Pieces of Ice
By Dustin Fitzharris
Upon arriving at Timothy Bellavia's apartment and finding his books spread out in the living room, it instantly became clear the award-winning children's 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.
Bellavia's 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: It's 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 that's 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. I'd 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. That's the kind of person I wanted to be. It didn't have anything to do with having a vagina or a penis. It was just about being good and righteous.
Why didn't 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 doesn't make me wrong. John Wayne is the character that is the 'shoot 'em up ' cowboy who doesn't take any bunk, but he kills people. I didn't want to kill people. It wasn't 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 it's 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 haven't read it. If they do read it, I won't be ashamed -- it's the truth.