Matt Freeman DNP, MPH
“This is hard to talk about,” said Tony, looking toward the floor.
It was Tony’s second visit. He had come in with a somewhat benign visit a month prior, complaining of shoulder pain. He was perhaps “testing the waters,” and had come back to discus his true concerns.
I recall him as largely nondescript: a 30-year-old manager of a large retail store. He had a condominium in a solidly middle class neighborhood, proud to be close with his family and wife. He told me how he was looking forward to playing football with his brothers.
“It’s so personal.” Tony gazed at the floor. His eyes starting to tear.
This was familiar territory for me. I had my money on erectile dysfunction, a diversion from marital fidelity, a gambling problem, sexual thoughts about about other men. None of the above. I was entirely unprepared.
“I wear women’s clothes.”
This was still not an overwhelming story for me. I had worked with heterosexual cross-dressing men before.
“My wife’s clothes.”
This just got a bit more complicated.
“It’s because of Jill. Jill Payne.”
“Jill Payne. WNTN?”
I was stumped.
Exasperated, Tony explained that Jill Payne was a local news anchor. He was shocked that I had never heard of her.
Tony explained that he had been going with his wife to purchase clothes for her that matched those of Jill Payne. She rarely watched the news, so she did not recognize that her clothes matched those of the news anchor.
In his wife’s absence, he would wear the dresses and suits while scouring the internet for photos and videos of Jill Payne.
Tony shared a small scrapbook of Jill Payne photos. Almost combusting with anxiety, he began to spill endless details of Jill Payne’s life: where she was born, her favorite restaurants, the names of her children.
As he composed himself, I asked a few critical questions. Tony had no interest in hurting Jill Payne. He knew her neighborhood but not her house, and he did not have sexual thoughts about Jill Payne. He also had no thoughts of being “trapped” in a man’s body. Tony just wanted to feel as close to Jill Payne as possible.
Tony initially seemed to hope that I would help facilitate further connection with Jill. He explained that Jill’s husband was a physician, and perhaps I knew him. Furthermore, was under the impression that Jill’s husband was Jewish, and he began questioning me about my religion, hoping to glean as much information as possible. I deflected.
My first concern was for Jill Payne’s safety. Tony denied any plan, intent, or means to hurt her. He denied any attempts to visit her home or the television station. The action of stalking was not part of his life, at least not for the moment.
I felt desperate to call Jill Payne. But I could not. From a confidentiality standpoint, I had no grounds to breach the provider/patient relationship. To make a call to Jill Payne, Tony would need to have expressed a clear intent to harm her. Tony did not meet the legal criteria for a so-called “Tarasoff Warning,” or duty to warn a potential victim of violence.
I was unsettled, and I collaborated with a physician and two psychologists. They all agreed that the best course of care would be to find a therapist for Tony, maintain rapport, and monitor his stability.
“Most Likely to Be Stalked”
Jill Payne has probably gone through this before. Amy Jacobson, a news broadcaster, said, “Everyone has a crazy guy. It’s expected.”
Although statistics are hard to find, women on local news channels have been described as the “most likely to be stalked.” It has been described as a “job-related hazard.”
Park Dietz MD, PhD, MPH is a forensic psychologist known for his testimony in high profile murder and stalking cases, including John Hinckley Jr. and Jeffrey Dahmer. Dietz’ view is that those who stalk news reporters are seeking status, fame, and glamor… a means of compensating for his own sense of self.
Dietz characterizes the typical news reporter stalker as single, male, under- or unemployed, lacking intimate relationships, and with a poor sense of self.
Indeed, Tony was a lonely man. Although married, he worked at night while his wife worked during the day. Lacking intimacy and purpose, he did not just aspire to have Jill Payne’s possessions. He aspired to be Jill Payne.
I remembered an ad for the local news when I was a child. The female half of a news anchor team spoke of her adoration for the male anchor. “He always brings me my Diet Coke the way I like it… with two straws.”
A neighbor was visiting a city across the country and was taken by an ad for the local news team. “He always brings me my Diet Coke the way I like it… with two straws.” The two straws were an invention of the national network’s marketing office.
Local news anchors are touted as part of the community. They are neighbors. They have the illusion of being friendly, familiar, and approachable. And all of this is engineered through advertising. The “two straw” preference was somehow a way to make the anchors seem nonthreatening and amiable.
This is not to say that Jill Payne is anything but pleasant; I would have no way of knowing.
The frequency of exposure compounds the situation. The local news anchor is in one’s living room or bedroom at least five days a week. She closes her broadcast with “Thanks for joining us. See you tomorrow.”
Tony knew that Jill Payne could not see or hear him. But she was a part of his everyday life. In fact, her current broadcasting schedule is weeknights at 5:00, 5:30, 6:00, and 11:00.
Michael Zona MD, a psychiatrist in Boulder, Colorado, explained that the most beautiful women are not typically the objects of such affection. Instead, it is the “girl next door.” The obsessed stalker may find that it would be within the realm of possibility that this woman would want a relationship with him.
A higher-profile celebrity in Manhattan or Hollywood might have appeared to be “off limits” to Tony. Jill Payne’s hometown sensibility and geographical proximity made her a more appealing target.
Obsession as a Function of Narcissism
Reid Meloy PhD, a forensic psychologist, describes a “narcissistic linking fantasy.” This can actually be a part of healthy human behavior: the thoughts of love, admiration, being liked, and complementing one another. The self-serving need for love and admiration are not pathologic.
Narcissistic linkage fantasies become troublesome when the fantasy involves someone who cannot reciprocate. Jill Payne never knew that Tony existed. But he could view this as a form of rejection. Although—to my knowledge—he never contacted her, he might find a postcard from the news channel to be dismissive. Jill was not recognizing the depth of his affection. He had spent a major proportion of his life devoted to Jill; she would not reciprocate.
Jill Payne comprised Tony’s sense of self, so anything that could be perceived as a slight by Jill would be an attack on Tony’s already damaged self worth.
From Obsession to Stalking
Tony was an “armchair stalker.” He never admitted to following Jill Payne, meeting her, or making plans to do so. But there was certainly a risk.
Although the prediction of future violence is almost impossible, I doubt that Tony would have ever tried to harm Jill Payne. In fact, I think that his fear of rejection was somewhat protective (for Jill) since he would do everything possible to avoid a slight from Jill.
But if his life disintegrated further: if his marriage dissolved, he developed a mood disorder, or other instability, he was certainly at risk for irrational or dangerous behavior.
After the News
I doubted that Tony was struggling with his gender identity nor with wearing women’s clothes. His true distress was about an impossible love, and obsessional behavior. But he was at ease talking about his obsessional behavior as a function of cross-dressing. It was tangential way for me to get him connected with a psychologist. I consulted by phone with a psychologist who specialized in gender issues, and he was willing to consult with Tony. The psychologist was out of Tony’s insurance network, and he could not afford the cost of the visit.
I moved to a new city not long after I started working with Tony. I transferred Tony to the care of a colleague. He never followed-up.
I searched the internet for news stories under Jill Payne’s real name and the word “stalker.” No hits. She is still an anchor ten years after I worked with Tony.
Meloy R. The Psychology of Stalking: Clinical and Forensic Perspectives. Cambridge, MA: Academic Press. 2001.
Wise J. Most Likely to Be Stalked. Psychology Today. 8 October 2010.
All images public domain
The names “Tony,” “Jill Payne” and the station “WNTN” are pseudonyms.