Real World: Washington D.C. - Mike

Hookups. Bacchanalian nights. Fights. You can expect all that on The Real World: DC (premieres Wednesday, 10/9c), but the 23rd season of the MTV series will also mark a shift in tone as the eight twentysomethings get socially involved, interning at various political establishments around the city. "I think it will be a pleasant surprise to see that not only can you go out and take shots, get to know people and have fun," cast member Mike Manning tells TVGuide.com, "but at the same, you can wake up the next morning and meet with a congressman about global warming or about equal rights or marriage equality. See what else the 22-year-old, who worked with the Human Rights Campaign, had to say about his experience, what to expect this season and why he hates being called the "token gay guy."

TVGuide.com: Why did you audition?
Mike Manning:
My friend asked if I would audition and I tagged along because he promised me free lunch. It was just random. ... I won't forget the look on his face when they were like, "All right, thank you very much. Oh wait, Mike, you can stay."

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TVGuide.com: When the cast was revealed, people called you the "token gay guy." Does that bother you?
Mike:
Yes, because I hate categories. I hate America's obsessive need to fit every peg into a hole and everything into a category. You always create a family by creating outsiders and I think that's wrong. When they [called me] "token gay guy," I think most Americans think of stereotypes within that title — "Oh, he doesn't like sports. Oh, he's whiny, he's going to cry. He's going to be good at fashion." I suck at fashion! I just recently learned how to match — you can't wear brown shoes with a black shirt. [Laughs]

TVGuide.com: Your bio says you're questioning whether you're bisexual or gay.
Mike:
Yeah. Growing up in Colorado, when I thought of gay people, I thought of, like, the Village People and feather boas — that's the problem. I thought, "I don't walk around with makeup and stuff, so I must not be gay." That's a terrible, terrible way to go about things. Over the course of living in D.C., I came to know that even more. I think "bisexual" has a negative connotation to it, so I'd hate to [label myself that], but in 20 years if the right girl comes along, I'm not going to be like, "Oh, I'm sorry, I said I was gay 20 years ago. It's not going to work."

TVGuide.com: In the first episode, you casually reveal to everyone that you're gay. Did you plan to do that?
Mike:
I actually didn't want to tell them. I wanted to wait awhile to tell them. I got the question thrown in my face and I said, "You know what? If they're going to take me seriously, they're going to be with OK with it, then I need to portray that I'm OK with it and I take myself seriously." I went there prepared to live with seven strangers and I'm not going to pretend the waters are calm if someone splashes around.

The Real World takes on Washington

TVGuide.com: You guys get politically and socially involved this season with the jobs you do. Why do you think it's taken so long for The Real World to be more than a party show?
Mike:
I actually didn't watch the show prior to going to D.C., so I don't really know a lot about what it was like in the past. But I think that making this season in D.C. [is a factor]. It's during a time when the youths are engaged in politics like never before and when the youths are aware of global warming and human rights and so many other issues they know will affect their lives in five, 10, 20 years. It's a byproduct of where we were.

TVGuide.com: You worked with the Human Rights Campaign. What did you do for them?
Mike:
I lobbied congressmen and I'd go to fundraisers and press [events]. I think the viewers — especially young viewers — will really enjoy it. It shows young people that, hey, it's not that intimidating to pick up the phone and call your congressman or your senator. I called the White House the other day about meeting with world leaders on climate change in Copenhagen. A year ago, I could never, ever have even thought of doing that. ... I was in D.C. last week, talking to my boss about getting a job there after I graduate in May. If the cards play out, I'd be more than happy to move to D.C.

TVGuide.com: Speaking of moving, there's a rumor that Ericka moved out midseason.
Mike:
I'll just say [that] you'll definitely see the best and worst of everybody. Just from watching the trailer and watching clips, it's so much fun to see how eight completely different people interact with each other. There are hookups and there is drama, of course.

Real World picked up for four seasons

TVGuide.com: Who were you closest to?
Mike:
It's kind of ironic, but in the beginning I thought Andrew was terrible — this Jeffrey Dahmer creeper. [Laughs] But he has such a big heart and you'll see us getting closer throughout the season. Emily and I hit it off right away. She and I are so similar in so many ways. We call each other twin by the end of the season.

TVGuide.com: Is there anything you hope they won't air?
Mike:
Nope. I think I portrayed myself pretty well — professionally but also real. As a 22-year-old going through life-changing circumstances, I think they captured that really well and I think Bunim/Murray [Productions] will do a good job showing everyone's true colors.