Can you guess the year? Daniel Radcliffe was born. Lucille Ball died. Paula Abduls Forever Your Girl was a number 1 song and a porn video starring Rob Lowe frolicking with an underage girl was leaked.
If you said 1989, you're right! It was also the year that Eric Lowell graduated from Chaparral High in Las Vegas. Teased and tormented for being gay, life wasnt always easy at Chaparral. Twenty years later, Lowell has put the past behind him. Hes been married to his partner for 13 years and they have a 6-year-old son. Now hes ready to confront Johnthe guy who bullied him since he was in the fifth gradeand come out to the rest of classmates.
The drama is all part of the new season of TV Lands High School Reunion that debuts tonight, January 13. The alumni are in for tears, fights, three marriage proposals, and even a wedding when they reunite and live together on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. But the big question remains: How will the guys and girls of Chaparral High feel about bunking with a gay guy?
Out caught up with Lowell about what he really thinks about his former classmates, his alter ego and what it was like to massage the high school jock.
Out: Everyone on High School Reunion gets a label. Youre the Gay Guy. Who picked that?
Eric Lowell: I wanted to be called The Homo, but I knew there was no way they were going to put that on national TV. So, I just said, Call me the gay guy.
How did you get cast on the show?
In November 2008 I joined a Facebook group for my high school reunion class. Someone said, We should try to get our school on this reality show. I thought it would be fun, but I really didnt think about it. Then I heard our school was being considered as a finalist and they were looking for people to apply. I didnt know all the details, so I didnt. Then a couple weeks later a casting director contacted me through Facebook and asked if I was interested. They sought me out.
What was the application process like?
There were a couple of different parts. The application asked things like who I was friends with? Who didnt I like? Best experiences? Weirdest experiences? Who was the biggest jock? Who was popular? Stuff like that. Then if they were interested in you, there was an even longer questionnaire. After that they flew me to Las Vegas for an on-camera interview.
Did you have any doubts about appearing on the show?
No. The only time I was nervous was before my detention [The term the show uses for one-on-one meetings with former classmates] with John. Im much more confident than I was in high school. Im comfortable in my own skin. In high school I always wanted people to like me. I had a close group of friends who liked me for who I am, but I was always very quiet and tried not to be noticed. I tried not to be gay, which is impossible for me.
So, you werent actually out in school?
They just assumed. I started getting picked on when I was in fifth grade. Thats when kids started calling me gay and fag. That peaked in eighth grade and then it slowly began to taper off.
When did you finally come out?
How did your partner respond when you told him you were interested in appearing on High School Reunion?
He was like, No! Then he said I could apply under two conditions: That we were not involved; our names are not mentioned and our pictures arent shown. And number two, that Mizz Honey Bucket (pronounced "bouquet") isnt involved.
Who is that?
My drag persona.
Why didnt he want her there?
Because of his job and the politics that can play into it. Were kind of opposites. I like to be the center of attention and have a good time. Hes more conservative. When he starts a new job, hes not out right away. He waits awhile and lets people know slowly.
What is Mizz Honey Bucket like?
She does her own rap music. Shes not a typical drag queen. She [came about] totally by accident. If you wouldve told me five years ago that Id be performing in drag, I wouldve been like, No.
Your big moment in the show is when you confront John, The Troublemaker. Im assuming you were picked on by a lot of people. What was it about John that stayed in your mind all these years later?
Well, there are some editing liberties. The thing that stuck out about John is he was the last person I remember picking on me in my school experience. There was one person I wouldve loved to have been there, and the whole interaction would probably have gone a lot differently. That guy was way more of jerk to me than John ever was.
What do you remember John doing or saying to you?
We had a PE class together. Everyone picked on me because like most gay guys athletics are not my cup of tea. So, we were playing basketball, and I sucked. This guy was totally ragging on me, and John apologized to me for this guys behavior. Then two years later he was a complete dick to me. So, I dont know what changed.
Then there is Joe, The Football Star --
Many of the women on the show kept talking about how hot he was in school. Did you remember him?
I remembered the name. When I was a freshman I looked at all the football players because I thought they were hot. But I didnt remember Joe. I went through my yearbook after and thought, I wouldnt have been attracted to him when I was in school, but I bet because he was a football player, I would probably think that he was hot now. Football players tend to turn out to be bearish type guys, and thats the kind of guy Im into. So, I thought I might find this Joe guy hot.
And did you?
What did you like about him?
Joe is a nice guy. He got along with me. Theres one scene -- and I hope it makes it in -- but he had thrown something out in his back and Elena (The Popular Girl) was walking on his back. I was sitting in the Jacuzzi and watching this, and I yelled, If you need me to jump in, just let me know! And, of course, as soon as I said that the producer was encouraging me on. So I walked over and started rubbing Joes back and was like, Can we get some lotion over here?
How did he respond to that?
He said, Your husband is a really lucky guy.
What did you learn about yourself by doing this show?
That I let how people treated me affect my behavior and my confidence in myself. This made me question that if I had not listened to those people and just had been who I was, I might have had a lot more friends in high school. Its not like I had this miserable high school experience. I started making friends in my sophomore year, and I really had this close group of friends by the time I graduated. Im still friends with them today.
What advice would you give to others who are struggling with their sexuality in school?
Theres always going to be people who are homophobic and will call you fag, but dont give them the power over you. There are people who will stick up for you.
How did you overcome the pain you endured during your school years?
One of the reasons I felt the way I did and why I didnt stand up for myself in high school was because I grew up in this really conservative, religious home. My parents were not going to be accepting of me being gay. I had to deal with this thing where the feelings that I was having were wrong. I shouldnt have them, so I needed to try to fit in. I ended up getting married. Then getting a divorce. I finally realized that I am who I am and there is no way Im going to change this. I could still be married and be miserable my whole life and eventually my wife would be miserable. Or, I can be true to who I am, and if you have a problem with it, thats your business. Im going to live my life.
How did your parents respond when you finally came out?
They were like, We still love you. We dont agree with your lifestyle, but we will always love you. Its amazing how a child can change everything. When my husband and I would go down to visit my mom in Vegas, she always said we couldnt sleep in the same bedroom in her house. When we adopted our son and came down after he was born, we werent planning on staying with her because we couldnt stay in the same room. She was like, You know, I prayed to God, and thats your business with God. If you want to sleep together..." Basically, now that there was a grandkid in the picture, we could sleep together in the house. Theyve kind of come around, but because of their religious convictions, I dont think we will ever truly have a close relationship.
Do you have any concerns about how the producers may portray you when the show airs?
I havent seen a whole lot, but when I watched the previous season, one of the things I recognized is that they kind of want to tell a story with you. They definitely want to develop a character. In the end they try to wrap everything up so everybody is happy. I was never worried about how they were going to edit me. But John, I know they are going to edit out everything nice and show him as a complete ass. There was a lot of drama. After the second night I was thinking, I cant believe we've got over a week and a half left! There were a lot of good times, though, and everyone really bonded. Were all pretty much still keeping in contact. Someone planned a party for the premiere in Vegas, so Im flying down.
And what about John? Are you still in touch?
Ive had a couple conversations with John. We hung out and had a good time. Of course after it he called me and asked for money. But I guess thats John. He has some kind of money issues. I heard that from Tracy (The Teachers Pet) while we were filming -- that he owes people money. I did talk to him about three weeks ago, and he didnt ask for money. You know, he can be a fun guy to be around, but when he drinks, he can be an asshole.
After all of these years, what are you the most proud of?
My family. I never wouldve thought -- even when I was coming out -- that I would have the chance to get married and adopt a son.
High School Reunion returns Jan. 13 at 10:00 P.M. ET/PT on TV Land. To learn more, visit their website.