As Paul's face is un-blurred in previously-unseen footage, Danny opened up about the "traumatic ending" to their relationship.
In 2000, "The Real World: New Orleans" star Danny Roberts became an "accidental activist" by merely existing on television. Thanks to his good looks, sweet Southern accent and storyline involving his closeted Army boyfriend during the era of Don't Ask Don't Tell, he became an instant gay icon ... and that trajectory would affect him negatively for years to follow.
22 years ago, when his season first aired, Roberts was dating US Army Captain Paul Dill -- but, due to a Bill Clinton-era policy one could be barred from service by simply being openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual, televising their relationship was very dangerous territory. For fear of being discharged, Paul's face was blurred in photos and physical appearances on the original season. While DADT would remain in effect until Barack Obama repealed it in 2011, Dill did eventually show his face on an MTV News special in 2003, after stepping away from the military.
On Wednesday's new episode of "The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans," which reunites Roberts with all of his former cast mates for two-weeks of filming, the gang sat down together to discuss Danny's relationship and the very real toll it had on his life in the long run.
Soon after Danny came out to his parents, his relationship with Paul was also documented on The Real World. The roommates revisit the frightening reality of this very public relationship.
"Did we need to do this on the day that I'm hungover?" he quipped, after they watched a highlight reel from the original show relating to his storyline. In never-before-seen footage, Danny was seen expressing concern about Paul's face being on the show, before being assured by the show's director that they'd blur him to protect his identity.
Paul was also seen hiding in the bushes outside the house, hesitant to appear on camera, even after being told he would be blurred. The clip ended with his face being revealed (photos below).
"It still makes me anxious. It was intense on a lot of levels. Number one, to see his face not blurred, actually still makes me anxious," said Danny in reaction to the footage. "Racing heart, anxiety, social fear."
Explaining he was actually pretty "clueless" about DADT at the time, he said it was "super taboo" for Paul to appear with him on the show back in the day -- calling the decision "very dangerous."
Roberts said the show did provide a space for the two where they felt it was "safe to be yourself," thanks to assurances from producers. "The minute I left that bubble," however, Danny said he "had a very strange physical breakdown."
"Afterwards was when the real difficulties began. He was still in the Army for another three years. We couldn't live a public life," he explained to the group. "I couldn't go anywhere with him. We'd go to the grocery store and shop from opposite ends of the store and pretend not to know each other."
After becoming, as he put it, an "accidental activist," his privacy started to go out the window as well -- and said he'd even have "teenagers peeking in my window as I was making breakfast" thanks to the show's success. Roberts began to have serious anxiety about being recognized and didn't feel safe leaving his home, telling his costars he was diagnosed with Complex PTSD.
"It was a lot to carry and what ultimately happened with Paul and I was we stayed together for 7-8 years and 3 of those were when he was still in the Army. But that relationship was beat up," he explained. "You can't live a healthy relationship when you're living in fear over time. Over time, a lot of resentment, anger, bad feelings crept in. However, I got more psychologically committed to being in that relationship and a sense of responsibility to not disappointment gay America. This bizarre responsibility for this relationship that had been held on a pedestal, gave a lot of people hope, I can look back now and know I stayed in a place in life well beyond -- I had [costar Kelley Limp] over here kicking me, trying to wake me up -- but I was numb and lost in that place."
Speaking with Kelley one-on-one after the group discussion, Danny said his relationship with Paul "and the way it all unraveled impacted" him for a long time, "in not good ways" for years.
"It took a lot of time to recover from how that ended. It was a pretty raw, ugly ending and ideally, in life, any relationship I ever have, if it ends I -- I think we all as humans want some form of closure -- it just feels like when someone vanishes and you don't have that closure, funeral, it's always felt like that," he said.
In a confessional, he said what went down between them "really negatively impacted my ability to trust and have new relationships with people," adding that Paul "haunted my dreams for years" and calling their split "a traumatic ending."
After Kelley -- by way of a producer, most likely -- suggested he reach out to Dill, Roberts seemed ready to do just that following a night out at a gay bar where he was reminded by fans of how much their relationship meant to those watching at home, as well as some of the positive moments they shared before things took a turn.
A preview for next week appeared to show him arriving at the New Orleans home to talk.
New episodes of "The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans" drop Thursdays on Paramount+.