J.T. & me

How I fell for the second-best literary hoax of the year  
By KAY HANLEY  |  February 23, 2006

CONNED ARTISTS Juliana Hatfield, Jake Burns, and Kay Hanley were among those suckered into reading on behalf of the reclusive J.T. LeRoy.Once upon a time in Harvard Square there was a short-lived venue called the Market Theatre. The space truly altered the face of performance art in Boston by taking on avant-garde projects and obscure playwrights, and turning them loose on mainstream audiences. It was awesome.

In the fall (I think) of 2001, my friend Tom Cole, the director of the Market, asked me to take part in a reading by the author J.T. LeRoy — a person so troubled and fragile that he couldn’t perform readings to promote his books by himself. Instead, he would farm out the task to notable fans in cities all over the world, luring the likes of Courtney Love, Shirley Manson, David Eggers, and Gus Van Sant (who also signed up to turn J.T.’s life into a film). Tom explained the whole thing to me: LeRoy had grown up a truck-stop nomad. His meth-addicted mother dragged him around trolling for tricks and drugs, sometimes dressing J.T. as a girl if that could be used to some advantage to support them for a few days. Eventually, by the time he was a ’tween, J.T. had become an addict and a prostitute himself.

Occasionally, they would find shelter with his mother “Sarah’s” fundamentalist Christian family, whose cruel patriarch inflicted as much damage as anyone else by forcing them to do things like scrub their genitals with bleach to make themselves pure for Jesus. I couldn’t believe this fucking story!

“Really? This guy wants me to read for him?” I asked with the sort of incredulous pride that I normally reserved for times like when my roommate told me that my ass looked good in a certain pair of jeans. J.T. requested me, Juliana (that would be Hatfield), and Jake Burns from Stiff Little Fingers (the seminal 1970s punk band from Belfast).

“Wow,” was all I could think to say, and off I went to read The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, LeRoy’s second book and the one we would be reading from.

“Momma. I say it softly like a magic word you use only when severely outnumbered.” This is the book’s opening salvo before the baby LeRoy is snatched from the warmth and safety of his foster home, and whisked into the clutches of his teenage mother and a quickly ruined life. Devastating. The sentence is about as subtle as a drunken head-butt, but, hey, I’m easy like that. From page one I was a weeping convert. I devoured the book and chose this passage as the one I would recite at the Market in a few weeks.

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Bone collector
The raccoon penisbone necklaces J.T. LeRoy wore, gave as gifts, and even sold on his Web site are reportedly used as charms in teh American South to boost sexual powers, profess one's love for another, and bring luck to gamblers. It's also said taht the penis bones are prized for being disproportionately large compared with the size of a raccoon's body.

More on this story:

The awful truth: Recent revelations about fictitious memoirs have exposed our society’s lust for stories about savaging helpless children. By Michael Bronski.