Chris Beckman of Real World Chicago
Hailing from Massachusetts, Chris, an artist, grew up with his mother. The two have remained close his entire life. His parents divorced when he was three, and it is only recently that he has started rebuilding a connection with his father. A recovering alcoholic, Chris regularly attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and has been sober for eight months--an accomplishment that he's really proud of. Though he is gay, Chris has the kind sexual energy that appeals to both men and women. Chris has mixed emotions about his good looks, finding that people often have difficulty getting past his exterior to get to know the real him.
WAS OUTED to his family by his mother one Thanksgiving a few years ago.
"I had missed Thanksgiving dinner in 1996," recalls the 24-Year-old
as we sit nestled in a room at the Real World house that looks like a
cross between the inside of a genie's bottle and a birdhouse. Filled with
comfy pillows, the small, circular room has a large window but only a
small, round opening, which you need to climb on a step to access. Despite
his imposing 6-foot3 stature and good looks, the up-and-coming artist
admits to being a bit nervous. While he's been talking to cameras for
nearly five months, this is his first real interview.
But back to turkey day: His mother was less than thrilled that Chris had opted to spend the holiday with his then-boyfriend. "She likes to talk through situations, and she ended up telling everyone that I was questioning my sexual identity," he says. "When I came in for dessert, everyone knew." There was an upside, however: The next day a family member who is gay took the opportunity to confide that fact to Chris. "It was really positive to have someone in the family come out and tel! me they were gay," he recalls.
While she may have been displeased that Chris had missed dinner, his mother has always been behind her son. "I was 18 when I came out to my mom," recalls the Brockton, Mass., native, whose parents have been divorced since he was a child. "She's been such a support." Chris lost touch with his father around this time. "It was due to myown coming-out issues," he confesses. "I wanted to run from my family because I didn't think they would accept me. And now he just loves me regardless."
Though he had attended Boston's Suffolk University on a scholarship to study pre-law, Chris dropped out to pursue his love of fine arts. "I've always drawn, painted, been creative," he says. He left Suffolk and entered the University of Massachusetts, Boston, studying art and business. Currently he has a studio in Boston and is working with oils in "a mixed-media form. Abstract expression."
Chris first began partying when he moved into Boston's "gay ghetto," the South End, at the age of 18. "I was still searching out being gay," he remembers. 'And everyone my age that I found in these clubs was drinking." Already a casual drinker, when he was 19 Chris began a three-year relationship with a 26-year-old man who "introduced various fun substances to add to the equation. I went from going out to a club twice a month to going two times a week, slowly getting into the drug scene." He started with ecstasy and added designer drug Special K to the mix, drinking heavily the entire time. "It escalated from one pill to a few to not being able to see straight Sunday morning," he says.
"There were many times when I said 'Enough is enough,' " he recalls, adding that something would always lure him back to the scene. Finally, in August 2000, he took his last pill. "There's a statement: 'I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired,' " says Chris. "My artwork changed. I felt like a shell. I felt like I was slowly diminished by al! the time spent partying, whether it was the next circuit party or the next hot boy or the next solution to escaping. I made a decision that either I was going to continue and eventually die or I was going to start living a healthy lifestyle. Although I was going to the gym and I was still looking ripped, I knew how I felt and how my mind had slipped. I wasn't reliable. And I hated that. I hated that my friends couldn't count on me to be there. I checked into an outpatient acupuncture detox center at the Fenway Community Health Center that helped me out."
But while he kicked the drugs, Chris continued drinking. "Then I realized I had a problem with that," he admits. So in April 2001 he stopped drinking and began going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Two months later he auditioned for The Real World, having seen the show only a handful of times.
"What impressed me about him in the interview process," recalls Jonathan Murray, "was that when he came into that final interview he had already made contacts [in Chicago]-he already had a sponsor and someone who could set him up with meetings." Murray acknowledges that the show is a high-stress situation, and he took that into account when considering Chris. "We didnt want to put him into a situation that could hurt him. But what he was going through was an important story and something that our audience can relate to."
"I thought the situation would make me stronger as a person," says Chris, who was already physically strong. ("I've always been athletic," he says.) "It would bring an awareness to breaking a stereotype about being gay. And it would give me the opportunity outside of Boston in a different city."
"On one of the very first shows," reveals Murray, "they're all out drinking, and Chris is drinking something nonalcoholic. [Housemate] Kyle was very nervous and concerned about whether it was appropriate for him to be drinking in front of Chris."
"I was trying to understand the nature of the addiction that I have, and trying to come up with answers for six other people asking me questions was very difficult," says Chris. "It did put me under a lot of pressure, but I've always been the kind of person to take myself out of the frying pan and into the fire to see if I survive."
Of course, living with six potential Gen X partyers couldn't have been any worse than a previous living situation with two roommates was: "One roommate was smoking pot in the morning before he'd go into work. And they would come home drunk every night."
And despite living in a house with people who did drink, Chris says temptation never arose. "Not once."
is fabulous," gushes Aneesa, who at first had no idea her fellow
roomie was gay. "But once I found out I was like, 'Shut up, girl!'
From there it was over. I knew I could run to him and he would understand."