Space Ramblings

There Goes JT LeRoy

A woman who used the alter ego of a nonexistent male prostitute to pen an autobiographical novel defrauded a production company that wanted to make a film about her life, a jury decided Friday.

The Manhattan federal jury awarded the production company $116,500 after deliberating for several hours in the case against San Francisco writer Laura Albert. Antidote International Films Inc. had sued Albert, who went to strange lengths to hide her identity behind her alter ego, a male prostitute named JT LeRoy.

Now you could play this too ways. Certainly plenty of female writers have used male pseudonyms and even cultivated entire male identities complete with detailed biographies and in some cases vice versa. A key point though is the question of just what is and isn’t fiction.

Had Laura Albert let the people she was dealing with it on it before signing the contracts, it would have been one thing but doing an Andy Kaufman when you aren’t Andy Kaufman and marketing fiction as biography is a deeply tricky trick. The question becomes even more complex since what Laura Albert was doing was selling a story about a woman written by a man based on the man’s life which was in fact actually written by a woman. Confused, yes probably.

Where Laura Albert went wrong is that she used a marketing gimmick to promote a book that turned out to deflate in interest once the gimmick was exposed. There really was nothing more interesting beneath J.T. Roy. Much as with James Frey, once the biographical gimmick died, so did the value of the material.

“This goes beyond me,” Albert said. “Say an artist wants to use a pseudonym for political reasons, for performance art. This is a new, dangerous brave new world we are in.”

Nothing wrong with the artist doing it but really the publisher should be in on it or at the very least whoever you’re selling the material to, should be aware that it is a pseudonym. Performance art that becomes fraud is just fraud.

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