The original cast member's openness about his sexuality in 1992 was groundbreaking, but, as he explains in an exclusive clip, there were unintended consequences

By Breanne L. Heldman
March 31, 2021 12:00 PM
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When The Real World launched on MTV in 1992, much of what was on the show was unprecedented, starting with the concept of the show itself. But, as one of the first openly gay men ever on television, Norman Korpi undoubtedly was the most groundbreaking of the roommates.

In an exclusive clip from Thursday's episode of The Real World Homecoming: New York, which sees the seven former strangers revisiting their past 29 years later, Norman looks back on what happened after the cameras stopped rolling.

"In 1992, the decisions you made to share your personal lives were unprecedented and brave," reads the living room screen in the Soho loft. "But did this bravery have unintended consequences in your lives after the show?"

As has been part of the format of this reunion series, several clips then play, including unaired footage, this time of Norman declaring, "I often use the term gay — and I often use the term bisexual."

the real world new york (1992) reunion

"Norman didn't really come out and say, you know, 'I'm bisexual, how do you feel about that? Gather 'round, we're going to discuss my sexuality,'" Julie Gentry said in old footage. "It just sort of surfaced and it's just great getting to be around him."

In a 1992 confessional, Heather B. Gardner noted, "Norman brings out good things, real things, I would say about people because he's real. Norman doesn't care almost what someone thinks of him, so he brings that out of you. For the time that you're with Norman, you're like a kid, almost. You feel free."

As cameras return to the present day, Heather asks Norman, "What was it like to go back home after you had come out on this show?"

the real world new york (1992) reunion
Credit: Danielle Levitt/MTV

"I was going to go back and went over the friends that liked me in third grade, that went to, you know, my church things, we'd go to Cedar Point together," he recalls. "Those people left me."

In more unaired footage, Norman recounted some of his struggles growing up: "I was in high school where I'd get knocked down and come home and be really upset to my mother, saying, you know like, 'Listen, these kids are beating me up because I'm gay.' And she would go to the community like, 'How dare you say these kinds of stuff!' You go out there and you're saying, 'This person isn't this way and you just better believe me,' and you go out there on the line, and all of a sudden, I am that way."

"It's easier to be a bully in this world than it is to stand out," Norman says after watching that clip. "It's easier to watch me get s--- on my head and drowned in a toilet and everybody, you have all the friends in your life and then the next year everyone goes through puberty and then you have no friends. And for no reason? It's just by the grace of god that I was moved out of that school because I would've committed suicide. I said that, I tried to. I'm one of those people."

the real world new york (1992) Norman

Today, Norman is filled with gratitude that he got out of that high school — and that he had the experiences in New York that he did.

"I still have like, 25 boxes of these long, touching letters from people that didn't have a voice," he told PEOPLE last month."When they saw a group of seven people living together and that six of them loved and supported a gay person, forget me coming out. It was really that relationship of those people — the Beckys and Erics and the Julies — that the people could see themselves and say, 'Look, he's part of the cool kids, he's on the cool network. That's the coolest thing that you could be on, and that's me.'"

"That went across the country in a way nobody expected," he continued. "Once the cat was out of the bag, the cat was out of the bag. It created a dialogue and it gave a voice. And I watched that iceberg crack: it was like the North Pole melted and within five years it sank into the sea, it happened so fast."

New episodes of The Real World Homecoming: New York drop Thursdays on Paramount+.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.