I was just reading JT Leroy's website, where "he" posts pages of emails that his friends--Bruce Benderson, Mary Gaitskill, etc--wrote in response to the early stories that JT doesn't exist. I wonder how they are feeling this week? Still writing letters on his behalf? I doubt it. Yet reading all of their pleas--rather transparently directed offstage by Laura Albert--reminded me of the mercifully brief friendship I had with JT via email. What's remarkable is how quickly I went through the many stages that so many other people have now described: 1) fawning flattery, 2) demands for even more attention, 3) instructions on how to help, 4) straight-up impersonal press releases.
The first of these emails followed a brief note I'd written him after hearing about him for years from Catherine Texier and Bruce Benderson, who both lived across the street. My neighbors two houses down where also big fans, and had emailed him and gotten a response, so I thought I would say hello. JT responds:
I've been wanting to write to you for a long time to thank you for your review. Catherine and Bruce are wonderful and without their support, guidance and love, I sincerely doubt I would ever have a book out. Have you had a chance to read Sarah? I couldn't tell from your review. If not, I'd very much likc to send it to you. If you send me your address I'd like to send you a raccoon penis bone. There will be a reading in NYC on August 22nd at The Fez with Mary Karr and the poet Sharon Olds who I've been writing to since I was 15. I would be honored if you could come to the reading. Sincerely, JT Leroy
I replied that I hadn't read Sarah because I was working on my own book at the time, and that I would tell my neighbors about his reading. Thanks in advance for the penis bone, I said.
Dear Ken, thanks! Lemme know when ya get ya bone. Thanks for spreading the word bout the reading. Ya know, in your review of The Heart you said: "one can't help wishing that the collection displayed more range, or that the darkness was leavened with an occasional light or sense of sincere hope. But, unfortunately, that would be a different life, a different writer, a different book." I really wished you'd read Sarah, coz Sarah is what you are saying, at least I think. I wrote it after The Heart book. I way look forward to hearin what you think of Sarah when you have time. Congrads on working on your book. I miss being in that space.
We both must have been bored that day, because I responded with my thoughts on "redemption" and how it is something that we might feel we want from a book but it is also hard to convincingly pass off. JT replied:
...I never wrote the part where he gets into therapy and gets a book deal and becomes a rock star and tours with a ressurected Elvis. Next book. :) Just hope the NY TIMES doesnt give ya a rock critic to review yer book, that doesn't even bother to read it. I sound cynical. I hate that. We walk around here goofin on AA coz that's were we all come from and still go to. Like if someone is being whiney, someone else will say, "Boy, you best get you an Attitude of Gratitude." It cracks me up. But man it is true...gotta get me an attitude of gratitude.
I didn't hear from him again for several months, when I received this touching, personal note:
I'm gonna be interviewed on FRESH AIR TODAY
to find your local station/state
Hope your well,
Yours, JT LeRoy
And then in May 2002 I received my final JT email--and invite to the party at LUSH where Wigs and Sunglasses (Savannah Knoop) made its first appearance. My friends urged me to go into the VIP area and introduce myself. "JT" was sitting with an entourage, which seemed strange for someone who claims to be a recluse. He/she answered my introduction with a freakish giggle and turned away. My friends asked if he seemed to know who I was. I guess even then people were suspicious.
"No," I said. And that was the end.