The conversations around JT LeRoy are yet to call out Albert as the Rachael Dolezal for trans people, and that’s why I think this story continues to baffle me. Perhaps Albert is trans, in the umbrella sense of the word, if she feels like LeRoy is part of her, and that (perhaps?) complicates the issue even more for criticism. But that’s why I read this book — to get a better thought process about her “avatar” (what Albert still calls JT) from Knoop’s perspective. An “avatar” is not a character in a book, though, or even a pen name. “Avatar” is still not the right word. In some respects, JT LeRoy feels ghostwritten, which I have a negative view on. It’s inauthentic, at the end of the day. But those who are ghostwritten for tend to exist where JT did not, so that’s where the comparison ends. To be nitpicky, JT LeRoy was not the avatar, Knoop was. The rest is all persona and acting and claiming an identity that really doesn’t feel like it was Albert’s to do in the way she did.
Knoop, on the other hand, was forced to embody what Albert created. If you know about the story, the embodying did not fit. Reading this made me feel like Knoop is still exploring their identity at the time of writing it — that this book was an exercise in recording who they were and who they are at a moment in time so they can have solid ground to stand on going forward. Before going into this, I knew that Knoop’s pronoun was now “they” and had read from the BBC that:
‘…”one interesting point of similarity between Knoop as LeRoy and Knoop now, aside from an eclectic taste in fashion, is that Knoop has gravitated towards LeRoy’s gender fluidity – stopping using the pronoun ‘she’ and now going by the gender neutral ‘they’. “They is a made-up word, and I like how confusing and uncomfortable it is,” says Knoop. “I went to grad school and there were all these young kids who in some way were post-gender and they all go by ‘they’.”’
So this renders the title a bit irrelevant or at least slightly awkward, since Knoop might again no longer identify as (or embody?) a “girl.” It seems their identity exploration is not over yet, and I wish Knoop would have included that fact more outright but I did not get a good sense of it. Otherwise, you assume Knoop is OK with “she” or being gendered as a “girl.” I was hoping for a little bit more retroactive analyzing on Knoop’s part for how JT LeRoy was still called “He” during the events recounted here despite JT “identifying” as trans. Like, maybe more talk about how, if this stunt was done today, more care or definition might go to XYZ like in pronoun usage and etc. Yet again, maybe “trans” is for the umbrella sense of the word, which would include non-binary and gender neutral identities as well, so I accept it either way. I’ve not read any of Albert’s books so I don’t know if that’s addressed there. Plus, there are a few specific examples where “genderfluid” is mentioned up as what JT is shooting for (yet it doesn’t seem to be THE identity like “trans” is) so maybe Knoop did not feel the need to address it further. I of course realize that at the time our definitions were (and are still) evolving but today those terms are not so interchangeable. However, there are also other examples where it’s as if there’s a very exact definition of “trans-ness” they were trying to project. It’s a projection where, today, we do have better language to describe what was (possibly?) going on but Knoop simply does not address it even though they have access to said language. Going off that BBC quote, it feels like Knoop missed an opportunity to look back and claim their “interpretation” or “embodiment” of LeRoy as really having/deserving a gender neutral pronoun. I think my confusion highlights this lack of clarification and exploration enough.
This book should be in conversations with ones like, for example, #OwnVoices. The lines in the sand for what you can and can’t do were blurred with this stunt and I think we’re missing opportunities to define (if we even need to define? maybe reinforce, rather?) who and what an “author” is. What Laura Albert did was most wrong, in my view. What Knoop went through was not OK. Yet, like Knoop, I still don’t think we have the precise language to talk about it. But we need to continue to try.