Mario Lavandeira (Perez Hilton to you and me) built an empire on controversy. “I love what I do. I’m my own American dream, and I inspire myself.”
Lavandeira, 32, is undeniably popular: Perezhilton.com draws 11.5 million unique visitors a month. And through his brand extensions—which include blogs fitperez.com and cocoperez.com, producing and hosting two radio shows (“Radio Perez” and “The Fab 30”), developing music and TV projects, writing books, making well-paid appearances and, as of late, endorsing sake brand TY KU—he invites people to talk about him. But lately, he’s been trying to change the conversation for the better.
As a gay Cuban kid growing up in Miami and attending an all-boys Jesuit school, Lavandeira says he experienced his own share of bullying: “I was probably bullied just as much for being overweight as I was for being obviously gay but in the closet. I actually look at the bullying as a positive thing because it led me to find like-minded people.”
But Lavandeira’s celebrity targets never saw his insults as being quite as constructive. “I used to justify my behavior saying, ‘These are people that choose to be in the public eye, and they need to be prepared for the criticism.’ But if I want to encourage others to do good in the world and not hurt each other, then I need to do that myself. I will not be going back to how I used to be. I can’t be the boy that cried wolf.”
The traffic to the site, which retains its signature sassiness, has stayed consistent, according to the blogger. And the feedback has been mostly positive. “There was a lot of skepticism at first, but now that I’m able to still have an opinion and have fun with it but not in a hurtful way, I’m a lot happier,” he says.
Lately, Lavandeira has been thinking about how much sweeter life would be with someone to share it with—even if dating isn’t exactly easy. “It’s hard to date, period,” he says. “It’s especially hard when you have even the littlest amount of fame and when you’re gay. And it’s even harder when you’re me.”
But that’s not going to stop him from achieving his ultimate dream of having a family, Ricky Martin–style. “My clock is ticking,” he says. “I definitely feel open and deserving of a quality relationship. And I also really want to have kids. I don’t necessarily need a partner for that; I can do that on my own. Adopting is great, but I want to have my own biological children. I guess that’s where the Latino in me comes out,” he adds with a laugh. “When you have worked so hard for so long, your priorities shift. I think there are more important things in life than what you do for a living.” Spoken like a man who’s been truly transformed.
For more from Perez Hilton, pick up the February issue of Latina magazine, on newsstands January 11, 2011.