Among the eight strangers living together in the 25th Real World house—a suite in the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas—is Dustin Zito. He is a 24-year-old from Louisiana whose MTV bio says that he “grew up with a bi-polar, drug addicted mom and an abusive step-dad.” But it is the part of his bio that says he was “a cast member on a website that featured an uncensored look at a house of attractive guys living together” that has earned the most attention.
Dustin from The Real World: Las Vegas
MTV’s language conceals the fact that Dustin did gay porn: Performing as “Spencer” on FratMen (“erotic nude jackoff porn”), he masturbated and engaged in oral sex in two videos. On its sibling site Fratpad (“straight frat boys in sizzling hot chat and webcam shows”), Dustin had sexual contact with other men, and gave and received anal sex with another man in a live pay-per-view show.
Considering the overlap between porn and reality TV and the proliferation of amateur porn sites, it was probably inevitable that the show would cast someone who’d had sex for money. Equally inevitable is the MTV audience’s ability to find Dustin’s porn past.
The surprising part has been the response: In Wednesday night’s episode, Dustin’s Real World girlfriend expressed her disgust and his roommates shunned him.
Dustin, who’s 24 and identifies as straight (“When I close my eyes to masturbate, I think of a girl”), is actually unembarrassed by the gay-for-pay work he did when he was 19. “I’m not ashamed of what I did. It doesn’t define me or who I am,” he told The Daily Beast, sounding more thoughtful and intelligent than he sometimes comes across on TV.
When the truth came out, “Nobody in the house, not one person, was like, ‘Who cares?’ I wanted that,” Dustin said.
But no one in his life knew what he’d done. Dustin said he asked himself, “Why am I so scared? I didn’t hurt anybody, I didn’t do anything wrong.” When a family friend’s connection to the casting department at Bunim-Murray, the company that produces The Real World, gave him the opportunity to have his life taped for several months, Dustin thought the show “would be a tool I could use to get it out,” he said. “I would never have to tell anybody again.”
During the casting process, producers warned him. Real World executive producer Jim Johnston told me he said, “‘You realize, Dustin, that you’re talking about this on camera. You’re aware of that, right?’ We do want people to be aware when they do this that there’s no privacy.”
The show’s co-creator Jon Murray previously told me that he liked Dustin’s story because “whether it’s that particular story, having done one of these voyeuristic websites, or some other mistake someone’s made in life,” that “how to move on is a really important story for our audience.”
Yet when Dustin arrived in the Real World house, he found himself paralyzed with the same fear of judgment that had struck him at home. “It was scary to tell and I wanted everyone to learn about me first,” he told me. While he’d intended to tell Heather, the cast member with whom he was having a relationship, he balked, “just like had happened time and time before with various family members.” He said later, “When people find out about [the sex scene], their whole world changes about me. They just freakin’ lose it. I’m a totally different person. I’m the devil.”
Johnston said producers were “a little surprised by how long he waited to talk about it.” But they also knew “it might never come out. It’s not like we required it.”
In the end, Dustin waited too long to tell his roommates. Instead, that revelation “was taken from me,” he said. These are consequences of the Internet: When the show was filming last fall, Dustin was identified by a message board, and the connection to his work in porn was immediately made. Thus, Googling Dustin resulted in evidence of his porn past, which people outside of the house found and then told the cast, who then went online and saw confirmation. The drama that resulted unfolded on this week’s episode of the show, which began airing Wednesday night.
When he was confronted, Dustin lied, saying he’d been naked and masturbated but hadn’t had sex with other men. Lying, Dustin told me, is “one of the things that I do. Ah! I don’t know why I do that. I get so scared,” he said. When the truth came out, “Nobody in the house, not one person, was like, ‘Who cares?’ I wanted that,” he said. “Everybody in the house kind of shunned me. … I was kind of hoping and praying that someone in the house would be like, ‘It doesn’t matter.’ But nobody took that role.”
Instead, they put on a remarkable demonstration of self-centeredness, cattiness, and homophobia hidden in their contempt over his lies. “I would never do that; that’s disgusting,” Heather tells Dustin in the episode, and later asks, “Should I get tested?” Another writes Dustin a letter that starts, “I really want to hate you right now.” Dustin told me that Heather is “editing herself” when she says she only cared about the lie, not about the content of the videos.
Part of the cast’s bad reaction came from Dustin’s previous judgment of gay people. At one point, he had told his roommates, “People were put on the earth for one fucking reason, and that is to reproduce.” When the house was about to get a new roommate, he expressed his fear over the potential that the new roommate could be gay: “Over the years, you get a level of paranoia. You’re walking and you see a gay person and you get nervous.”
While Dustin understands why people viewed those comments as homophobic (“Of course, of course.”). That perception “just hurts so bad,” Dustin said. “That’s not the case at all. Of course, I have my questions about everything. I’m 24; that’s a part of your journey in life is to understand things. I’m young. There are still things like issues of marriage that I don’t understand.”
He said it was taken out of context. After having sex in a video, members of the site were “a little more aggressive with me” both online and in public, Dustin said, where some people even grabbed his crotch. “I was disrespected. People thought I was gay; they thought I would be interested.” His comment about a new roommate was, Dustin said, “fear in that instance that MTV would send someone that was aggressive.”
After that episode aired, a gay friend called Dustin and said, “You don’t feel that way, do you?” “Never would I be uncomfortable around gay people,” Dustin said. “I’m a victim of editing, I guess.”
Executive producer Johnston insists “there was no manipulation.” Dustin’s comment “was included because it was an issue for the other roommates.”
After the season premiere aired, the Internet was being cleared of evidence of Dustin’s anal sex scene. But by who? Viewers speculated that MTV or producers were trying to erase evidence that would otherwise interrupt the storyline of his relationship with Heather. But executive producer Jon Murray told me that producers had nothing to do with it, and Dustin denied involvement, too.
It was, in fact, the videos’ producer, John Marsh, who owns the company that produces Fratmen and Fratpad, who asked affiliate sites to remove images. Affiliates are websites that receive commissions for sending traffic, and have agreements with the company that govern how images can be used.
But Marsh also worked to have Dustin’s images removed from non-affiliate sites, sending a cease and desist notice to a blog that reproduced them. And after I linked to images of Dustin’s anal sex scene on my website, reality blurred, Fratmen’s Marsh sent me an email message suggesting, bizarrely, that the video may never have existed or that “one of the performers was under 18 years old on the date of production.”
Admitting to using underage performers could be lethal for a producer of adult entertainment, and Marsh told me in an interview Wednesday that his comment “was clearly farcical,” though it prompted Viacom and Bunim-Murray lawyers to immediately request documentation that Dustin was, in fact, of age. But Marsh also said that he didn’t mind the underage story getting picked up by blogs. “It’s in everyone’s interest to let that story flail around a little bit,” he said. “It’s been a wild ride,” he said, one he’s “very excited and grateful to be a part of.” As he said later, “We’re all in this to make a buck.”
Marsh requested affiliates remove some images because he was “trying to have a little more control over the brand,” which he defines as “kind of a Disney of porn” that doesn’t advertise its hard-core sex scenes. The anal sex scene wasn’t officially recorded, Marsh said, and there was “an expectation, you may say naïve,” that the scenes would remain private between performers and those viewing them. But one or more people viewing the live show did record it. The publisher of Dudetube, which was asked to remove screencaps of the scene, told me that “Fratmen pay-per-views have been widely circulated on file sharing sites.”
Marsh said his only substantive contact with The Real World was related to footage they wanted to include on the show. However, he said that he removed images in part to not interfere with the production. “We had no idea what Bunim-Murray wanted in terms of public information. My initial reaction was to get this stuff down and keep from injecting ourselves into the process,” he said. Of course, it had the opposite effect.
Images were also removed, Marsh said, because other performers “didn’t want to be collateral damage to Dustin’s popularity”; one is in the military. And Marsh added that, while Dustin had nothing to do with having images removed while the show was being broadcast, Dustin “made a request” earlier last year that a scene with him showering and having oral sex with another man be removed from the site because Dustin “was just concerned” and “really, really wanted to get in the cast.”
Dustin said that while Marsh is “awesome,” he doesn’t plan on doing more adult film work (despite making an appearance with the company). And he has no regrets. “Life after going to The Real World is so much better,” Dustin said. “I would much rather everyone know about it than me have a secret. Of course I’m afraid of judgment and what people are going to say, but it’s just so much better to have it out.”
Johnston calls Dustin “a fascinating, passionate, fun-loving guy” and “a great Real World character regardless of the past he has.”
But it’s his past that has created the kind of conversation the show used to be known for.