I’m meeting Preston Charles at Metropolitan in Brooklyn, a gay bar with a particular Williamsburg charm — the decor is dive-y, the beer is cheap and the boys are bearded, tattooed and looking to hook up. The masculine look recalls Castro in the ‘70s. Preston, who is notable as the first out, black, gay man on MTV’s The Real World, is not out of place in a plaid shirt, the top three buttons un-done.
We aren’t here to talk about The Real World, necessarily, but about Coming Out, the one-hour special Preston recently produced for MTV. The show is a documentary that follows Rachel, a lesbian coming out to her estranged father and Nevin, a gay man coming out to his rubgy team.
I order a beer for myself, a whiskey for Preston and we settle into a booth.
“What I wanted to do with Coming Out was show the public that gay people are sexual entities,” he says, “but that got mixed up because of MTV. Their audience is younger so it couldn’t be that sexually explicit.” Preston says he initially imagined a show centered on the emotional and sexual side of coming out — what it is like to explore those things for the first time.
“So you imagined your interviewees being like, ‘Yeah, I like sucking cock! Like, I am really into that right now.’”
“But instead it got a bit neutered,” I say.
“Right!” he says, “Snip, snip. Right off.”
“There goes your cock-sucking.”
“But, I am glad it turned out that way because now we can reach a younger generation of kids,” he says. “So the show is not focused on sexuality but more on family and saying the words—accepting yourself.”
Preston’s own coming out was also documented by MTV, in a re-telling. On the fourth episode of The Real World, New Orleans Preston, in coming out to his roommates, tells them about his first coming out— as a highschooler in Michigan. He says this was, of course, an inspiration for the show.
“So tell me about your coming out,” I say, probing.
“I was 17, when I hooked up with a boy for the first time. He had the most beautiful lips and these green eyes that pierced your soul. It was amazing; he had this huge cock that curved to the right.”
“See, this is the real coming out story!” I interrupt — “This is what you talk about!”
“This is what you talk about! Holding onto a cock was magical! It was the magic wand, the horn of the unicorn. So, this was huge for me and I told three of my closest friends. But it wasn’t long before it got around the entire school. And really no one suspected I was gay in high school. I was the black kid but I wasn’t the gay kid!”
At this point Preston had a decision to make. Did he stand up for who he was, who he wanted to become? Or did he stay in the closet?
“I walked into my second hour class. I had tunnel vision, I couldn’t see anyone, I just went to the front of the class and started screaming like I was on a mountaintop... ‘FUUUUCKKK YOOUUUUU. I’M GAY. I SUCK DICK. I LIKE IT A LOT!’” Preston says in a demonic tone.
“That is not what you said!” I laugh.
“If I had the hindsight I do now, I would have come out screaming that. But really I just said, “Yes, the rumors are true. I like men. If you don’t like me because of that, fuck you.”
Preston then left the class, jumped in his car and went home. Minutes later his phone was lit-up. Some kids would end up treating him differently, some people stopped talking to him, but he was out. Free. And planning to leave Michigan soon.
In his audition interviews for The Real World, Preston told producers about his mother, a crack addict had abandoned him as a teenager. It’s surprising, because of how affluent Preston comes across — thanks to good grades he received a scholarship for University. The crack-addicted mother story ended up getting some airtime on TV, of course.
He tells me the same thing he told the cameras: “I remember being seven and my mom taking me with her to get her drugs. I remember knowing that it wasn’t right. And I remember crying hysterically in the backseat. I think that was when I became conscious of what was going on.”
As I watch the Coming Out special, I see Preston with each of the interviewee’s — Rachel is estranged from her father, as is Preston from both his biological mother and father. And Nevin, the collegiate rugby player is, like Preston, a young, black, gay man. Nevin has a great relationship with his father but seems to represent a certain masculinity that Preston aspires to — “He is basically, a version of me I would like to project,” Preston agrees.
When The Real World, New Orleans aired, Preston’s black-ness and gay-ness were highlighted in a not so flattering — or PC — light. Previews for the season painted Preston as a “bitchy” villain “with no filter.” Commercials constantly showed an event where he defiled a roommate’s toothbrush — scrubbing it inside a toilet bowl and then urinating on it. This angered commenters online. Many pointed out that that of course the black, gay man was supposed to be seen as bad, while others questioned Preston as someone who should be representing the black gay community.
Preston says he liked the villain-hype because to anyone who watched the show, it was clear that it was the white, homophobic roommate who was out of line. After this roommate made many homophobic comments and destroyed Preston’s property, is when the “toothbrush incident” finally happened. Preston says that because of this, perhaps viewers perceptions about black men or gay men were flipped, if they sided with him. Though, as he told the Advocate, the toothbrush incident was “not his finest moment.”
There was also speculation that the homophobic castmate was closeted himself. At this point in the discussion, our first round of drinks seems to be kicking in...
“I did piss on it, because urine is sterile and I thought that would help.”
“Well, there are a lot of gay men, or otherwise, who pee in each other’s mouths,” I offer.
“That is called piss play,” Preston says into the recorder. “Golden showers. Do we like piss play?”
“Yeah! It can be fun.”
“I don’t know,” he says. “I am not sure I want someone to pee on me.”
“You wanna be the pee-er?”
Preston laughs, “Yes, I want to be the pee-er, okay that is fun.”
“So, one could say you introduced this closeted homophobe to gay culture by...peeing on his toothbrush.”
“I can’t believe you just agreed with that.”
Preston laughs, “No, I mean, we are okay with bodily fluids and piss and shit.”
“Well maybe not shit?” I offer, “that fetish seems kinda rare.”
“I mean, as a gay man, you kinda have to become okay with shit,” says Preston, looking around. “I am sorry, I am getting distracted, Metropolitan is starting to become full of hot, dirty, gay men.”
The bar is getting packed. Preston and I start pointing out favorites — the grungy one with the fuzzy beard, the one in tight pants with neck tattoos. This seems a fitting end for a story about coming out. This is your “it gets better”— a land of hipster guys and hot hook-ups. And this is what Preston points out was great about his own coming out: the excitement. Excitement about being gay. Finally.