I confess, I used to watch The Real World. I privately thrilled to the combustible drama in that first hip New York City “loft”. It was so much fun when people would yell at each other, like Kevin calling Julie a racist because she was white and therefore had power (I took that course in college, too) over him, while he was only prejudiced because he didn’t have the power you need to be considered a racist. I thought it was so cool that there was an openly gay guy, Norman (remember, this was 1992). I watched the San Francisco version and loved to hate Puck and of course identified with Pablo and his boyfriend (whom I later saw on MUNI when I moved here) and admired his HIV activism (I was still negative) and cried when he passed away.
That show had an insidious affect on my consciousness. I walked around pretending a camera was focused on ME. I rehearsed the monologues I would perform in the Confessional Room. I constantly analyzed and summarized my reactions to relationships and life events and fantasized how millions of people would follow all of my super-meaningful life changes, my dates, and my art as an emotionally relevant soundtrack accompanied me on public transit. I would, of course, be the most mature member of that season, and my behavior would stand in marked contrast with whatever problem child the producers had found. Other cast members would attempt to pull me into their melodrama but I would listen attentively, nod my head at appropriate times, and then, with an enigmatic smile, deliver a wonderfully wise and clever remark that would demonstrate both my profound humanity and my hard-won street smarts. Fan mail would pour in. Even the camera crew would prefer my company, chillin’ with me at a spoken word event or the local gay bar, where I would duck in just to connect with my community, keepin’ it real, all the while ignoring the cameras so that I didn’t seem, you know, desperate for attention.
Eventually I grew out of the appropriate age demographic, and I have since moved on, abandoning the notion that my thoughts and behavior are critically important to millions of television viewers. I scoffed as more and more young people were led to believe that their opinions were original and rilly important to, like, everybody. I released myself from the compulsion to be famous by the age of 30. I learned how to be just another human being inhabiting this fragile planet, a simple soul, a worker among workers. And then I started a weblog.
Last night Bearbait and I were sitting over coffee, finally discussing my eighth step list. This is the one where you write down everyone you’ve ever hurt in your life. Then, in step nine, you begin to make appropriate restitutions. Imagine the fun.
After an hour of squirming, I put the list aside and the conversation veered towards my mature handling of recent events. Stop laughing, he was being sincere. Then he said, “Someone asked me something recently and I didn’t know how to answer it. They asked me if you ever cried.”
For a brief moment that old, familiar camera light shone on my face in close-up. People are talking about ME, I thought. Suddenly I was back in the Confessional Room. I’d talk about how it’s hard to open up sometimes, how I keep a tough exterior to hide the eternal pain within, how it’s rilly hard for me to trust people. Something by Alicia Keys would play as I stared off into the middle distance, fighting back the tears.
Then the camera clicked off. And it was just me and Bearbait; two men in a coffee shop.
“All the time”, I replied.