By Jeff Walsh, Oasis editor
Chris Beckman may only be 23, but he's already gone through a lot in his life. As an artist, he is represented by a gallery in Boston and has his own Web site to showcase his work. He's been sober for an entire year, after a co-dependent relationship got him involved with alcohol, ecstasy, and other party favors. And, after an entire season with no gay cast members, MTV corrected the error by giving us two this year, both Chris and openly lesbian Aneesa (who recently appeared together on the cover of Out Magazine). Sorry boys, but it is Aneesa that you'll be seeing naked all season. Chris doesn't think they caught him, but tune in to find out.
Not really familiar with this season when I interviewed him, I was immediately impressed with how open Chris is about his past and how much work he has done to go from picking on the effeminate boys in high school, to apologizing to them a few short years later for his own internalized homophobia. His mother, a PFLAG mom, is an amazing part of his life, and she talks to people on his discussion boards. A lot of times, people seem to be defined by their stint on the Real World. For Chris, it seems like this is just a mere pit stop on a much bigger journey.
And, if you didn't notice, Chris has "the kind of sexual energy that appeals to both men and women." But, we'll get to that in the interview.
So, apparently you're shy, but then you go on a show where they're going to film you all the time. How does that work out?
I'm not shy. There's still a couple more months that I live in the house. At the beginning the camera added an element of ... surprise!... and representing a million viewers. It was hard for me to adjust to that. I'm not shy, my personality will change as time goes on. I really hope so.
How long did getting used to the cameras take? At a certain point do you forget about them?
It took about a month and a half to adjust, but even after that adjustment period, I was always aware of what I said. You don't want to target a group because you say something a certain way, and that happens a lot of times on the show. 'Why did Chris say this? He must be this kind of a person.' But, overall, if anyone had a camera following them, they would say things, too, that they weren't so proud of. I never forget they were there, even when it looks like I'm just dancing in the elevator coming home one night after going out. I knew they were there, I just didn't care anymore.
Any footage you're hoping they don't use?
I hope they didn't catch me naked.
They'll use that footage on their videotapes they try to sell... Chris Uncensored!
I don't think they got any shots of me. So, if they do, it will be a surprise.
Are we going to see you running around the house in little red, bikini briefs like Dan Renzi (from the Miami season, which was hot, don't get me wrong), or do you plan to maintain your cool throughout the season?
I don't know. I don't know what they'll show. There are times when Aneesa is just so outrageous, she brought the best and worst out of me, I guess.
The producers seem pretty good about getting people who will do that.
It's a drama-filled situation.
What was your motivation for going on The Real World?
It was just a spontaneous thing. I mean, it happened so quick. I went into casting, initially, at the end of May. Within two weeks, they told me I was in the final round. I flew out to L.A. and, in June, found out that in July I would be moving to Chicago. So, what led me to it was that I was attracted to living in a different city, to be on the show, to meet six other people, to live in the house, for the experience. At that time, I didn't know what city it would be. I'm really happy it was Chicago, because Chicago was fun.
Was there any notion, because you're an artist, that you thought this would be a good way to promote your work? A lot of former Real World people use it to try and get into modeling, or acting... so did you see it as a way to help your art career?
It just the thrill of doing something that's unique. I probably won't get another opportunity to experience something like that in my life.
How is it now? Are people already noticing you on the street?
Yeah... it's really strange. It's going to take some time to get used to. People say, "Hey Chris!" when I'm just walking down the street, and I start wondering if I know the person. You know, you do that, you meet somebody and forget who it is, but you know you should know them? I've had lots of those so far, especially out here in L.A.
I recently interviewed Brandon from Survivor: Africa, and he said he didn't like the way twenty something gays are portrayed in the media in shows like Queer as Folk, sex, drugs, and such, and that he really wanted to go and show there are people living different ways. Of course, he said he failed in some ways at carrying that out, but that was his intent. Did you approach it like that? Were you trying to make any point?
I knew my life experience thus far would help people. In the beginning, I took on almost a burden of speaking up and standing up for the community, and shining the spotlight on another person that's gay. At the same time, with my recovery and sobriety it was really difficult for me to do that because I myself didn't know what I would go through on the show. Personally, what I went through, I grew a lot. Looking back at it, I'd do it all over again. But, looking back on it, I know who I am as a person and I knew they would show who I was. I think the opportunity to share myself with six other people and the rest of the country, that would be useful. But, I didn't go on there specifically to break the stereotype.
Do you see the edited season beforehand?
Not at all. I know just as much as you do at this point. We don't know what they're going to pick.
The editing is a big factor. Like, tonight is the coming out episode (this interview occurred two weeks ago. I hate transcribing, sue me), but we don't know if that occurred three days in or if you did it the first night, how they re-edited it to make it a big deal.
It happened five days into the show.
Did you try and let them know you first, and then add that to the mix?
I came out to all the girls first, they knew two days before Kyle did and then Theo found out because I had a date with Kurt, and Theo was asking 'Who are you going on a date with?' They don't show that. But, it was easy for me. I just said I was going out on a date with Kurt, and that's how I came out to him. Bonding with Kyle, a Princeton football player, was difficult for me. I judged him. Like, he must fit the stereotype of a college football jock. It was difficult for me because I didn't know him as a person. But he's great, so accepting.
Now, what is it like for Kurt? Obviously, he didn't sign up to be in this world... and then he goes on a date and there's cameras.
We took it really slow and it took time to find some sort of common ground. The cameras did add an element of... imagine meeting someone for the first time, not even knowing that they're on this show, and the next day you go on a date, and there is a cameraman standing on top of a chair next to you in a really nice restaurant while you're trying to get to know one another. It does make things more difficult. He's so supportive now. We have a great relationship and he's a great guy. We're not together, but we're good friends.
Is that something we'll be seeing unfold during the season? The breakup or anything like that?
Well... yeah. I'm not going to say any more, but I'm sure they'll edit it and show it for the whole season. They cut out the whole date, so I'm sure they'll use it later in the season. We went out a total of seven times over eight weeks, and he was the only person that I went on dates with.
What was it like handling your sobriety? Obviously, it's kind of a party environment at times. Were you doing meetings every day?
I went to meetings. I did what I had to do to maintain some spiritual connection with other people in the same boat.
How long have you been sober now?
I've been sober for a year. Well, February 1 will be a year.
When did you first start having problems with alcohol? Was it related to your sexuality?
In the beginning, it was. In coming out for me, I was running from how I was going to be accepted by my family, the shame, the guilt, and the religion I grew up with... and will my parents accept me? It was easier to just go out to a club and just kind of run, and the fear overcame me. And before I knew it, I just had this problem that blew up.
Was it just alcohol, or drugs as well?
Ecstasy and other party favors. There was a relationship. I was 19, he was 23, and I was naïve and it ended up being very co-dependent. It led to partying, and then we broke up and I realized I was in this relationship that was very draining.
Now, on the MTV Web site, it says that you have "the kind sexual energy that appeals to both men and women." Did you write this?
No, that was written about me.
What is that sexual energy exactly?
My sexual energy... I hit on women in the house, does that make my sexual energy go out to both? Cara hit on me initially at the opening of the house, but I don't think they show that. There was a time when she leaned into me and gave me a kiss. It was kind of like we shared a moment. They're just saying that for the drama or the ratings.
What was your own coming out like? You were 18 when you first came out?
I came out as 'questioning my sexual identity' to my friend when I was 17, and then I came out bi. At first, I went through, 'Oh, I was just thinking about men,' and then it went to 'I'm bisexual,' and when I turned 18, it was 'I'm definitely gay,' and when I was 18-turning-19, I told my mother that I was bi, and now the whole family knows. And the country!
And prior to that you had been dating women? When did you finally say, 'I think there's something else I need to explore here'?
I had my first experiences and we ended up going to different high schools. He was on the baseball team. And I ended up dating women throughout high school knowing that it didn't feel right. When I graduated high school, I was eighteen and moved to Boston, right before I went to school, and got my first boyfriend. I was doing juvenile outreach work for gay and lesbian social services, doing HIV education, and met my Latin boyfriend, Cesar, my first boyfriend. So, I knew then, when I had a boyfriend, that I was definitely gay.
But you used to make fun of more effeminate guys before you came out?
It was pointing the finger at everyone else so it took the spotlight off of me, because I was constantly worrying about 'Do they know?' or 'Will I not be accepted?' It was internalized homophobia that I was experiencing. And it's shameful. One of the kids who was a sophomore when I was a senior, that I treated like shit through out high school, lives in Chicago now, and I made amends to him. I went up to him and let him know who I am and what I'm all about today, and how sorry I was like treating like that and being such an asshole. It's disturbing that I let something like that ... I guess it's changed so much since then, that it's easier to come out in high school. But it wasn't too easy for me in a Catholic high school.
And how is your mother now? She initially outed you to the family...
My mother likes to process things and she's so supportive of everything in my life. She's the extreme P-FLAG mom. She's the best. My mother even has a spot on my Web site and she talks to people who come on. She's just great, but it was hard for her to adjust, like a lot of people. They think something else, and when they find out, it's a surprise. She went through an adjustment period, but now she's just the greatest.
Now, for this piece, am I supposed to just call you Chris? Obviously, your Web site, which I'll link to, has your full name. Do you care?
They just do that in the beginning so people don't track us down. My last name is out there anyway. Chrisbeckman.com existed before the show. It's been my portfolio online, and I've worked it so that fans of the show can go there and have some sort of discussion forum.
And when did you first get into art?
I've always been drawing and been creative. From when I can remember, as a small child, it was either drawing or painting or crayons. I was always creating. I took some art classes in high school and college. I have a gallery that represents my work in Boston and a studio I keep in Boston.
And does that pay the bills or are you still a starving artist?
Now, with the exposure from the show, I've been selling a lot more. But even before I went on the show, to go on the show, I had to cancel three really big exhibits that would have been great. So, I've got my name out there and I'm known around Boston. A lot of people know my work. It's not paying the bills by any means. But it's not about that. But its about creating for me. I'm getting a lot of requests, and I don't ever want to turn commercial, but a lot of fans want to buy things, so I'm thinking of making prints so they can afford them.
Do you have any advice for gay youth in general?
If there is anything anyone out there is dealing with or not dealing with by not talking to anyone, don't keep it in. There are resources for you and people you can talk to.