Gossip and rumour: the unkindest cut of all
Fire and swords are slow engines of destruction, compared to the tongue of a gossip.
- Richard Steele, Sr.
So far, prominent local media personality Tracy Kelly (not her real name) has told us about death threats and stalkers. If these experiences have scarred her in any way, she doesnt let on. Its not until talking about the destructive power of gossip that she lowers her guard, however briefly, to reveal the hurt.
There are people who just say horrible things about me, she said. There are rumours that Ive had affairs with any person, man or woman, who you can mention in this city. Apparently Ive been with them all.
Shes heard many things over the years, but the most persistent and worst, by far, was the rumour that she had performed oral sex on every member of the St. Johns Maple Leafs hockey team at a house party. (The story is an urban legend, originating in the 1959 book Hollywood Babylon, with variations involving everyone from a high school cheerleader to rock star Rod Stewart.)
And people believed it, she said. Ive gone out on dates with people who said, You dont need to tell me if its true or not but this is what I heard. The first time I heard it I went home and cried. Because what could I do? How can I disprove it? How can I convince all those people that it didnt happen?
The rumour eventually made it to her boss. He called me into his office and he actually blushed. He said, Ive heard something and I know its not true, but I just want to let you know that its everywhere. Everyone is saying it. And he told me. I told him I had heard that a couple of years ago. He said, Well how does it make you feel? Are you angry? I told him the first time I hear it, I cried for about four hours straight; that I was embarrassed and didnt want to go anywhere or get my hair done or go to the grocery store because I was afraid that everyone was thinking that when they looked at me. And I didnt even want to be on TV anymore. But now? I told him that, now, if I am physically able to do that, I should be given a medal and get in the Guinness Book of Records. I mean, how is that even physically possible? If anybody thought about what they were hearing and repeating, theyd know that. But people dont care because youre in the public eye. Youre fair game.
There was another persistent rumour that she was in a long-term relationship with a prominent local businessman.
I even had grown men who I knew well, say So youre still going out with Bob (not his real name)? And I would say, Are you actually asking me that question?
Around that time, Tracy attended a social event, attended by many of the highest-profile people in the city. She was asked several times about this boyfriend, and everyone she encountered including people who should have known better assumed it was true.
At one point that evening, she was invited to say a few words.
I got on stage and thats what I ranted about how hard it is, being in the public eye. And that its even harder being a woman in the public eye. Because what people dont know about you, theyll make up. And if youre a woman, then youre a very easy target. If you are a man in the public eye and someone says, Hes a player, well thats great. But if youre a woman and people say that, they lose a lot of respect for you. And once your reputation is tarnished whether you did it or not its very hard to get that back. And this is what I said on the stage. So the place just went quiet. One person started to applaud, and then everyone did.
It was a cathartic moment for her, and something that needed to be said. But it didnt change anything. Everyone in the room went, Wow, shes some upset. But they kept right on talking.
Tracy has contemplated why people like to gossip, and has decided its a way for people to fit in socially. If youre in a room full of people you dont know, whats one thing you have in common? Someone in the public eye. If someone says, I wonder what so-and-so is like, someone else will say, Well, its probably not true, but Ive heard that so-and-so does this. And then someone else will say, Yeah and I heard this, and everyones got a little story. Before you know it, everyone in the room has heard this stuff, though probably none of it is true. And then they go home and repeat it.
Thus far, people have been trying to figure out who Tracy is. However, many will be surprised to see themselves in this story as well.
Tracy said she understands the contradiction in complaining about fame; that unwanted attention is one of the byproducts of celebrity.
Were on TV. We encourage people to welcome us into their homes every evening. So how then can I turn around, after hoping people will welcome me into their home, and not be friendly and polite to them, when they see me in public? To them, Im the girl from the news. They think they pretty much know me. The only thing is, I know nothing about them.
For this reason, the simplest tasks of daily life such as darting out to the corner store can become awkward and intimidating.
Sometimes, its nice when people recognize you and want to talk to you, because of who you are, Tracy said. It can also be off-putting, because I have always been a shy kind of person. While I dont mind that people approach me, sometimes I am uncomfortable with celebrity. I am well known, I guess, but that doesnt necessarily mean I am well liked. I would never assume that, just because people talk to me, means everyone likes me.
People dont usually come up to me and act in a negative way, if Im in front of them (in a line-up). Theyre usually polite. Teenage girls (will say hello) a lot of times, Sometimes people still think youre on TV, or thats how it seems they talk to each other about me, and I could be five feet away and can hear everything theyre saying, but its as though they dont think I can hear them. And some people just stare to the point that its awkward and uncomfortable.
The threats, the stalkers, the gossip, and the stress have all taken their toll. Tracy says she has developed agoraphobia; a fear of going outdoors. Sometimes she gets anxiety attacks, especially before meeting new people.
For this reason, I dont like going to new places, she said. I go to the same supermarket and the same corner store all the time. If I had to go to a different corner store, I wouldnt. Id just do without milk. I dont go to the mall. I never go there. I hardly ever go to movies. And when I do, I sit in the corner with my back against the wall. I dont go out, hardly ever. I rarely ever drink. Im not against drinking, but you wont catch me on George Street with a beverage. Even if I had just one, people would say I had a dozen and was naked, dancing on the bar. The only time I can be anonymous is when I leave the province.
Tracy took pains to make clear that celebrity is not all bad. There have been some nice people Ive met, and I have good friends who I have made because of my job. There are upsides and downsides its just that the downsides can be pretty bad, when they happen.