When the 28th season of MTV's two-decades-old The Real World premieres tonight, it'll be hard for old timers like me not to think of that third season, 1994's Real World: San Francisco, which brought to the screen Pedro Zamora, a 22-year-old out gay, HIV-positive AIDS educator. There had never been a person like Zamora on-screen, and though he had drama — including homophobic bullying and constant conflict with David "Puck" Rainey — MTV's young viewers tentatively embraced him, calling him brave and bold and other adjectives that were appropriate to the day.
Flash forward to The Real World: Portland, and viewers will meet the 2013 incarnation of orientation: Marlon Williams, a former Texas Tech linebacker from Pflugerville, Texas. Williams, 24, isn't gay. He isn't bisexual either, he says. But he has had sex with men.
He feels no shame, he says, and like many of his generation, Williams — who says he was embraced by the gay community — argues that sexual orientation and who you have sex with or who you love just doesn't matter anymore. We spoke with Williams to talk about The Real World: Portland, being a preacher's son, and what was best about the infamously "Keep It Weird" city.
The Advocate: OK, this is awkward. MTV tells us “Marlon has had intercourse with a man before and does identify with being bisexual. But he says that he is more attracted to women and doesn't think he would be with a man again.” We could just take their word for it, but we’d rather you tell us yourself how you identify and why.
Marlon WIlliams: Well, I don't consider myself bisexual, because I'm not sexually attracted to men. I did have sex with a man but my reasoning for it was different. It was in a hectic time of my life filled with fighting a lot of life battles. I was just making a lot of decisions that I would not normally make. At that time in my life the gay community embraced me, and it is one of those things that just happened. I have nothing against people who are bisexual or gay, but that is not my preference.
How do women react when you tell them?
That's funny, because it’s not a part of my conversations with women. It hasn't really come up with any of the females I've been involved with. Most women I've been interested in lately don't even care. I mean, whatever your sexual orientation is who cares? If you’re happy that is all that matters.
You’re the son of a preacher and were raised with conservative values. Does that cause conflict for you in terms of your sexuality?
Well, sex in any form is hard, because the beliefs of my parents say that you are supposed to wait for marriage. The big misconception used in religion is that some sin is worse than others. That isn't true. All sin is equal. Therefore, anything I do that is sinful can be forgiven if I repent and make changes. My belief is that God forgives anybody who believes and wants a new start in life.
You were a star football player at Texas Tech and were under a lot of pressure to turn pro. Do you ever resent the way other people put those kind of expectations or dreams on your shoulders?
I feel that people having high expectations of me is a good thing. That means they see great things in your character and motivation. I don't agree with the how people treated me when I didn't meet their expectations, though. It's my life, I'm going to live it the way I want. I'm still the same person. It's just sometimes life throws you curveballs and you have to make adjustments.
So were you recruited by the Canadian Football League, or how did you end up involved with the league?
I did two tryouts for the Canadian League. I was picked up by the Hamilton Tiger Cats. They invited me to pre-season camp, but then I was cut when the season started.
MTV’s bio of you says that when your football career ended you did some things your Real World roommates will be "shocked" to learn. I know you can’t give us spoilers, but can you give us any hints? Did you get arrested? Did you star in a porn film? Are there naked photos of you online somewhere?
Um, maybe, anything is possible! You'll definitely have to continue watching. My life story has a lot of crazy twists and turns. If you watch then you'll find out.
What did you like best about Portland?
You can legally walk the streets naked. OK, seriously though, I gotta say going snowboarding. It was a crazy cool trip. Plus we had some cool people from the area to come hang out with us. Portland is a great city.
Former cast members have accused reality TV producers of manufacturing drama and editing film to make things seem more dramatic than they really are. Do you feel like that happens on Real World?
What you see is what you get with me. I was 100% real. I can’t speak for other cast members, but everything that will be shown on the show are things that I have said or done. It is there for people’s entertainment, so they are not going to show us sitting around the house watching television or reading magazines. I would get bored with watching that too.
Who’s your favorite Real World cast member from earlier seasons? Your own season?
I have actually meet Devon from The Real World: Brooklyn. She gets my pick as my favorite — not to mention she is super hot. From my season, I'd say Nia and Anastasia. Those are my homies for sure.
Did you hook up with anyone on the show?
Hmm. Maybe. Maybe not. It's a possibility.
You also rap under the name Jay Dillinger. Is the world of rap as homophobic as it is rumored to be? How do you deal with that?
At the end of the day it's about the music. Frank Ocean definitely showed that if you’re talented, then you can make it happen. Being a rapper isn't all about the hardcore gangsta stuff all the time. So I feel there is room for any type of artist to make it. You just have to be good. Me, personally, I just ignore the hate. Who somebody goes home with is their business. What difference does it really make in the end? None.