Theo, Kyle, and Chris struggle with homophobia. When Chris sleeps with his new boyfriend, the male housemates are faced with a moral dilemma, says Josh Wolk

Theo, Kyle, and Chris struggle with homophobia

Apparently becoming a lifeguard is easier now than when I had to take a six-week course 16 years ago. Judging from the Feb. 19 episode of ”The Real World,” all you need is to do a bunch of laps. Aneesa, Theo, Cara, and Tonya couldn’t do them, so they’re in charge of doing a mural with the landlubber kids. But Keri, Kyle, and Chris could, so — poof! — they’ve been handed bathing suits and given a station, with the vague instruction to Not let people drown. Apparently their bosses take that old chestnut ”Sink or swim” literally.

But this quick study shouldn’t surprise anybody: Learning is usually just that easy in ”The Real World.” The way episodes are set up, housemates start off with one negative attitude or behavior, have an epiphany, look deep, deep inside themselves, decide they don’t like what they see, and then the episode closes with them telling the camera that they have a lot to learn about getting along/race relations/slapping people in the face. So why should learning how to save lives be any different?

But in this episode the ”Real World” producers seemed to be at a loss. Theo just wasn’t cooperating with the formula, stubbornly clinging to his homophobia. They tried to distract from him, waving Tonya around as a growing, learning, red herring, but her attempts to widen her horizons were shaky at best, and by the end, the whole Life Lesson house of cards collapsed as Tonya and Theo both snickered over Chris’ gay romance while Kyle probably huddled in the closet with a copy of Juggs to make sure he was still straight.

Let’s start at the beginning, as Chris invited the whole house to a benefit for equal human rights, which sounded like a pretty vague charity to me. Was it gay rights? Women’s rights? Ventriloquists’ rights? A little fundraising tip, Chris: When hitting people up, specifics help. This was like someone asking for a donation to help make people superduperhappy.

Regardless, it was an event that Chris would be attending with his visiting date, Kurt, and he asked the rest of the house to come, too. When Kyle suggested Chris wanted them around because he was nervous about being alone with Kurt, Chris became defensive and said no, he just thought it would be nice for his roomies to come to this important event. So learn from Chris, readers: If you ever want someone to do you a favor, but you don’t want it to seem like a favor, say it’s all in aid of human rights! Sure, it’s a cheap guilt trip, but just watch ’em buckle.

Intertwining Chris’ gay date with a benefit many gay people would be attending made for an explosive combination guaranteed to blow Theo’s closed mind right out of his cranium. Before taking an official stance, he called his dad, who apparently is the keeper of the heaven/hell scales of justice. When Theo double-checked, his dad stated firmly that yes, homosexuality was a sin, and Theo replied, ”Yeah, that’s what I thought.” It was so matter-of-fact it sounded like Theo had just called to ask about a recipe or a home-furnishing tip. ”Dad, do I need an anchor to nail this picture into drywall, and if so, did man evolve from apes or from Adam and Eve? Yeah, I figured as much.” Needless to say, Theo would not be going to that benefit.

But sinners though they may be, homosexuals sure have fascinated Theo. At one point, while Chris talked on the phone wrapped in a towel, Theo just stood behind him, staring at him like he was an animal in the zoo. Frankly, I was a little nervous that some night Chris was going to wake up in pain to find Theo standing over him, poking him with needles to see if gay came out.

Off everyone but Theo went to the human rights prom in their giant white limo and a van, marred only by the fact that when Tonya got in she kicked an empty bottle out into the street. (Don’t get on her case about littering: one cause per night!) It was a marvelous evening of good vibes and moral superiority, with everyone talking about how much they’d learned and grown, and even Tonya didn’t burst into tears when a drag queen showed up. It all ended with Chris and Kurt kissing, as fireworks literally exploded over them. I thought this was the most hamhanded symbolic visual of the show… but it later relinquished that title when the snuggling Chris and Kurt played tug-of-war with a couple of bananas.

But was this up-with-people montage overcompensating for the fact that Theo remained at home playing pool (oblivious to the very phallic cue he gently held, but shhhh, don’t tell his dad!), in no hurry to meet his deadline of embracing Chris and all he stands for by episode’s end? In fact, his antipathy to the gay lifestyle seemed to be spreading. When a visibly shaken Kyle realized that Chris and Kurt would be sleeping together in his room, he shared this news with Cara and Keri, expecting an ”Ewwww!,” but instead he got a cutesy, ”Awwww!” It was comical watching him try to protest that homosexuality near him didn’t bother him, even as his eyes radiated the deep fear that he was about to get his ass pinched, and the fingers doing it might be hairy. The solution? Dragging Keri in to sleep with him, because apparently a hot chick is kryptonite to those gay rays.

By the end of the episode, nobody was enlightened. When Theo and Tonya accepted the delivered flowers that Kurt sent Chris, they both had a, well, gay old time giggling about this gift. ”This is definitely a little bit too gay for me,” said Theo, making you wonder what just the right amount of gay is for him. After all that, the only hint of an opening mind that the producers could come up with was Theo telling Chris, ”I’ve never seen a man receive flowers. But I guess you’re a pimp like that, so you can do it.” Well, it ain’t exactly Hands Across America, but pimps across the living room will have to do.

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