When you find out what is behind the lies you struggle to find something, anything, to understand why. When you realise that the truth is that there is just another sad, damaged, person in the world you just have to deal with it. It’s not like you haven’t before.
When I first read ‘Sarah’ by J.T LeRoy I, like everyone else at the time, took it at face value, a harrowing story of how someone had got away from a life of abuse and made a new and better future for themselves. Coming from my own, slightly less, messed up world it was always good to read about the ones who got away, not being dragged back into the same seething mess of humanity. Back in the dial up internet days of the 90’s, information was so sketchy and when, after two books, LeRoy disappeared it was just another mystery that couldn’t be solved.
That was until last week… The truth can be so dismal can’t it? Tucked away on the BBC iplayer is the answer to the great nineties literary mystery and truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Turns out that Sarah wasn’t written by a cross dressing gay guy with hiv but a rather disturbed middle aged woman by the name of Laura Albert. Laura ended up pretending to be her own manager at public appearances, putting on the most appalling of Dick Van Dyke British accents that I’m amazed no one saw through. People want to believe though, we like a good heartwarming story do us humans and this was no different. Laura inlisted the help of her sister in law Savannah Knoop to play JT ( Jeremiah Terminator) in public and proceeded to watch from the sidelines as He/She became drawn into a world of A list celebrity. Things got out of hand and eventually it all blew up in their faces but not before a movie was made “the heart is deceitful above all things” directed by Gus Van Saint. I got hold of a copy recently but only watched about 15 minutes before I found it too harrowing and turned it off. I couldn’t cope, I wasn’t strong enough.
There was a lot of anger at the discovery of this literary fraud, if that’s what it was. Anger that someone pretended to be a male child prostitute and that the dead mother Sarah never even existed . Like most stories though, the truth isn’t so simple and clear cut. Laura was abused as a child, raped from an early age by a close relative and then ended up in the foster system when her mother couldn’t cope with the trauma the abuse caused. Laura started writing as therapy and started to invent new personas for herself so as to give herself a bit of respite from herself. So whilst the stories of JT LeRoy aren’t ‘the truth’ they are ‘a truth’ and I feel personally are still valid as works of literature.
I have been privileged to, on occasion, work with adult survivors of child abuse and I admire anyone who has the courage to confront their past and deal with it in a healthy manner. My own historical woes melt into insignificance with the stories I have been told and those almost destroyed me. Sometimes the true heroes aren’t those out drawing lots of attention to themselves but those who just carry on. I can’t criticise Laura for surving, for that is what she did.
There have always been pen names in literature, often created out of a societal needs when writers of a sex, gender, race or class find it necessary to hide their identity to break through a predudice. Why should this be any different?
So long as an assumed identity is used to help, not harm, then what is the problem?
I guess when the dust settles it will, as in most cases, be up to history to decide.