Upon arriving at Timothy Bellavias apartment and finding his books spread out in the living room, it instantly became clear the award-winning childrens book author and artist was prepared for this interview. But then again, Bellavia has built his career around preparation.
With the success of his book We Are All The Same Inside, he started his own business, Tolerance in Multi Media Education, otherwise known as T.I.M.M.-E. In 2003 he attracted the attention of the United Nations and was invited to present his doll-making curriculum at their International Day of Tolerance. The following year, The New York City Department of Education awarded him a contact to amplify his mission to teach tolerance to children throughout the Big Apple.
Bellavias latest book, Pieces of Ice, is an at times disturbing tell-all picture book about growing up gay. Out caught up with Bellavia to chat about the inspiration for the book, wanting to be Wonder Woman, and living on the pink side of life.
Out: You describe Pieces of Ice as being about your struggle growing up as an effeminate male. What does that mean?
Timothy Bellavia: Its someone who is not totally blue. I grew up in a gender-specific household. There were all boys, and I did not walk on that gender avenue. I was crossing over to the pink avenue. I know thats marginalizing to say boys are blue and girls are pink, but I grew up in a time -- and I still think there is that time -- where boys do certain things that are acceptable and girls to activities that are acceptable. But if they cross those avenues, there is a problem and the parents either send them to a shrink or the parents pray.
What is something you did that led you down the pink side?
I would go into department stores and look at the Farrah or Cher doll. Id really want it. I would ask my mother, and I could tell she wanted to give it to me, but what would your father think? Once in a while if the doll had a male counterpart, like Donny and Marie, it would be okay.
Did you ever want or consider transitioning?
No. I never wanted to be a girl. I did want to be like Wonder Woman. She was fragile, or appeared to be fragile, but she was strong. Thats the kind of person I wanted to be. It didnt have anything to do with having a vagina or a penis. It was just about being good and righteous.
Why didnt you identify with male figures?
As a young person, you know what you want to be or who you are, and I just never identified with those [male] characters. It makes me different, I guess, but it doesnt make me wrong. John Wayne is the character that is the shoot em up cowboy who doesnt take any bunk, but he kills people. I didnt want to kill people. It wasnt in my nature.
Did you ever face adversity because you were a gay man working with children?
I enjoy teaching and working period. When you teach children you have to embrace their honesty. I am someone who doesn't pass. So its to my credit as an author for children that my work stands on its own merits.
What was your intention when you were writing Pieces of Ice?
I really just wanted to get out of my own way. There are no heroes or heroines, villains or villainesses in the book. It is just a didactic timepiece of my life; arrested, sad and hilarious as it is at times. I thought it would help others see what it was like growing up in a time when being gay was not tolerated.
Why use picture book format?
I used that approach in prose and graphics to simply underscore the pain. Also, there are so many coming of age stories out; I wanted to do something different.
What do your parents think of the book?
They are aware of the book, but they havent read it. If they do read it, I wont be ashamed -- its the truth.
What is your relationship like with your parents?
I have a close relationship with my mother and have gotten closer with father. I thought my mother accepted me more, but she just wants the mask to stay. She doesnt want anyone to think she is a bad mother because she produced me. So, she wants me to keep it confidential. Shes said, Dont talk about it with anyone. Dont bring anyone home. Wait until we die.
Are there things you still want from your parents?
I want their love and acceptance, but Ive faced that Im not going to have that.
You never really confronted your sexuality until you moved to New York in 1992. Tell me about the first time you walked down Christopher Street.
My legs locked because I was in such shock. I felt like I was turning into a donkey like in Pinocchio, where he was misbehaving with the other boys. The piers were around when they were still the piers. It was basically like Sodom and Gomorrah. It was scary stuff for me because I had never seen it. I had only heard about it.
Describe your perfect day.
Waking up in a big apartment with sunlight and view. Getting my own coffee in a nice big kitchen. Having left-overs in the fridge from the night before. I want to have all my doll-making stuff delivered to where Im teaching. Instead, this morning I got up, went to Dunkin Donuts, waited for my delivery of groceries, and went through my [doll-making] materials myself.
What three words would you use to describe yourself and why?
Serious. Im pretty intense. Sad. I dont think anyone would think I was sad because I never show that side. Love. I do know that I give love to other people. I dont get love back the way I want it back, but I try to love all the hurt away.
What advice would you give to parents who may be struggling with having a gay child?
Dont just tell them you love them; show them. If I heard my father say to someone, Im going to break your neck if you say anything about my kid because I dont care what he is, I think I wouldve had a better attitude about myself. Instead, when my mother reprimanded my brothers for making fun of me, my father would call her an idiot. So basically my father was calling me what my brothers were.
What is next for you?
My first book, We Are All the Same Inside, is celebrating its 10th anniversary next year. Im re-releasing the book with a CD musical component that should be ready by the spring. Its entitled The Inside Story.