That Real World Guy

Sexy single artist and current Real Worlder Chris Beckman talks about coming out, getting sober, and the impact the show is having on his life—and on his great-grandmother

BY Paul Coco

February 01 2002 1:00 AM ET

Were there times in school when the drinking interfered with your grades or friendships or anything like that?No, not throughout high school. In college, definitely. I ended up losing a scholarship because of my "extracurricular activities."

Was that the moment when you thought, OK, I need to do something about this?No. I was so selfish and so caught up in what I was doing. I thought I would take some time off and go at the speed that I was traveling at, you know, with being out every night and going out to clubs, it just kind of became who I was.

Did you have to leave school because you lost the scholarship? Yeah.

If being forced out of school isn’t enough to make you realize you had a problem, when did you know? Was it a specific thing or a series of things? A series of things, like not being able to show up, not being able to be [myself]. My art changed. Who I was as a person [changed]. There were just signs that I didn’t really look at closely. It took a lot of people—a lot of people that cared about me—to tell me that I needed to get help. I just became a different person when I drank.

Who did you turn to, or did you do it on your own?I have a great family, I have friends to support me and show me the ropes, get me in a program. I ended up going to an outpatient acupuncture detox [program]. I would go three hours a week after work and get acupuncture and drink a detox tea, and get connected with other people that were going through the same problems. I ended up going to that for two months and [then] getting into a 12-step program.

Since you’ve stopped drinking, you’ve worked part-time as a bartender. Is that difficult? A lot of people compare it to quitting smoking and then sitting in the smoking section. I go out once a week anyhow, and [on The Real World] they gave me one night out away from the cameras, so why not bartend? It was uncomfortable in the beginning, but it’s a cool way to meet people. I needed to talk to my friends and go to meetings to make sure I was in the right frame of mind to be in that [working] environment. It wasn’t the easiest of all places for me to work. I’m not working there anymore.

You’re in the spotlight now, and for many people, particularly gay teenagers, you will be a role model. Is that an awkward position to be in? A lot of people have been coming on my Web site. I have a Web site for my artwork. I’ve been working on it with some friends from Chicago, and I’m really happy with how it’s going. But I’ve been getting a really overwhelming response on the Web site from people who have been asking me questions about the show.

Do you respond to those questions, or do you just wish people would concentrate on your art?Some people have come on [the site] asking me, “Should I come out to my family?” I’ve been wondering, is there not education out there? Why aren’t there state-funded programs in these different states where these people are living? I mean, yes, they’re coming to me because I’m going through this on the show, but I think some strong actions [need to be taken] to set up links and resources. When I first came out and moved to Boston, I did some outreach work for the Justice Resource Institute. I went to this place called Boston GLASS, it’s a gay and lesbian social services center [for youth]. There’s a whole bunch of services out there catering to youth.

I’m sure the publicity from the show has given your career some support. Has it changed your personal life as well? Before I went on the show, I was showing my work. Will it open up doors? It hasn’t happened [yet]. My personal life—I went shopping this past weekend, and I got stopped by everyone from gay teenagers to young girls to married couples. So it’s done something for my privacy.

I guess it only takes one episode. Right. I’m recognized now. I mean, I have to accept it for what it is. I guess throughout filming I was living in the moment, really not thinking about what would happen afterwards. I didn’t know, but I’d do it all over again.

Did you ever stop to think about why you were picked to be on the show as opposed to the thousands of other people who auditioned?I think I was picked clearly because of who I am as a person—my personality and what I could offer to the group as a whole. [To] offer some diversity as to where I’ve been and how it would blend with the other six personalities of the house.

Do you support any specific gay causes, or are you an activist in anyway? Yes. I fully support the HRC, the Human Rights Campaign, and local services in Boston, such as JRI Health, the GLASS program in particular, and TEGLY, Tobacco Education for Gay and Lesbian Youth. I go to dinners and fund-raisers. I’ll be speaking at HRC events.

So, what do you hope people who watch the show for the full season come away thinking about you, or do you not care? I hope that they see that I am human, that I make mistakes. I’m just like them in lots of ways, and not to just judge [us], just what they see on the show, because there’s a lot more life that was lived at that house than what they show. I’m not even sure what the show will show.

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