Reconsidering Perez Hilton
To call Perez Hilton a polarizing cultural figure is like calling his buddy Lady Gaga a mere pop singer. Since he launched PerezHilton.com in 2005, the blogger, born Mario Lavandeira, has been making news almost as frequently as he covers it. Delivering biting barbs against frequent targets like Jennifer Aniston, Fergie, and Lindsay Lohan made Hilton’s site a daily must read, though many gay people were irked by leading posts they perceived as outing then-closeted celebs such as Clay Aiken, Lance Bass, and Neil Patrick Harris.
Resentment grew stronger following a nasty dustup with Will.i.am from Black Eyed Peas and Hilton’s decision to post explicit photos of writer Dustin Lance Black. Anger against Hilton was so strong that when he spoke out against the rash of bullying-related suicides of gay teenagers last year, many people didn’t want to hear it, and called him a hypocrite. Hilton issued a series of very public mea culpas, even going on The Ellen DeGeneres Show to declare his intention to change.
But Hilton swears he’s a new man and to prove it has turned his annual celeb-studded birthday party into a fundraiser for the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN). He offered further evidence during this interview by apologizing several times for uttering a few profanities. Hilton speaks with The Advocate for the first time since his controversial 2009 cover story about his strong bond with Gaga, the message for his critics, and how Justin Bieber came to donate his hair.
The Advocate: What’s the biggest misconception people still have about you?
Perez Hilton: That the real person behind Perez is an asshole. I really don’t view myself as an asshole and anyone who knows me in the real world who has known me for a while would say that I’m not an asshole. But it’s OK that people think that.
Why do you say it’s OK?
It will take a long time to change people’s perceptions and that’s OK. I’m not comparing myself to Madonna and Angelina Jolie, but they both had very colorful pasts and found happiness and a calling apart from their professions and felt the need and desire to share with the world and make it better. I’m not trying to be Mother Teresa and say I want to make the world a better place. But I don’t want to make it a worse place so I’ve been taking steps to not contribute what other people could perceive as bullying and hurtfulness.
What brought about the big change in your alter ego?
It was very organic. I’ve always talked about things of interest to me and my readers, such as politics and gay issues. I was very vocal in helping any way I could with Prop. 8 and I was very vocal in animal activism, which I was so involved in I started a website just for that. And there are Latino issues I’ve supported. Anything relevant I talk about so when all these gay teenagers started committing suicide, of course I talked about it. These are not topics you’d usually expect a celebrity blog to talk about, but it’s what I’ve always done. And in doing so, and more than anytime in the past, I got a huge backlash.
I don’t want to rehash the past, but a lot of people thought you crossed the line when you posted the explicit photos of Dustin Lance Black. If you had it to do over, would you still post them?
I don’t regret that at all. I’d do that again. There was a lot of hypocrisy around that. I’m still doing my job. There were naked photos of Vanessa Hudgens that leaked and of course I linked to them. I didn’t post them on the site because I don’t do that anymore, but I informed readers how they can view them if they want to. There was a lot of resentment from the gay community when I posted [the Black] photos.
What do you see as the reason for that?
They were expecting me to hold him to a higher standard than any other celebrity. And he was a celebrity at that point. He was an Oscar winner and had been on the cover of The Advocate.
How do you determine what you will and won’t write about now?
I’ll still talk about almost everything, but how I talk about it is different than before. I can criticize things and certain choices without criticizing certain people.
What’s the response from celebrities been like?
Fergie sent me a bouquet of flowers with a lovely note and Will.i.am and I had a lovely exchange backstage at the Grammys. It’s nice to have come full circle and have a certain closure with certain people. I just cover things differently now. I actually praised the Black Eyed Peas’ Super Bowl performance.
How has being nicer affected traffic for your website?
It hasn’t really affected it at all. It hasn’t gone up or down. I’m happy with that. I’m thrilled that I haven’t lost half of my readers. It’s inspiring to me and shows that the world is ready to go in this new direction. Hopefully others will follow suit.
You’ve turned your birthday party this weekend into a fundraiser for GLSEN. What’s behind this decision?
I was inspired by Adam Lambert who uses social media and his fans to raise money for his charity. I wanted to do that, as well. I want to use the opportunity of my birthday to encourage others to give to a charity that I think is important. Of course, it was important to me to choose a LGBT organization and one that works with young people. The Trevor Project is amazing, but they’ve been getting a lot of press whereas GLSEN, in the wake of all the teen suicides, hasn’t gotten as much. And their work is just as, if not more important than the Trevor Project. If GLSEN is doing all this work in schools and providing kids with a safe space in schools, then hopefully they won’t feel as suicidal and won’t need to call the Trevor Project.
How much money do you hope to raise?
I had set an initial goal for $5,000, which we’ve already surpassed. I think closer to the cut off date it will be closer to $10,000. It’s not just about money for me, it’s about raising awareness and the profile of GLSEN. People can donate at crowdrise.com/perezbirthday
How did you convince Justin Bieber to donate his hair?
Bieber approached me and said, “Hey, I’m giving my hair to a few different people and I want it to be used to raise money for charity.” I told his manager that I wanted to use it for GLSEN and asked if that was cool and he said totally. Justin feels very strongly that kids shouldn’t bully each other and was happy to help.
What was your opinion on the alleged gay backlash against Gaga’s “Born This Way” single?
What backlash? The song was number 1 in America for four weeks in a row. There was a backlash, [but] I think it’s a great song. It’s been the longest number 1 single in her career and if you’re gonna be compared to anyone, being compared to Madonna isn’t a bad thing. Artists like Madonna only come along every 25 years.
You were one of her earliest and staunchest supporters. Does she credit you for part of her success?
She does, but I would never take credit for it. It’s very flattering that she’s appreciative and vocal about the role I’ve played in helping her, but I think she would have been successful without my help. I’m just glad I was able to be there from the beginning and lend my support. In addition to being a friend, I’m one of her biggest fans.
Have you heard the rest of the new album?
Yes. This is her Like a Prayer album. By that I mean that Like a Prayer was one of Madonna’s most cohesive albums and the same is true with Born This Way, The songs really inhabit this world that she created and that was co-created by her fans. Each song makes sense when listened to in relation to the others. The Fame and The Fame Monster kind of had that concept, but not really. I mean “Poker Face” wasn’t really about fame. But Born This Way, the album, is a really powerful piece of work that touches on love and freedom and liberation and politics so it will surprise a lot of people. It will make a lot of people happy, but it will piss off a heck of a lot of people, too.
What’s your response to Gaga dissolving her deal with Target over their political donations?
I’m not politically correct and just because I’m gentler and kinder doesn’t mean I’m going to be politically correct. I didn’t necessarily agree with that. I know that a lot of gay people don’t like Target because of their political contributions yet a lot of those same gay people still shop at Target. I don’t think it was a bad thing at all that she had a deal with Target. I do applaud her for feeling so strongly about her convictions and caring about her gay fans so much that she felt she needed to do that.
What’s something about her that no one knows?
I’m always astounded by how smart she is. Obviously she’s crafty and clever and creative, but she’s really smart and a great writer. What I love is that she’s so different from me, yet we're so similar that we get along. She grew up in New York City with an upbringing that was very different from mine. I don’t mean her parents were wealthy, but she had all these references growing up that I didn’t have. She grew up listening to Bowie and Yoko Ono and Grace Jones. I never listened to any of those people. I listened to Madonna and Gloria Estefan. We just talk about music all the time and art and inspiring things and what we each have going on. It’s always stimulating and I feel inspired when I’m around her. When you’re around smart people you become smarter yourself—ideally.
To donate to GLSEN for a chance to win tickets to Hilton’s party, click here.