J.T. & me

By KAY HANLEY  |  February 23, 2006

A few days later I sank deep into a fan-girl reverie after receiving a message from J.T. LeRoy on my home answering machine. I could kick myself now for not saving it, but that’s what I get for being an unsentimental jerk. Anyhow, he called to thank me for agreeing to take part in the promotional reading of his book. I thought it was a lovely gesture, but right away my bullshit detector went off. Something strange was afoot. He could barely put sentences together and his voice was absolutely absurd: a childish whisper with this cartoonishly deep Southern accent. I called him back and thus began a correspondence that lasted for a few weeks.

He told me about his life in San Francisco, occasionally revealing intensely personal things while being oddly evasive about far more mundane details. For instance, I knew that he lived with another man and a woman and their child in a sort of platonic three-way couple, that he mostly lived life as a female and had more than passing interest in changing his sex organs. But he could not answer simple questions like “Is your mom alive?” We communicated by phone and e-mail. Sometimes he spoke like a retarded third-grader. Other times he seemed extremely bright and expressed lucid thoughts about the publishing business and his many famous admirers. He sent me a few presents, the strangest of which was a raccoon penis-bone necklace. That, apparently, was his signature gift.

Now, I’m not suggesting I didn’t believe him. I loved the idea of him so much that it didn’t occur to me that the whole thing was a fabrication. I’m also Irish Catholic, so lying on this scale would just never be a conclusion I would arrive at.

'HIS BOOKS were the kind that I would buy over and over only to give them to friends after having a little too much wine.'I did the reading, trying my best to perform in a medium that made me feel ridiculous because of this kid and his freakazoid story and his fractured identity and his crushing sadness. It was kind of fun actually. Juliana and I talked about our new penis-bone necklaces and, as we spoke, I remember thinking that Juliana and J.T. were kindred spirits in a way. They both have this disorienting loneliness that appears (to me, at least) to be the source of their brilliance, but this is beside the point. Juliana was unfazed by the necklace so I decided to bail on any attempt to engage her in the inexplicable madness of this J.T. LeRoy situation, this person who had just dropped into our lives. I don’t recall if Jake Burns had any opinion on his necklace or if he even got one, but he was a pretty understated guy. I barely remembered he was even there until a picture of the three of us surfaced years later.

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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.

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