The documentary Author: The JT LeRoy story has a promising premise, and it starts out strong, with a seemingly dazed Winona Ryder bragging to a crowd of appreciative sycophants about her deep and meaningful friendship with the author JT LeRoy. We’re primed to see a story of gullible celebs being beclowned by a hoax—and, hopefully, of finding out just what it was about JT LeRoy’s ridiculous story that they fell in love with so hard.
Alas, the movie scrupulously avoids examining what was so enticing about JT LeRoy to the celebrities that championed him. Instead, the film is all surface, depending largely on JT’s inventor to tell of the mechanics of the story, and on the recordings that she made of the phone calls during which she spoke to the celebrities, authors, and doctors she duped.
Bono giving the "okay" symbol, which apparently means he's a white supremacist or something--I read that on some leftist websites so it must be true, right? I mean, it's not a hoax.
LeRoy’s story is exceptionally lurid, and it seems engineered to appeal to the prurient interests and prejudices of leftists: He was transgender, and had contracted HIV, apparently from being raped by one of his mother’s multiple, abusive boyfriends. His mother was one hell of a piece of work, a trashy stripper traveling with him throughout the south, pimping him out at truck stops. He made his escape to San Francisco where, a heroin addict, he survived by pimping himself out. JT began writing stories about his alleged abuse at the behest of a psychiatrist called Dr. Terrence Owens. Those stories formed the basis of the pretentiously titled The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things. Here’s an overview from an approving Telegraph profile in 2005:
The stories are written in a crude, repetitive, blank style. In the past he has described them as being like journal entries. They were 'going into the unconscious,' he says now, 'sorting everything out'. The narrative is one of relentless abuse, of a small boy taken away from caring foster parents by his speed-addled teenage mother who tortures him psychologically and physically, leaves him with a series of violent boyfriends, and passes him off as a girl because it makes her thieving and prostitution easier.
He is first raped at the age of five, is briefly subjected to a life of Christian fundamentalism by his grandparents, becomes a transvestite hustler before he reaches puberty, and has the end of his penis burnt by his mother with a car cigarette lighter.
He eventually comes sadomasochistically to crave beatings as an eroticised form of the only attention his mother used to show him.
The last story in the book - actually the first he wrote when he went into therapy - describes him paying a biker to beat him up and slash his genitals with a switchblade.
What made JT LeRoy’s story so seductive is that it played into the provincial, prejudiced preconceptions of the mostly liberal and leftist celebrities who championed him. It hits all the liberal sweet spots, from religious (Christian, that is) fundamentalism to white-trash desperation. What Ryder was basking in in the clip at the beginning of the film was her own incandescent virtue signaling. LeRoy wasn’t an author, not even to the celebrities who thought he actually was an author—he was a concept that allowed celebrities to feel above the flyover rubes living in the desperate hellholes that result from unenlightened thinking.
LeRoy was the invention of a woman called Laura Albert, who, apparently, used prank calling child abuse hotlines and recording the results as her creative outlet. That was how she began communicating with Dr. Owens, who encouraged “Terminator” or “Jeremiah” (I can’t remember which name she was using at the time) to write out all of the horrible stories that he was hearing from her/him. As therapy. Albert was working as a phone sex operator at the time (“LeRoy,” she says in the documentary, came from one of her phone sex regulars) and so I suppose she had nothing better to do than to escalate her deception and waste even more time of people dedicated to helping child sex abuse victims.
The stories that “Terminator” wrote ended up in the hands of exactly the right authors and editors, and one story appeared in a collection, from which LeRoy managed to get a book deal. And how could he not, with stories written in a “crude, repetitive, blank style.” That’s what editors are looking for! (In fairness, Fifty Shades of Gray was written in a “crude, repetitive, blank style.” It’s also all about abuse. Something to think about.)
It’s telling that Albert was living in San Francisco when she first concocted LeRoy. That is perhaps the most provincial, closed-minded, hateful city in America. LeRoy’s story plays like a satire of a leftist’s idea of middle America. The “surprising” election of Donald Trump has only served to heighten leftist’s bigotry toward those with different beliefs. JT LeRoy’s story could have served as a jumping-off point for an examination of what it is that makes leftists so narrow-minded and susceptible to hoaxes like JT LeRoy, that other massive literary hoax the UVA rape story, the alleged epidemic of “hate crimes,” and the currently fashionable but utterly demented conspiracy theory that Trump colluded with Russians to somehow “hack” the election.
Winona Ryder, basically giving herself a kiss.
Instead, Author: The JT LeRoy Story seems to have been engineered to prevent any deeper examination, and to formally excuse Albert’s deception. The film is structured in such a way that toward the end Albert alleges that she herself was a victim of sexual abuse as a child. She claims that this abuse caused an eating disorder (she was overweight for a great deal of her life, until getting gastric bypass surgery just as LeRoy was hitting it big). But, of course, this is the same woman who cynically invented an alternate persona that just happened to hit every liberal sweet spot—there’s absolutely no reason why we should believe her new stories of sexual abuse causing an eating disorder. Which is, itself, another popular liberal trope from the era in which Albert grew up.
That’s another potentially interesting subject—as the “body positivity” movement has ascended in liberal and leftist circles, what’s happened to the “sexual abuse caused me to over-eat to make myself less attractive to my abuser” movement that was so popular when I was in college?
Albert is a fabulist, and not a particularly interesting one. She simply parrots leftist talking points back to leftists. How are we to be sure that this documentary isn’t just another layer of deception. It’s possible that someone with greater insight into human frailty—someone like, say, Todd Solondz—could have done something with this material. As it is, the director of the film doesn’t really try all that hard. In fact, he admits to making propaganda:
Could the new documentary be seen as Albert’s attempt to regain control of her own narrative? It is framed as a cards-on-the-table confessional, but if nothing else, Albert has proved herself a notoriously unreliable narrator. “This is her version of events,” says [director Jeff] Feuerzeig, although he alone decided what went into the film, he adds. “And yes, as you hear in the film, there’s a mosaic of responses. Some people are outraged, some think it’s the greatest thing since sliced cheese, and all of their responses are valid. The film doesn’t seek to moralise or judge.”
That's right; the movie doesn't moralize or judge--it indulges. It enables a peculiar pathology, and makes Albert, a horrifyingly dishonest and manipulative person, into a victim/hero, without in any way examining the implications of how she managed to get away with what she did.