The Portland housemate’s sexual disclosure was a stunning bit of television.
At first glance, and maybe a few more afterwards, The Real World: Portland’s Marlon Williams appears to be cut from the same central casting mold as the other young, good-looking African-American males the MTV show has featured over the course of its twenty-year run.
He possesses the athletic swagger and deep-voiced masculinity that is not terribly unlike those who came before him. Steeped in a hyper-machismo bordering on the cartoonish, he describes vaginas as “the most powerful thing ever created”, refers to his penis as, “Chocolate Thunder” and, when discussing a newly arriving roommate, prays aloud that she’s “hot, have big boobs and likes black guys”.
Then comes that inevitable moment when the roommates talk candidly and excitedly about their sexual experiences and conquests. Every edition of The Real World (TRW) has this moment, usually taking place in the near-naked confines of a hot tub.
Only this time, there is no hot tub. Oh, and also Marlon is about to deliver an unembarrassed and unapologetic accounting for himself that obliterates any and all previous conceptions of him.
Averey: “We were talking about anal sex, so who’s tried it?”
Marlon: “I have tried it. But mine was a guy, though.”
If reality is truth, Marlon just delivered a huge dose of it to audiences who never saw it coming.
As he explains on the show, Marlon, a former college football player with Texas Tech, is the son and grandson of – in his own words, a “very religious” family. Indeed, his father is a preacher. At a time of his life when he felt particularly lost, he was accepted into a community of gay men and his worldview opened significantly.
“I was just searching for a place to belong. A place to be accepted. A place for a fresh start”, Marlon tells us in the show’s confessional interview. “Austin has a really hot gay community and they accepted me and just brought me in with no judgment.”
While pretty much exclusively attracted to women (in an interview with The Advocate, Marlon walks back from the bisexual identity he claimed during the show’s taping), he nonetheless confidently owns his experience with another man without, so far, a hint of ignominy and that makes him quite compelling, particularly through the lens of traditional exhibitions of sexuality and masculinity within the African-American community.
Indeed, in the fourth episode of the show, he talks to Nia, his roommate and an African-American woman Marlon is actively courting (or the closest one comes to courting on this show) about his experience with another man and the overall evolution in his thinking.
“For me, it’s like you’re going to go through certain things in life that’s just going to make you a better person. And doing that [sex with a man] helped me to understand that, like, I shouldn’t judge gay people”, he tells her. “I realized they are just people like everybody else.”
This is not an everyday occurrence within the black community. It is, frankly, stunning to see this on television. End. Of.
Does this mean that The Real World franchise is going back to its roots as a topical and cultural touchstone? Are we finally seeing the end of its desolate run at trying to out Jersey Shore the Jersey Shore? Is it even still capable of being, if far from its revolutionary early years, at least closer to the spirit of its groundbreaking predecessors than has been evidenced in many a year?