Critical Mass

Memo to The Creators of JT Leroy: Time For an Exorcism

By Jane Ciabattari

Now that the mea culpas have ended, and the hoodwinked literati from Bruce Benderson to Ayelet Waldman have weighed in, perhaps it is time to wrap up the JT literary hoax. Take a cue from San Francisco artist Lynn Hershman Leeson, whose Roberta Breitmore could be considered JT's conceptual art antecedent–and something of a lookalike. (Compare Hershman's “Roberta Construction Chart #1, 1974,” with the image in Stephen Beachy's “Who Is the Real JT Leroy?.

Hershman conceived Roberta Breitmore in the 1970s as a “private performance of a simulated person, both artificial and real,” her way of exploring identity, gender, and the intersection between reality and truth. Roberta rented an apartment and appeared in public as Hershman in a blonde wig and heavy makeup. Roberta had a driver's license, credit cards, a bank account, a psychiatrist. She dated, went to Weight Watchers, kept a diary, and was almost impressed into prostitution after answering one personals ad.

Hershman brought Roberta's existence to an end in the late 1970s with an exorcism at Lucrezia Borgia's tomb in Ferrara, Italy, and later sold the Roberta archives to the winemaker Donald Hess (Roberta is documented in The Art and Films of Lynn Hershman Leeson: Secret Agent, Private I, published last fall by the University of California Press).

Not a bad exit strategy for JT. An exorcism, with music by Thistle. Followed by an auction of the JT Leroy archive–wigs, dark glasses, photographs with celebrities, psychiatrists' notes, contracts, books, articles (don't forget Leroy's priceless New York Times travel piece about a trip to Euro Disney in which JT reminisced about his mother working the strip clubs outside Orlando: “weeding out the Disney dollars from legitimate tender stuffed into her G-string was my job”).

Any suggestions for the appropriate worthy cause?