Connect with us


Interview: Hanging out with Frank Sweeney of MTV’s The Real World



Editor’s Note: This interview was cross-posted from

MTV has been the catalyst for unique, cutting edge and progressive cable television programming for decades. It has continually pushed the limits of social ideals surrounding many controversial issues. 

Its hit program, The Real World — now in its 26th season — has held true to that, year after year.

What has often been called, the only “real” show on television, The Real World returned to the city of San Diego this past season, this time landing in the “Birdrock” area of La Jolla.

[It previously telecast from Mission Beach during Season 14 in 2004.]

La Jolla residents nearby in their million-dollar, picturesque homes were not so amused, but the cult followers and dedicated fans in San Diego were intrigued and excited for the show’s return. 

The Real World has certainly had its cast of characters over the years: Jocks, blondes, addicts, overweight, models and a plethora of racial and sexual inclusiveness.

In the past few years, there has been a vast inclusion of members from the LGBT community, but it is arguably safe to say that not since Pedro Zamora in Season Three (1993), has an LGBT housemate played such a prominent, impactful role in the popular reality show, than this season’s Frank Sweeney.

Sweeney, a native of Canastota, New York, joined the cast this past season as one of slight controversy. At first he identified himself as bisexual and then in the episodes to come, he confirmed within himself that he is gay and gay only. He also knew how to party! After all, it was San Diego!

In an odd string of events, I got to meet this character, as well as some of his housemates during San Diego’s Pride parade, as I was setting up for the military march. We all know how that went!

It was ironic the chain of events that brought the cast and San Diego Pride together. In the seasons so far we have not only seen a phone call to San Diego Pride’s Executive Director Dwayne Crenshaw, but we saw a special feature on the house struggling to participate to volunteer to help for Pride.

Ironically enough, despite the young cast, the house was very, very divided on the issue of same-sex relationships. With Sam McGinn and Frank Sweeny both fighting tooth-and-nail for a very normal thing; acceptance. 

I was recently given the chance to interview Sweeney while he is currently reestablishing his life in Los Angeles. To get some insight and depth about life on and off “The Real World:” Just before our interview, I got to hang out with Sweeney when he visited San Diego for the premiere screening of the “Pride Parade” episodes at Fiesta Cantina in Hillcrest, Nov. 2nd.

Sean Sala (SALA): So life post the Real World, how is it, really?

Frank Sweeney (SWEENEY): Life post-Real World is a healthy dose of normalcy. In fact, it may even be too normal. Other than the occasional picture or ‘Did we go to high school together?’ life is back on track.

Moving to LA has been an arduous decision, but I am learning to cope and to survive in a new California city all over again. I think the Real World served as the perfect stepping stone into reality right out of college, and I am one hundred percent thankful for that.

SALA: What initially made you so passionate about the LGBT community? We see it a lot of the episodes. Is this a passion caused by a personal experience?

SWEENEY: Of course my passion for the LGBT community and it’s initiatives is driven by personal motivation. As a part of the community, I think it is especially important to make ourselves role models for the equality that we seek.

I find it difficult to not want to dive in and explore LGBT initiatives in their diversity and breadth, as sexuality and gender identity are two very basic parts of humanity. More than anything though, I feel like this: The LGBT movement is the civil rights movement of our time and needs to be addressed as so. 

SALA: How did you find out about the military march for San Diego Pride?

SWEENEY: I discovered the military march as part my research into volunteer opportunities at Pride. As this was my first Pride, and many of my housemates first experiences with Pride, or LGBT life in general, I really wanted to explore ways we could see the celebration from every angle. Volunteering seemed like a fun way to give back that would help us to fully experience Pride.

When I spoke with Dwayne Crenshaw, the festival organizer, he informed me of the military march and I was so taken aback that I knew I had to be a part of it, in any capacity. I was also excited by how many diverse interests this could address for my roommates and hoped that they would join me in making history.

SALA: What are your feelings now about being a part of San Diego Pride 2011, something so powerful?

SWEENEY: I could not be more proud to have participated in the military march. That scene, more than any other, gives me chills every time I watch it. For me, this was not just a gay rights movement, it was an wholly American movement through and through.

It was a statement that spoke loud and clear to all sides of the political spectrum and put a face to the headlines of DADT. It was so extremely important to gay rights civil history, yes, but it was a profound step in the right direction across political lines by the military and all its supporters. 

SALA: What are your plans now that the Real World Season is over?

SWEENEY: Now that the season is over, I am simply trying to get my life back in order. The Real World was amazing, but that sort of craziness can only be sustained for so long. My daily schedule is totally composed of job applications and studying for graduate school.

I am also trying to adjust to LA life and missing San Diego! I would have never thought that this East Coast kid could have fallen in love with the Best Coast city. Hillcrest is calling me far too often, and I need to start making my way back down, ASAP!

For all of us, it is easy to criticize.

In the show, Sweeney is featured as somewhat of a wild child in the beginning, but in time, after a confrontation with his roommates, he reveals a pain that we LGBT community members know all too well, the rejection of parents for our sexuality and the pain of accepting ourselves.

Through his heart-felt outpouring of emotion to other members of the house, you begin to see an amazing thing: A man finally accepting who he is and a mother slowly embracing the sexuality of her son.

“Frankly,” it really is the story of us all.

We all have journeys and we all come to points of great struggle and self discovery. I myself am watching these episodes being ever reminded of my own human nature, both when I was younger and as compared to my human nature now!

Yet, where we have faltered and struggled, that is where we learn to rise up and triumph. One day a painful outpouring of our brokeness, the next day, fighting for a better, “more free” day.

Special thanks to MTV for allowing the world to see that we gays are just like everyone else. We like to have fun and we are forever learning. 

Photos: Upper left: Frank Sweeney at home. Front, feature photo: Sean Sala and Frank Sweeney enjoying the world premiere of the Real World’s episodes that featured San Diego Pride, at Fiesta Cantina in Hillcrest.

Sean Sala is a political and social activist in the Hillcrest and greater San Diego area, which started when he organized the LGBT military contingent in this year’s San Diego Pride Parade, which garnered international attention. He is a board member of the local San Diego Chapter of the national organization Servicemembers United, and founder of the San Diego Blue Dog Democrats coalition. He recently lauched, where he will post social and political commentary. Not to allow any downtime, he is also now spearheading the Lift Project, a three-tiered plan to end homelessness in Hillcrest. You can follow his TalkHillcest commentary on Twitter. He can be reached at [email protected].

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *