“He was born that way,” begins The Boy With Pink Hair, Perez Hilton’s debut children’s book — available now on Penguin’s Celebra imprint — about a kid who loves the candy-colored locks that make him unique. Almost a year since the polarizing blogger and media mogul appeared on Ellen to publicly announce that he was becoming a kinder, more positive person, Mario Lavandeira, the real man beneath Perez’s mask, maintains that he was born to make the world a better place. He also wants gay men to know that he’s slim, single, and emotionally ready for “super-kids” of his own.
The Advocate: Even from the so-called Queen of All Media, I never expected a children’s book.
Mario Lavandeira: I didn’t either, to be honest. It was nothing I ever wanted to do. In fact, in the past I’ve made fun of celebrities for writing children’s books. But I was at a book event, talking about my celebrity-related second book, and Mario Lopez was there promoting his children’s book. Teasing him, I flippantly said, “Well, I should write a children’s book too — and it should be about a boy with pink hair!” After that, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The story formed so quickly in my brain, and I was so in love with it that I felt compelled to make it happen. Then there was the whole rash of gay teenagers committing suicide, so I thought it had a great message to get out there for young people. It’s also a great message and a great read for people of all ages.
Now that you have your own version of The English Roses, do you feel differently toward celebrity authors of children’s books?
Everybody approaches it with a different intention. My intention was to create something very positive for the universe, as cheesy as that may sound. I had a really beautiful story that I wanted to share, and I had the ability to do it, so why not? The great thing about my career trajectory is that I’ve been able to do a bunch of different things, and this is something I haven’t done before. It may not make sense, but if people read the book or give it to a kid, hopefully they’ll love it. I love it. Out of everything I’ve ever done, it’s one of the things I’m proudest of.
How did your own childhood inspire The Boy With Pink Hair?
A lot of me is in the book, but I think it’s relatable to everybody. It’s about being born different. It’s about friendship, acceptance, finding what makes you special and sharing it with the world. I’ve always considered myself a freak, an outsider, and a bit of an interloper. I never really fit in with any groups, so I just did my own thing. After I became an adult, I still felt like an outsider. Then I became Perez, and I felt like even more of an outsider. I literally had my hair pink for a while. Figuratively, I’m still pink on the inside.
To what extent were you bullied for being different as a kid?
I got bullied just as much if not more for being fat than for being clearly gay and in the closet. I went to an all-boys Jesuit school in Miami from sixth through 12th grade. Thankfully, I never contemplated suicide, and I wasn’t so miserable that I wanted to leave school. Actually, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
You’ve often been described as a cyber-bully. Because history has a way of repeating, how much do you think your being bullied manifested into your own bullying ways?
Not that much. It had more to do with the nature of the Internet and how that beast has morphed over the years. In the real world and in my real life, I’ve always been a really nice person. But I adopted this character and this persona that was not so nice all the time. So one of the many things that I’ve been doing over the past year — it’s been almost 12 months now — is taking this mask off and showing the world more of the real me.
Doesn’t dropping that professional mask make you susceptible to attacks on a more personal level?
I’ve put a lot of thought into this. Unlike a lot of other people in the public eye, I still genuinely don’t care about being liked. What matters to me now is that people don’t perceive me as someone who’s a negative influence on culture and the world. I don’t want gay people to be ashamed of me or to think I’m a stigma on the community. Gay people don’t have to like me, as long as they aren’t embarrassed that I’m one of them. Not everyone likes Suze Orman or Rosie O’Donnell, but I don’t think anyone’s saying that they’re making the world a worse place. That’s what matters to me: I don’t want people thinking I’m making the world a worse place.
So as long as no one thinks you’re a complete monster, you can tune out what people say about you? You’re totally unfazed by vicious, catty comments?
When I was unhappier, what people said didn’t bother me because I could hide behind the mask of Perez. Now I feel happier than I’ve ever been in my whole life, so it still doesn’t bother me. I turned 33, the year of Christ, the double prime — it’s a powerful number and a powerful year — and I’m taking steps in the right direction in every part of my life, professionally and personally. These last 12 months of growth have been the most cathartic of my whole life. I even started therapy. I’ve been putting the work into myself, making myself better, happier, healthier, and hopefully that reflects itself in my websites and in everything else that I do.