J T LeRoy, the male prostitute whose adventures entranced America, is unmasked... as a woman

Click to follow

The author who confected a fake identity as J T LeRoy and entranced legions of fans with allegedly autobiographically inspired novels about life as a West Virginia transvestite and prostitute is finally stepping out from the shadows to reveal her true identity - as a slim, auburn-haired woman from Brooklyn.

As a full and frank confession of literary fraud it has been a long time coming. Almost a year has passed since New York magazine first blew the whistle on the purported LeRoy, suggesting that all was not what it seemed with the author, whose raw and deeply personal books included Sarah as well as The Heart is Deceitful Above all Things, which in 2004 was turned into a successful film.

The perpetrator, it turns out, is 40-year-old Laura Albert. She explains what compelled her to hoodwink so many admirers - as well as many fellow writers, including the likes of Dave Eggars, Tobias Wolff and Buddy Norden - in the latest issue of the literary periodical the Paris Review, which also carries a portrait of her on its front cover. She is wearing a T-shirt with the message: "I want to be me!"

Her coming out comes at the end of a year that has been marked by American authors falling from grace because of dishonesty in their writing, most notably James Frey, who was exposed for inventing parts of his similarly searing books that were billed as true memoirs, and Kaavya Viswanathan, the once-celebrated Harvard author accused of plagiarism.

In the Paris Review, Albert insists that although she is a woman and older than her alter-ego LeRoy, many of the experiences evoked in her books - including LeRoy's purported humiliation at being forced by his mother into seeking tricks at lay-bys - echoed her own former life as a sex-phone worker.

Her transition into writing the books under a false name began when she was in therapy, she said, adding that it was her psychiatrist who encouraged her to write down the stories. "I wish I could've had my own voice," she told an Associated Press reporter after hosting a tea party in San Francisco this week to celebrate the Paris Review article and sign books. "It's not unusual that people can't be themselves. I'm proud of the work. J T saved my life and J T saved many other lives... People talk about the authenticity of the books. Those are my experiences."

Her ruse was an elaborate one. As she (or rather the fictional Mr LeRoy) became more famous - her short stories were published in newspapers including The Times and The New York Times - Albert used stand-ins whenever required by her publishers to appear in public. Supplying wigs and dark glasses, she turned most often to Savannah Koop, the half-sister of her former partner, Geoffrey Koop.

Even earlier this year, after the magazine exposé, she struggled to maintain the lie. In January, she denied in a telephone interview that she was in fact Laura Albert. "Laura is not me. I am not Laura," she insisted. "I am a writer, I am not Laura."

Asked this week if she regretted pretending to be LeRoy for so long, she replied: "I bleed, but it's a different kind of shame. I'm sad I was so injured ... If knowing that I'm 15 years older than him devalues the work, then I'm sorry they feel that way."

She says in her article, meanwhile, that she tried on repeated occasions to tell people that she was in fact LeRoy but they refused to believe her.

It may be that the scandal will not dent her career in the long-term. Even in the midst of the unravelling of her pretence, Albert has continued to write, most recently contributing to the scripts of the popular television drama series Deadwood.

Buddy Norden, who has written cover blurbs for Albert's books, is among fellow authors happy to acknowledge that her writing took him in. "When it all came out, I was shocked," he said. "I must admit I was really taken by the writing, all the details. Sounded real to me."