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‘Real World’ Gay Icon Danny Roberts Reveals PTSD After MTV and Offers Advice for LGBTQ+ Youth

Well what gay man over the age of 30 doesn’t remember Danny Roberts from MTV’s The Real World: New Orleans in 2000?

Even Neil Patrick Harrissaid, in his first post coming out interview, how inspired he had been by Danny and how the then 22 year old was living his life out and proud on national television.

Danny, now 40, was also in a relationship with US Army captain Paul Dill whose face had to be obscured on the show because of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy which would not be repealed for another decade.

He and Dill broke up in 2006 and Danny lived a low-profile life in Seattle. He has since moved to Atlanta where he works in human resource recruiting for an email software company.

But he makes occasional forays back into the spotlight like a reunion of some Real World cast members on Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live three years ago. Two years earlier, I met Danny in Hollywood for the premiere of the TV series DTLA in which his character has a steamy affair with a man played by Darryl Stephens.

In a new TooFab interview, Danny talks about quickly became a face for the movement against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” 18 years ago. It’s a responsibility he now admits he wasn’t prepared for.

“Honestly, you know, thinking back, I don’t know if I would have done that show again seeing how it has affected my life in the long run,” he explained. “What I eventually came to realize is I came out of that show with a deal of PTSD. I was really young, I was thrust into the limelight, not only just as a young kid but also to represent a very heavy issue. I wasn’t really out, I wasn’t prepared to carry that banner.”

“When you think about the context of that time, that was around the same time as Matthew Shepard,” he said, referring to the 21-year-old from Wyoming who was killed in 1998 for being gay. “I think I’ve lived in a lot of fear for years afterward, subconsciously. It kind of f–ked me up, to be honest.”

Roberts went on to say the attention from the show “brought all sorts of shady characters to me and my life,” and the fact that he was a prominent, out gay man at a time when it wasn’t accepted always loomed large.

“You were not safe to be out and so you always have in the back of your mind, ‘What’s going to happen to me? Who’s out there? Who’s behind me?’” he explained. “At the very same time, I had that boyfriend that I was with for years and it was very not okay for him to be out, so that created an added layer of fear and apprehension. It was not a healthy way to live.”

“The perfect example to illustrate not feeling comfortable or safe all the time, I went home to visit my hometown at one point during the first year after the show and just I remember walking through town,” he recalled. “There was a festival going on, some kids were interested like, ‘That’s the guy on MTV,’ but I could hear a lot of them saying, ‘That’s the f—-t’ … it did a lot of damage.”

Roberts added that it took him 10 years “of life and therapy” to get where he is today, but said all his old fears came rushing back after Donald Trump was elected president. “I became really aware of the feelings that that election brought up and the fear it brought back out,” he said. “What is this weird feeling I haven’t felt in so long? Oh my god, it’s that f–king fear I used to feel back then. It made me face it.”

Roberts joked to TooFab he actually had more fun with the audition process than filming The Real World itself. “I was young, I had just come out of college and I had no solid plans and nothing to lose,” he remembered, saying it was some of the first travel he had ever done. “It was the beginning of that insane journey that’s changed my life.”

Before trying out, Roberts had really only seen a couple of the previous seasons, specifically citing the original New York cast as “the most real” one to date. “Thank god that I did not watch the Hawaii one,” he added, referring to the season that aired before his. “I don’t think I would have done it if I had seen it, to be honest!”

According to Danny, he hadn’t met Paul yet, so their then-controversial relationship was something MTV didn’t know about when they cast him. “I did not meet Paul until October of [1999] and I started the interview process in July I think it was. I was actually cast and started filming the show in the very beginning of January 2000,” he explained.

While he remembers his entire “Real World” experience with a mix of emotions — saying “half of me is really proud of doing that and being public and the other half of me is like, ugh, maybe I shouldn’t have done that” — Roberts applauded MTV for giving him and the gay community a platform long before it was the norm. Starting with Norm in New York and Pedro Zamora’s AIDS battle in San Francisco, the show already had a long history of representation before Roberts came around.

“Most kids today don’t get it, because it’s so irrelevant now but MTV and ‘The Real World,’ if it weren’t for those organizations and that entity, I don’t think gay rights would be anywhere near where it is right now,” he said. “I think ‘The Real World’ introduced America to real gay people for the first time and made them human.”

In his mind, however, his season was one of the ones that marked the end of “Real World 1.0,” saying, “I don’t know what the f–k it is now, but it turned into something entirely different after.” He believes the success of “Survivor” — which also debuted in 2000 — and its competitive nature influenced the change.

“For the first time, there was competition against ‘The Real World,’” he said, “That shifted the focus for competition and it definitely became more about gossip and competition and fighting, which you know, that had all been part of it before but that was a side piece of what it was before. It had been about social commentary.”

After his season wrapped, Roberts appeared on “Real World/Road Rules Challenge: Battle of the Seasons” in 2002. While many “Real World” stars have appeared — and continue to star — on the spinoff series, it was one and done for Danny.

“I did one Challenge after and it was a load of fun, met so many fun people,” he said, noting that “it’s just really easy to get caught up into the cycle of doing the shows over and over and over again.”

Though he said the experience is “easy money” and filled with good people and great locations, “you get stuck in your life in a rut” doing the show season after season. “I’ve watched a lot of those people — I just was seeing yesterday in my news feed, they’re doing some Challenge Number 800. Some of the faces I saw in the lineup was like, oh my god, you’re like aging now and you must stop! It becomes an addiction,” he continued.

“You have to walk away from it. And that’s my advice to these kids that are getting caught into the stuff today, when you’re at your high point, walk away from it. Let it go,” he warned. “Looking back, at that time, I regret not moving for my life in a lot of ways for a long period of time, because I was doing a lot of other things that this experience opened doors to — which was really great at the time and fun and exciting — but it actually delayed moving forward in my life.”

The experience also led to one big regret. Appearing on “Watch What Happens Live” in 2013 with a number of “Challenge” alums, Roberts let it slip that he hooked up with one of his “straight” co-stars. Not naming names, Danny confirmed that yes, he did hear from the guy in question after his appearance and he was “definitely not happy about it.”

“I regret ever bringing that up,” said Roberts. When TooFab noted that Andy Cohen has a way of making people say things they normally wouldn’t, he joked, “Yeah, there’s a reason there’s a bartender on the show, they get you wasted beforehand!”

Roberts currently lives in Boston, where he works for the tech company InVision. He moved to the city with an ex — with whom he shares custody of their two-year-old daughter Naiya — but plans to relocate somewhere “out West” in the near future.

“It’s changed everything in my life. Number one, it’s given me a lot of purpose,” he said of adopting a child and being a father. “I think being gay too, it’s a struggle to find purpose in life. For most gays, having children is not the goal. That’s totally fine, honestly, it was not my life goal either. It happened because it was meant to happen, but it wasn’t necessarily my end goal in life either.”

“She’s frickin’ adorable and she’s so smart,” Roberts gushed. “It has been the most positive thing that happened to me. She’s two now. It’s been a really crazy transition evolving into a new lifestyle and my life revolving around her, but it has been really positive and it has given me the purpose that I needed for this next stage in my life.”

Roberts said he does still get recognized from his time on MTV, usually from the 35-45-year-old age group. He’s also still really close with co-star and “soul sister” Kelley Limp, who’s currently married to and has three children with actor Scott Wolf. Their kids have met, though he admitted Naiya was “way too young” for the playdate.

“The rest of them, I lost touch with,” he said of his former housemates. “It’s kind of like college, you get thrown together with these random people you live with for a while and you move on with your life and you don’t ever speak to them again. I don’t even see them on social media. I could probably track some of them down if I tried. I do message with Jamie every now and then. We’re connected on Instagram. But I have no idea about the rest of them.”

Of Melissa Howard, he also added this gem: “In New York, I ran into her years ago randomly on the sidewalk one day. She was wasted. She hugged me, threw up on my shoes and carried on. That was it.”

While the LGBTQ+ community and media covering them have both made great strides in the 18 years since his time on “The Real World,” Roberts warned that there are still battles to be fought.

Recommending the 2005 book, “The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man’s World,” Danny said the gay community still has its own issues to work out within itself. “I think every gay man should read it,” he said, “It’s the psychology of the gay community, why are gays very often like we are. A lot of it stems from early life trauma and coping with that trauma.”

“Growing up, most of us feel like we didn’t have power. So what’s easiest way to have power? Well, it’s to hold those around you below you in some way,” he continued, later noting that the gay community is “pervasively racist.”

“It’s so ironic that we’re a community that fights so hard for acceptance, but we’re the best excluding others. Please read that book and please include this in the interview for anybody that hasn’t read it. I think everywhere, the gay community can be rough to navigate. We all have our traumas. All of us.”

He also warned, “Don’t get too comfortable, kids.”

“Things have changed in a huge positive way, we’ve made massive steps forward, but as you see where are are right now with our government, nothing is guaranteed and no one should ever feel comfortable,” he added. “No one should ever feel like this is all owed to them, because at the end of the day, it’s truly not. Nothing’s owed to us and we have to fight for it.”



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One Remark

  1. A great flashback and update article. Very appreciative featuring a current photo of Danny instead of posting old photos of ten or twenty years past.

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