Long before Frank of "Real World: San Diego" made his way to a gay bar for the first time without incurring a bit of scrutiny, a 20-year-old from Mississippi held the weight of the world on her shoulders when she decided to come out as the series' first lesbian. Fifteen years ago, Genesis Moss had no reason to believe she'd be implicitly understood in Boston, but she still decided to share her story, and it just so happened that she effectively cemented herself as a pioneer of lesbian acceptance in pop culture.
Moss told Remote Control she had misgivings about coming out, but more so to her housemates than the show's millions of viewers. She said she thought the comfort of her fellow female cast members would be compromised, but none of them seemed to mind, and with the exception of a young student boldly declaring she hated gay people in front of Moss, the after-school mentor didn't encounter much flak at all. Further, she became an irreplaceable source of positive reinforcement on "Battle of the Sexes" and "Battle of the Sexes 2," and was heralded by fellow cast members as nothing short of an oracle. Her wise words touched her competitors, who ran out of tape praising Moss's good heart.
Now, Moss lives in California with her partner of two years and has turned a successful career in graphic design into her own photography business. Take a look at what else she told us below, and check out the video to see how Moss reacted when fellow cast mate Kameelah defended her to that young student back in 1996.
Why did you try out for “Real World,” and what was going on in your life around that time?
I was 20 years old and was quickly realizing that college was not for me at that time, nor was the ho-hum life I was living. I wanted to get out and experience other people and the world in general. I had lived a fairly sheltered life in Mississippi, and I decided to use "Real World" as my tool to escape. I also thought the country needed to see an out lesbian, even if it meant exposing all the dysfunctional growth processes I was going through. I knew I couldn't possibly be the only person going through it.
Coming out as gay seems to be more socially understood and accepted since you first appeared on the show--did you have reservations about coming out to your roommates on national TV?
Fortunately, as I've gotten older, I've become the type of person that is not overly concerned with other people's opinions. It's my stance that whenever anyone has a discrimination against others different from themselves, it's their issue and not mine. That being said, I'm also not about making anyone feel uncomfortable in their own home, so I knew I had a unique situation with my six new housemates--specifically the females. I had reservations about coming out to the girls because I knew I was going to have to live with them. As it turned out, the girls never cared.
As far as coming out the nation, I was ready for it and had no reservations whatsoever. My mother always taught me to never live life trying to please everyone else because you would always set yourself up for failure. So I just closed my eyes and let it flow!
What was it like to watch that scene on the "Real World" in which your student expressed such negative views about homosexuality?
I wasn't completely surprised to hear of a family teaching their child to discriminate, but it was the first time I was present for the reality of it. My sadness wasn't just over Jessica, the little girl, but it was a reality check on the uphill battle many others and I potentially had.
Do you think gay cast members today face the same challenges you did in the '90s?
I'm sure they deal with their own issues with their immediate environment within their respective hometowns, but overall they don't have the same issues I did. Most people under the age of 30 don't remember what it was like in '96 or '97. The year my show filmed was the same year Ellen DeGeneres came out on her sitcom. A lot of people made fun of reality TV in the '90s, but that platform and the out cast members from this show helped pave the way for future LGBT figures to do the same. We have a long way to go, but there's been an obvious shift in the right direction.
Do you have any favorite memories from "Real World," "Battle of the Sexes" or "Battle of the Sexes 2?"
My most favorite memory was in Jamaica for "Battle of the Sexes." Ruthie Alcaide, Shane Landrum and I created a makeshift nightclub in one of the huts. All we wanted to do was dance! So we shut off all the lights, plugged in some external speakers to a Sony Walkman and took turns jumping up and down on the couches to create a strobe light effect while the other two danced like they were at a rave. Our hometown nightclub managers would have been proud!
What have you been up to since we last saw you?
Currently, I shoot weddings with my partner, which is a great marriage of skills for me because I use my graphic design background to create custom wedding invitations, cards and wedding books for our brides. They get the full spectrum of creative services. However, my personal passion is landscape and nature photography. I'm hoping in my next life I can be a photographer for National Geographic.
Anything else you'd like fans to know?
I am so grateful I was able to play a small role in people's lives who were struggling with themselves at that time. I still get emails via Facebook from former fans of "Real World" telling me their coming-out stories. I am constantly shocked and amazed that people still think to look me up after all of these years. It's a true honor and an experience I would never take for granted.
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Photo provided by Genesis Moss