By Paul Coco
Originally published on Advocate.com February 01 2002 12:00 AM ET
The 11th season of MTV’s The Real World may be the gayest yet, with mischievous lesbian Aneesa and gay artist Chris mixing it up with five straight housemates, all of them young and model-beautiful. On the fourth episode, they all applied for jobs as lifeguards, and the network has set up a special Web page promising “hot and wild” video clips and photos. You get the picture.
But outside that amazing loft apartment (with Jacuzzi) in Chicago and apart from MTV’s mission to rope in viewers with the promise of pretty people sharing one bathroom with a shower built for two, there’s also a dose of substance, largely provided by Aneesa and Chris. As 19-year-old Aneesa challenges her straight roommate’s homophobia (lesbians turn him on; gay guys are gross) in early episodes, Chris has gradually come out to all his housemates—as both gay and sober.
Now Chris is watching the season unfold along with everyone else, gradually realizing that his life will never be the same. Advocate.com’s Paul Coco caught up with Chris just after the second episode of the show aired to talk about everything from his new icon status to coming out to his great-grandmother.—Editor
Advocate.com: As of this interview I’ve only seen two episodes of The Real World, but I was interested in finding out if you know how the show is going to be edited? Are you as surprised as a regular viewer as to what MTV chooses to show or not show?Chris Beckman: I don’t know. They edit it down to create a story line. Basically, I gave them a lot of who I am, particularly in a vulnerable state of my life, and I think that they’ll portray me accurately.
For good or bad, or both?For good or bad, or just focusing on bad and not showing the good. The power of editing, you know, anything could happen. For the four months that we lived there, they edit it down to about eight hours of TV time, so of course they’re going to skip out and cut through a lot of the things and show more of the drama. But all in all, I’m excited to see what happens next, and I don’t know what is going to be released.
So when do you see each episode? The morning before, so we have time to prepare our families.
In the first episode from this season, you said that you made fun of gay people when you were in high school. Did you know at that point in your life that you in fact were also gay? Oh, I definitely knew at that point that I was gay. I was trying to be so extremely straight. Being that person who was always pointing the finger at everyone else—it gave the spotlight on that person and not myself. I was trying to push off my identity crisis and what I was going through onto other people instead of just coming out then.
How long did it take you to come out after you knew you were gay? I always knew that I had feelings. I dated girls throughout high school, and I always knew that that something was missing, that something wasn’t right. After high school I moved out to Boston when I was 17, and going out there was a whole world that I hadn’t experienced.
You came out to your mom at age 18. Was it harder to come out to friends or family? And after, did they support you? Was there anyone who was uncomfortable with it? It was hardest to come out to my family. It was really tough. I ran from it for a while and it lead me to other things. After coming clean and telling my family, I learned that they love me and I’m their son and their blood and that they love me regardless. Not many people have the same experience with coming out as I do. I mean, my mother told me that I needed to speak to the family priest in the beginning to seek some guidance, but all in all, they love me no matter what. And because of the show, I had to come out to my great-grandmother, which you normally don’t do.
No, you certainly don’t.No, you definitely don’t come out to your great-grandmother. I had to, and she accepted me. Although, where she’s from, she’s like "Can’t you go to the doctor and get fixed? Can’t you get a cure?"
Being on TV puts you in an interesting position: You get to be on a popular show and all the cool stuff that’s associated with that, but at the same time you had to do things you never thought you would, like tell your grandmother. [That] has probably been the most challenging.
You’ve been very open about being sober, and you talked to Out magazine in their January issue about your party years and your decision to get sober. You’re 24 now. Did you start drinking when you moved to Boston at age 17?I started drinking when I was 12.
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.