Transfolk Speak Out on JT’s Deception

By Neal Comment

“‘As a transgendered human, subject to attacks,’ the statement read, ‘I use stand-ins to protect my identity.’ In the past, JT Leroy [sic] has invoked transgenderism to explain confusion over his identity.” (from Monday’s NYT exposé)

What, I wondered, did genuine transgendered writers make of the revelation that the JT LeRoy who showed up in public wasn’t really a twentysomething biological male living out a female gender identity (or, as was claimed on occasion, a post-op transsexual), but a young woman who was, in fact, covering up a hoax for another woman who was writing at least some of the “LeRoy” material?

jboylan.jpgJennifer Finney Boylan, who wrote about her sex change operation in the memoir She’s Not There, wasn’t familiar with JT LeRoy or his work before reading the Times, and the article left her with more questions about LeRoy than answers. “Jeez, who wouldn’t like to have someone else take the heat once in a while?” she asked in response to an email query about the Albert/Knoop ruse. “I admire what would appear from the outside to be the cleverness and invention of JT’s solution, but the truth of JT’s situation doesn’t really appear to have emerged yet. Until it does, all I can say is that we should treat her with the compassion and forgiveness, and respect that she deserves. Maybe in time the whole story will become clear.”

helenbetty.jpgBoylan’s perspective seems willing to concede the possibility that there might actually be someone with a sincere transgedered identity as JT LeRoy, a more generous interpretation than others are offering. Helen Boyd, who has written about her marriage to a MTF transgendered person in My Husband Betty (together at right), blogged her response to my questions: “That JT LeRoy used transness as an excuse for this sham just adds to the heap of misinformation about transpeople. The association of transness and ‘big fat liar’—when transpeople are everyday accused of being deceitful, and often harmed as a result of that perceived deceit—is supremely irresponsible.” While acknowledging that adopting a male pseudonym gave Laura Albert (or whoever) literary opportunities a woman might not have had, Boyd’s frustrated because the hoax “certainly didn’t do trans people at large any favors.”

More after the jump!

The potential for negative feedback is an element to the story Boylan recognizes as well. “I think the culture needs examples of transgendered people behaving in rational, sane ways, so that we are not constantly thought of as freakazoids and wing nuts,” she observes. “There are tens of thousands of transgendered people living relatively quiet, successful lives in this country, members of communities with families and jobs and children who have fought hard to deal with this condition. Since there are so few of us in the public eye, it’s discouraging when a story like this plays out and once again, people have the opportunity to assume that all transgendered people are drug addicts or prostitutes or circus freaks. Or imposters. Or something.”

valerio.jpg“The whole JT Leroy thing is pretty amazing,” says Max Valerio, whose memoir, The Testosterone Files, comes out later this spring. “I actually find it pretty hilarious, although I know many people are outraged.” Valerio, describing Albert and Knoop as “media sociopaths,” credits them with a “brazen brilliance” in manipulating the public imagination so successfully. Although he does find “dubious moral value” in their charade, “the fact that they used ‘transgenderism’ just shows me that transsexuality and transgender issues have ‘arrived’, so to speak.” He does, however, credit the scandal with finally getting him to read some of LeRoy’s fiction (a reaction no doubt shared by many readers. “Hopefully, the effect will be to make everyone a bit more media savvy and critical in their attitude toward icons or celebrity status writers or people in general using their personal melodrama as a basis for their writing or art.”