He pours his heart out to me. So warm and understanding.
And Winona said: Hes one of those guys you can lay in bed with and watch movies with and cuddle with and feel safe doing that. He is so true, such a poet.
Sounds too good to be true, right? And youd be correct in saying that, because JT LeRoy didnt actually exist.
JT was the creation of Laura Albert, a 40-year-old former punk rocker and phone sex operator who had a habit of calling up teen suicide helplines in her 20s and pretending to be a teenager. The phone calls to Dr Owens? All Albert. The life of horrific sexual abuse? Entirely made up. And all of those critically acclaimed books were the work of Laura, not JT LeRoy.
Lauras literary hoax was uncovered in 2005 by New York Magazine, when Stephen Beachy wrote a piece called Who Is The Real JT LeRoy? pointing out all of the inconsistencies in JTs story.
Perhaps the biggest of all these inconsistencies was – who the hell was the JT that all the celebrities were befriending? Well, heres where the tale gets even weirder.
As JTs fame and name grew, Laura Albert realised that he needed a face. And she decided that face would be her sister-in-law Savannah Knoop – the androgynous, 21-year-old sibling of her husband Geoffrey.
Savannah was wheeled out in a wig and sunglasses, and for several years, she became one of the key faces on the LA social scene, appearing in the starriest of social circles. And yes, she was the one who struck up a relationship with Asia Argento, who understandably felt incredibly betrayed upon uncovering the truth.